Back from their trip to Sri Lanka the Ocean Stars Team reflect on what they have experienced.

OceanStars :: Monday 14th November 2011 :: This Story

Ocean Stars team at the airport in Sri LankaJanine Dunbar

First of all, thank you so much for including me in the team, I had an unforgettable time, and one of the best bits was being part of a great, lovely group of people. As I said on Saturday, (or whenever it was!) I wasn't sure what to expect, and lots of names of people, places etc get mentioned, and now I can match the names to the people! I was bowled over by the warmth and welcome and smiles we got from the children, teachers, families, and how much effort they made to see us, they lead such hard lives, but simple lives, there is no comfort (as I  sit on my comfortable settee, I think of their houses, with hard floors and hard chairs), but I think we have a lot to learn from them; the contrast in Colombo was obvious, but not so much that as the fact that some people seem unaware of the plight of their countrymen in the north and east. An obvious highlight for me was to finally meet Industhan and his family, and to present him with his bike, thank you so much for organising that for us.

I was so impressed by the kindness and cheerfulness of the OSL team, especially Ranga, Sudha and Janake, who got us from A to B in often difficult conditions and kept us safe. There were lots of special times throughout the whole week, and I am going to sit down and write it all down while I can remember what happened when! Lastly, there is so much for Ocean Stars to do, and having been there it is so much easier to tell people about it.

Lydia Marshall

Back in chilly London, Sri Lanka seems a long way away. When people ask how the trip was it is hard to put into words and so far all I have managed to do is mutter “amazing” and change the subject before my jet-lagged words fail me. Hopefully I will become more articulate soon and be able to convince my lovely friends to support Ocean Stars!

In ten days we saw so much, met so many people and had so many thought-provoking experiences. For me the most inspiring part of the trip was spending time in Batticaloa and seeing how the Lanka side of Ocean Stars works. It is amazing (must stop using that word) to see how the hard work that a lot of people in the UK put in enables so many Sri Lankans to help their own communities, whether as a nursery teacher, an Ocean Stars fieldworker or as all-round superhero Ranchan. Visiting the playgroups was also great fun and again very challenging. I did find it hard spending such a short time at each project, but I wouldn't want to have missed any of the places that I was lucky enough to visit, and was also aware of how much each nursery appreciated our coming to see them. Similarly, I would have loved to spend more time at Grace, getting to know the boys there. All the boys have lived through things that no one ought to, and Mrs N. is doing an incredible thing giving them a home. I really hope that this can continue, as I know that the future of Grace is a big concern.

Ultimately, I count myself so lucky to have had this experience. I was dually inspired during the trip… First by the children and adults I met who have suffered war and natural disaster and yet still shared such generosity and joy with us, and secondly by the work of Ocean Stars both in the UK and Sri Lanka. As I said on the last night, although I have spent quite a bit of time in places where people are living in circumstances that are unfair in every sense, this is the first time I have left with the sense that something is being done that is actually improving lives. I am definitely a committed “star” now - all that remains is to figure out an excuse to return to Sri Lanka!

Ocean Stars Grace Children's home group - team and staffKate Whyatt

Back for the fourth time and it was as inspiring as always.  What struck me this year is the remoteness of the nursery schools that OST are involved with.  Firstly there was the opening of Little Stars within a community that has struggled with the impact of the conflict and seems to be miles from anywhere at the edge of the jungle.  I was also fortunate enough to visit Addachakal, again on the edge of the jungle miles from anywhere.  Here the villagers are troubled by wild elephants which destroy crops and houses looking for food, and where I met a young ‘human scarecrow’, a 9 year old boy sitting for hours watching for and protecting the crops from monkeys.

The people we met were, as always, ready to greet us with a smile and the generosity to let us visit them in their homes.  They have so little in terms of possessions yet so much to give.  It is the relationships I have made over the past three visits that takes me back to Sri Lanka each year: the boys at Grace, my sponsor family, the OSL staff in Batti, the three wonderful drivers who never tire of looking after us.

It is so wonderful to see first hand the work that OST is able to do with the money so generously donated in the UK, including the building of wells, toilets, nursery schools, sponsorship of teachers, children etc.


Maggi Baird

Where to begin?

After a very good 12 hour flight, we were met by the men who were our drivers.  Little did I realise at that time just what a huge part they play in the whole trip.  All of them worked above and beyond the call of duty.

Off to Negombo, we were treated to a lovely hotel breakfast, shower and a bit R & R.  We were warned, this would be the last chance to relax – how true was that comment!

Off again on the road for a couple of hours to Ranga’s for lunch.  Not as opulent as the hotel, but quite well to do.  My first taste of Sri Lankan hospitality and lovely food.

Off again to our hotel for the next two nights.  More than adequate.  Very wet though, but warm.  Glad of a bed, the first since leaving UK about 28 hours ago.

Next morning saw us on our way to Grace Home for Children – well they’re all boys.  Nothing had prepared me for the welcome they all extended.  They just smiled all day.  Of course, boys being boys, they were all keen to get involved with Frisbees, balls, cricket etc, and took delight at the potted sports.  Again, giving the boys medals (donated by Scottish Athletics) was very touching.  Very few of the lads took them off the whole day.  The art project again caught my attention.  The patience and dexterity of those boys was a sight to behold. Being entertained in the church by the boys was wonderful – even although we had to scamper through monsoon rain to the minibuses to get back to the hotel!  It was so sad leaving those delightful boys, and the chat in the bus was little.

I wonder what will happen to those lads who have nothing and nobody in the world other than Mrs Nadarajah and the home.  It would be good to think there could be found some money to build accommodation for them when they are too old to be supported by OST, so that they could perhaps find work, but at least have a roof over their heads.  A garden for growing vegetables could be put in to the grounds, so providing food for the home, but also, surplus could be sold.

Next day, to Trinco. I knew this was to be both a magical and emotional day.  My first impression of the little ones in the nursery was one of delight.  Those tiny people accepted a dozen foreigners as though it happened every day, and they sang and danced for us.  They are so smart in their purple uniforms, obviously worn with pride.

The older school children joined us.  At this point, I was so close to tears of pure joy because my sponsored child came in through the door.  I signalled to her who I was, and she gave me such a huge smile, I was choked.

All the children were clean and happy – a testimony to the teachers and Janabdeen. 

We visited the sewing project.  Again, the work and decoration those ladies put into dresses, tableware and pillowcases is amazing, and they get little return.  At least they are learning a sustainable skill.  Perhaps a couple more sewing machines would let more ladies gain this skill and make a little extra income.

We then visited our sponsored families.  This was so humbling.  Those people have so very very little, yet here they were plying us with Coke, cake and biscuits.  It’s rude to refuse, but I had difficulty in swallowing.  What kept me going was the fact that the very little money I give each month really does make a difference. 

We left Trinco, and I couldn’t speak.  The emotion hit me like a ton of bricks.  At this stage I could do no more to help “my” family, but perhaps in the future there will be ways.

Next morning saw us packed and off to Batti to Joseph’s.  I had been told it was like going home.  It was.  That hotel- keeper looked after us so very well, and nothing was a problem or too much to do.  It was a relief to get a bit washing done!  The cold shower was a surprise, but a great way to waken up in the morning!

We travelled to some of the more remote areas around Batti to visit, and open nurseries.  I thought the folks in Trinco were poor, this was something else all together. 

“Little Stars” nursery was officially opened, and it was heartening to hear the building will be used for worship and other community groups as well as a nursery.  The children have to walk 3-5Km to get to school.  For little ones, this is a long, long way.  Perhaps another building could be erected to take the children in the first two years of education so they could be nearer home.

The nursery Danny had funded (sorry can’t remember the name) plus the well was lovely.  Again, maybe the damaged building could be repaired as a classroom for the older children. There’s so much that could be done, and it must be difficult to spread funds to greatest need..

Working in the nursery at Chenkalady was a new experience for me.  Happy noisy children engaged in lots of activities and songs.  Not having worked with such little ones was a challenge, but my mindset for the trip was “go with the flow” and I did!

It was here that I got the biggest shock of the whole trip.  Visiting some families of the nursery children, we came across a very young mum and her son living in what can only be described as less than a shack.  Her husband had left – through drink – and her aunt was supporting her where she could.  The dwelling had corrugated walls but only to three feet high, then a space before a covering of palm fronds.  These leaked in the rains, and really there should have been twice as many fronds in use, and even then not been very habitable.

I don’t think providing this girl with a house would be the answer unless it was close to where her family is, but that too worried me as I noticed two empty half bottles of spirits in the grounds.  I just wonder what’s really going on there.

All too soon, it was time to leave Batti and head to Colombo. It was very thought provoking to see the huge difference that tourism has made in Colombo in comparison to the east coast.  I couldn’t sleep that night in by comfy luxury hotel for thinking of those many folks out in the remote areas who do not have electricity nor running water.  They get up and go to bed by the sun.

Ocean Stars Grace Children's home groupHelena Carter

Home for less than a week now I am amazed at how quickly we get used to the luxury of modern life in the UK...

taps with a continuous supply of running water, clean hygienic toilets,  electric lights, solid walls and non leaking roofs. 

None of these things are available to the children we visited in the Nurseries like Nelloor, Karaveddy or Little Stars. But my favourite memories are not of the poverty we saw, but of smiling faces, committed teachers and caring communities.

I am proud to think that in some way we helped provide some basic of needs for these children, like wells and toilets; proud to be part of Ocean Stars dream for the future; slightly overwhelmed by the knowledge that thereis so much more to do, so many more children in need.

Chris Cooper

Everything is still going round in my head; we seemed to cram so much into 10 days.

The remoteness of the projects struck me this time and the difficulty of travel. It takes a huge effort for the villagers to leave their immediate region to travel to anywhere – school, hospital etc. The homes /shelters where they live, many without easy access to water or the things we take for granted. In spite of their poverty their dignity and willingness to share the little they have.

I remember the speeches made at the opening of playgroups and at the evening for the deaf and dumb community when the value of education was stressed and we were overwhelmed by the gratitude expressed for the small contributions we can make.

Most of all I remember the children having fun, laughing and playing, giving back so much more than they had received. I feel privileged to have shared a short time with them

Carolyn Marshall

2 days after returning from Sri Lanka my head is still full of vivid pictures of the people and places we've left behind us, and I’m still trying to process the many wonderful, moving and challenging experiences we had.
Going back this year for my second visit it was lovely to return to familiar places and to connect again with people who are becoming friends, as well as building some new relationships.

There were so many special moments this year, and it seems looking back on them that many of them were about real communication and connection, even when we did not have a shared language. It was wonderful to play and laugh with the boys at Grace, and to share with them in games and painting in the afternoon – particularly powerful was watching the young boy painting beside John for an hour and a half in a really precious time of quiet one to one shared space and communication.

At the opening of Little Stars it was so moving to see so many people of all ages gathering, and to hear from the Pastor of the different ways they are planning to use the space. I was really humbled and challenged to see the man who had so generously given the land and then helped to clear it. He was not a wealthy man, and it was very touching to see his pleasure in the gift of 1 of the famous knitted teddies which he carefully wrapped up in his plastic carrier bag. His real sacrificial gift of the land has challenged me about how I give from my position of plenty.

Another special memory for me from this year was when 3 of us went with Thulia to walk round the village of Kanankudah with the Playgroup Teacher, and then had the privilege of sitting with her family for a while outside their home. Seeing the real poverty and difficulties which they face daily, I felt a strong connection with them as women and mothers as well as a deep sadness. On this occasion, and again when chatting with some of the lovely girls at St. Vincent’s school, it was impossible to know what to say when somebody simply said “life is hard here”. I felt all I could say is “I know”, and hope that somehow our being there for that short time conveys how they are not forgotten, and that in as much as we can we are standing with them.