Sharon's thoughts...

OceanStars :: Saturday 1st November 2008 :: This Story

It’s so hard to sum up in just a few paragraphs all that this trip to Sri Lanka has meant. It has been journey in more ways than one. The country itself is beautiful – too much to describe here – and the people are just wonderful. They are warm, friendly and so helpful. Nothing is too much trouble and we have been treated like royalty. Sri Lankan hospitality is second to none and we have been offered feast after feast, at times from people we felt could ill afford it.

There has been a lot of shared laughter – with the children, their teachers, the families we have met and with each other. Yet for some of them their smiles come in defiance of extreme poverty. Not all by any means. There are plenty who, whilst living far more simply than we in the UK are used to, nevertheless are comfortable and have enough, if not for luxuries, at least for the essentials of living. But there are others for whom daily life is struggle: families living in a one-room home with woven palm sides, a corrugated iron roof, dirt floors and no furniture except maybe a few plastic chairs. There is no electricity in these houses and sanitation is at its most basic. You wonder how they find the wherewithal to eat every day – or whether they do. Yet even in these circumstances there is great pride taken in any small possession, the house will be swept, the children will be clean and presented in their best. There is a real sense of community.

The children seem so happy and look out for each other, which isn’t to say that there hasn’t been the odd squabble breaking out on occasion – it’s reassuring to know that children are the same the world over! Once they have got over their initial apprehension of us they have been shyly affectionate and warm with us. The gift of the least little thing has brought delight – a lollipop, a balloon, bubbles to blow or bean bags to play with. And for those of you who read this and who knitted teddies, I just wish you could see their faces and know how much those teddies will be loved.

To see the effects of the tsunami has been emotional and there has been no doubt that it was devastating, especially here on the east coast. Yet in the long term the greatest harm that is done is through the conflict and, as ever, it is the ordinary people who suffer. Without the conflict there could be a fantastic tourist industry here, bringing in much needed money for regeneration and rebuilding and providing badly-needed employment. But, because the situation is as it is, the lives of the people here are vastly different from what they might be. Here in Batticaloa the streets are deserted at night save for the cows and the stray dogs – such a contrast with Dambullah, a town that bustled with life even late at night.

The fact that our drivers had to obtain police passes in order to leave Batti must surely be a deterrent to casual travel. Once on the road we now know that progress will be slow with many checkpoints along the way. We’ve grown used to seeing the soldiers and generally we have been waved through although there have been times that the bus and our bags have been searched and even, on one occasion been frisked! We haven’t felt threatened and the soldiers have treated us respectfully. For us it has merely been an inconvenience but I think it is a different story for those live here...

Before I came to Sri Lanka I ‘knew about’ the work of Ocean Stars, the projects it has set up, funded and supported in so many ways, but then it was just words on paper. There is a world of difference between ‘knowing about’ something and knowing it.

The work of OST is so vital and for us back home there is the opportunity to change lives for what we would consider pocket money. To sponsor a child and thereby make a difference not only to their life but to their family’s as well only costs £10 a month. Even to fund a lunch project or pay a teacher’s salary for a month is less than what it costs us to have a newspaper every day.

We’ve had an amazing (sorry!) time. We’ve had fun but we’ve also worked hard, although no-one can have worked as hard as Dilanee. That lady’s energy, drive and organisational skills are formidable! We’ve seen first-hand the needs here, we’ve been touched by the people and Sri Lanka has worked its magic on all of us. It will be quite an adjustment to come back home to all the wealth and luxury we take for granted. To wander around a supermarket and to know that I am spending on groceries in one week what could sustain a family for months here will not be easy. Having said that, I am looking forward to seeing the family again, having a hot shower, a loo that flushes and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes for breakfast! So, a sad au revoir to Sri Lanka (or should I say ‘Boytu vuaram’) and a welcome home to the UK. See you all Sunday.