Chris Booth :: Thursday 12th November 2009 :: This Story
Here is a link to a video summary of the trip to Sri Lanka with Ocean Stars Trust.
A week on... from Ruth
Chris Booth :: Monday 9th November 2009 :: This Story
Well, it's almost seven days ago we said goodbye to Sri Lanka but I can still visualise and hear Janika, Sudha and Ranga our drivers, standing at the table at The Green Cabin restaurant singing their national anthem at the end of our meal. It was very moving and unforgettable.
We have so much to ponder -all the awesome things we saw and experienced. Not least the incredible way we got to Grace children's home. No one could have imagined a more miraculous working out of a series of events that led us there !
The boys were so caring towards each other but at the same time just normal boys when it came to playing games!
Those children in the playgroups, once the novelty of these strange people had worn off, were just like those at home .There's always one who wants to do their own thing and has to be 'guided' back to conform for the good of the rest!
We cried silent tears of sadness and frustration at times when we felt overwhelmed by the unjustice we saw around us-but we had many more times of joy and laughter when we saw what a difference a few small things could do especially the look on the face of the small boy who had his own new shoes for probably the first time.
Then there was the sheer hilarity of the parachute games and Dilanee and Bron giving yet another rendition of 'The wheels on the bus' on the inset morning! The playgroup ladies though were so eager to devour any new ideas that would give their charges a good start in their young lives.We heard later that the afternoon session was delayed as they were crying after we had left---we were quite shaken by that news .
It goes without saying that this charity is making a difference to these folk.A big thankyou must be given to those who supported this venture by giving gifts and finance I saw where it went and I can assure you every penny went straight to those who needed it most.
Perhaps my most abiding memory will be the people who live in such poverty and yet have the ability to give and share their all with strangers . They were so generous to us their hospitality was overwhelming at times and made me feel how mean I am and how much I need to be reminded of the countless undeserved blessings I take for granted each day.
May God bless you Dilanee.
Some more final words...
Chris Booth :: Monday 9th November 2009 :: This Story
The biggest thing that has struck me since getting back to England is the enthusiasm with which people listen to my stories. Although it is sometimes difficult to talk about the things we saw and experienced during our time in Sri Lanka, people are so keen to hear, and more often than not they are very quick to grasp the concept of what Ocean Stars does. People are so impressed with the personal touch Ocean Stars maintains with each project and each individual, it feels as if our trip helps people relate more directly to the concept of giving. Although it is unrealistic to think that all the people I speak to will feel compelled to donate to Ocean Stars, I feel that it will encourage them to look more for avenues of charity that share the same principles.
Despite these positives, it is still very hard to get back in to my English life with the same passion I found in Sri Lanka – I feel that a lot of this drive will be put to use in organise my 6-8 week trip which looks as though it will almost certainly be happening around March/April. This only gives me a very short time to get the details sorted, so it looks like I might be making phone calls to Ranga very soon.
It’s been a week now since our return from Sri Lanka. A week of what constitutes normality for us. For me it has been a time of reflection. I’ve tried and am still trying to come to terms with all that I have seen and experienced with OST ’09. As I returned to teach in school my thoughts constantly ran to the children in the pre-schools in Batti. As my children here in Fleet played with toys, painted pictures, rode bicycles and read umpteen books I thought about those dusty floors, the plastic chairs, the empty cupboards. As I walked around my own home I remembered the family of six we visited last Thursday who live together in one room the size of my garage and who sleep on a concrete floor. They appear to have so little and yet they have so much. So much warmth, so much kindness and real courage. They humble me completely. I feel truly grateful for the experience they have shared with me. I’m challenged and encouraged to do all I can to support them and to fight the injustice of their situation. In all it has been a privilege. A privilege to have lived and worked with Dame Dilanee and each member of the team and a privilege to have had time with some very special people. The memories live on…
Final words from Ruth...
Chris Booth :: Monday 9th November 2009 :: This Story
Amazing sounds sights and smells!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What a mad whirl of activity. How do you choose which vendor you will buy from ? Sri Lanka must now earn the name of a nation of shopkeepers!
What a contrast to the other world we left yesterday.I wonder what the children from the playgroup would make of this. I wish I had a video in my head to replay all we’ve seen. I shall never be able to articulate or adequately tell everyone what it has been like for me. We talk about life being a journey this has been a marathon one for me.
At the start of this trip I said I had thought I would be taken out of my comfort zone - now I feel like James Bond’s martini - shaken and stirred.
I hope I won’t become complacent—but I fear I will.
My life has been touched and I feel truly fortunate and privileged to have been here.
Day 9 - Kate and Bron go to Galle
Chris Booth :: Monday 9th November 2009 :: This Story
Saturday. 5.20am. UGH! But Ranga was calling for us (Kate & Bron) at 6 to go down south to a project in Galle. The rest of the team had been quite sorry for us to be ‘working’ on the last day when they were shopping, but actually it turned out to be a very interesting and varied day. We stopped off for a coffee break then travelled on to meet Rev Dareeju, a Methodist minister in Galle. We struggled with his name – practising to get it right when we met him, only to find that he greeted us with ‘Hello, I am Leslie’! Oh, well! J He took us to see a small village who were living in new housing about 15k inland. They had all lost their homes in the tsunami, and all the 50 families had been given lovely new homes. All good, you may think. But these were FISHERMEN! 15k from the sea. A bus runs twice each day, but to fish at night, there was no transport. One of the temporarily unoccupied houses was being used as a school run by 3 lovely young teachers – as additional lessons for the children. They were asking for help with the school, which was being ‘repossessed’ last night and given to a family. But this wasn’t an existing community – just a collection of families who didn’t know each other before, thrown together in this isolated village. So they also asked for help with building a temporary community centre with many uses – not just the school but also a possible playgroup and for meetings of the community. We left feeling sad at the situation but inspired by the teachers and the efforts of the community leaded to try to help everyone. On the way back to Galle we saw rubber trees, each with its own little cup, a small tea plantation a cinnamon bush and rice plants, none of which I had seen before other than in pictures. Having dropped Leslie back at his home, we set off back to Columbo. We had a paddle on the glorious beach along the way, visited a turtle research station – tiny, two day old turtles up to old gentlemen turtles. We saw a memorial to the lives lost in a train in the Tsunami – a terrible, graphic depiction of the train and the people. We arrived back at the hotel in a torrential thunderstorm – Yasmin took a brilliant a picture of the lightening, and the thunder was so loud.
A day of contrasts – but I preferred it to shopping and returned in time to get ready for our final meal in Colombo – a party of the English and Sri Lankan members of the team. A good time was had by all – it was a lovely evening.
Chris Booth :: Wednesday 4th November 2009 :: This Story
The videos are gradually going to be uploaded for everyone to see! There is a little video for each day.
A few more photos...
Chris Booth :: Saturday 31st October 2009 :: This Story
Blowing up balloons!
Colouring in kites (PK Nursery kites)
Teddies were very well recieved!
POONICHIMUNAI NURSERY Wednesday: Helena, Bron & Matt
Chris Booth :: Saturday 31st October 2009 :: This Story
Wednesday: Helena, Bron & Matt
These names are just impossible for us poor Brits who are so unused to learning new languages…so Pooh Corner is what this playgroup has now been ‘christened’. What a relief for Bron and I…there are tables as well as chairs! No need to stick and glue on a sandy track. Led by two lovely Muslim teachers this playgroup of 30 kids is in one reasonably sized room …so out came the glue and streamers, crayons and beanbags and off we went. It became apparent as we worked, that these children have real difficulty choosing for themselves. They were desperate to do things ‘right’ and kept asking which colour to use on their pictures and waiting to be told what to do next. Thulia bravely translated our songs and stories and all went well. The teachers smiled and nodded and laughed along with the rest of us as the children tried to guess what these mad people from England were expecting them to do. The hokey-cokey was a great success…a brilliant song for bringing us all together. It was lovely for the children to see Matt and Ranga joining in with everything. Like in England…men are a rare breed in the playgroup setting.
Prayers started and ended the day then waving their streamers at the end of a really hectic session the kids set off for home on whatever form of transport the family used. Some running, some on the cross bar of their father’s bicycle or balanced on the front and back of their motorbike.
Wednesday evening we set off for Dinner and a meeting with the Organisation for Deaf and Dumb Families which is yet another project supported by Ocean Stars. These families are often outsiders in the communities and have difficulty finding work and communicating with those of us who taking hearing and speaking for granted. Over twenty families were gathered together and translation became ever more complicated…English, Singhalese, Tamil, Sign…but it was all carried out with the best of humour everyone managing to get across their views, their thanks and their requests. Many had travelled for miles but benefited from being together and finding support from each other
Betty, Kate and Danny
Kalkudah is a Methodist Playgroup. The schoolroom was in good condition but apart from a store cupboard there was nothing else there. Danny immediately set to work planning how to put up two shelves, one on each side of the room. Procurement of materials proved interesting. It took 6-8 woodyards before he could find what he wanted. The outside area was quite large and they had a lot of play things but unfortunately the swings were out of order. This was another job for Danny and by the end of the morning all three swings had new seats and the children enjoyed playing on them. We were a little concerned about the lack of toilets.
Kate started with an introductory circle and the children were very responsive. We sang a few songs and ended with Five Little Ducks. We then divided the class into two groups. I took the older group and Kate took the younger one. They coloured and decorated cardboard ducks which were then hung on the wall. The children had a biscuit and drink during their break. After break the children made and decorated crowns, which they were very proud to wear. All this to the accompaniment of hammering in the background as the new shelving was being put in place so we took the children out into the play area. They sang marching songs and played with shakers. This was followed by bean bag games and other physical activities. We went back in for the final songs and circle activities to say “Good Bye” The staff were very pleasant and we were taken to one of the parents houses and had a very enjoyable lunch.
Thursday, we (Heli, Bron and Yasmin) set off to Urani playgroup along with our now vastly experienced support team… Ranga (the driver) who makes an excellent ‘monkey falling off the bed’ and Thulia (our interpreter) who now has ‘Three little ducks’ off pat in Tamil and can quack along with us all. We introduced the playgroup teachers to the idea of linking with PK Preschool in Grayshott. Heli showed the children the photos from PK and they were especially thrilled with the idea of snow (which took some explaining to 3 year olds who never have a day when the temperature drops below 20 degrees Celsius.) The two wonderful teachers there were really enthusiastic at the idea that photos of them and their children would be taken back to the UK to share with PK. It was a delight to have Yasmin with us today. She added a new dimension with her bounciness and her energy, entertaining group after group with bubbles and chases and push after push on the swings in their playground provided and maintained by The Ocean Stars Trust. The lunch club in Urani is sponsored by Ocean Stars which ensures that these children from very poor homes have one hot meal a day. But like all kids, they have their likes and dislikes so all the vegetables and fish were chopped small and hidden in the rice. (Sounds familiar doesn’t it). The lunch provided for us ‘teachers’included crab portions in shells, a serious challenge to those of us not yet adept at eating with our fingers. A lovely morning…and now we have worked in our last playgroup, I think we have nearly got it sussed.
Friday 30th October …..Time to go!
We woke (at 5a.m!) to a heavy shower of rain, badly needed in this part of the world as drought has rendered many of the wells that provide clean drinking water, almost dry. Despite the weather, we headed off to the beach for a sunrise swim which was a bit mad in the circumstances since we are all pretty exhausted. However Joseph served up omelettes and scrambled eggs for breakfast when we returned to Avonlea Inn which set us up well for this our last day in Batti. And what a day it proved to be…
Having spent time in many of the playgroups which Ocean Stars sponsors here in Batti we decided that it might be useful to have a morning with the teachers. Our aim was to try to support them in the difficult and challenging situations that they all work in and to give them some ideas for activities that they might like to try with the children. So we had hired a local community hall for the morning and at 8.00a.m we headed there and began the setting up process. By 9.00 thirty teachers had arrived all dressed in their best saris, much to Sudat’s delight. There was a lot of pointing and giggling going on! We divided into five groups. Each group then moved around the room joining in the different activities that we had prepared for them. They all participated willingly even if they were a little bemused by all that we were doing- jumping around with beanbags on their heads or making things out of junk not to mention all the whooping (led by Dilanee) that was going on around the parachute ,are not activities that they are used to. It was a good session and as the morning concluded we all felt it had been very worthwhile. Lunch was a Sri Lankan take away, rice and curry wrapped in newspaper and then it was time to say goodbye. It was difficult – these people have moved and inspired us so much. It was a wrench to leave.
And then began the long(!) journey back to Colombo. Travelling here is a bit like the whacky races. Cars speed by and overtake on corners, horns constantly blare and cows, buses, lorries compete with the cars for space on the roads. But we bumped along without too many hairy moments or maybe there were lots but we’ve just become more acclimatised to them. Around 10p.m we arrived at the Galadari hotel – bright lights, carpets, hot water…a world away from Batti and yet it’s just the other side of this small island. We were all quiet as we entered and were shown to our rooms and yes we are tired but are minds are still full of the people we have met and worked alongside this week. This is a world far removed from them…the way some people have to live really is a bitter pill to swallow.
Day 5 - Batti Playgroups
Chris Booth :: Wednesday 28th October 2009 :: This Story
Today we splt into three groups and went to three (or more) different playgroups. There s an account for each group!
Thuraineelawana nursery is a small tin shack standing on the corner of two sandy tracks in the middle of nowhere. It is school for 13 beautiful children who had all turned out in their best, best clothes to greet us with garlands of sweet smelling flowers and overwhelmed us by their generosity and joyful faces. The temperature in the shack was too high, so we decorated amazing crowns and threaded cardboard teddies whilst balancing everything on our knees in the shade of a tree along the sides of the track. Lunch was delivered by hand, dished out on to bowls on the floor of the hut and silence reigned whilst the children tucked into really huge plates full of rice, fish and vegetable curries. Then it was our turn to delight in a veritable feast. A wonderful playgroup with a truly inspiring teacher who remained calm and caring and forgiving whilst we caused chaos in her playgroup.
Mandur Nursery – Betty, Yasmin, Kate and Danny
After a 50 minute bus ride we boarded a small ferry on foot carrying all the toys and materials we wanted to use with the children. The bus was unable to come along too because of the precarious state of the ferry although it was already packed full of people, bicycles and motorbikes. The remaining journey was carried out by tuk-tuks, a first for some of the team. The drivers are all budding Jenson Buttons without the appropriate vehicles or flat roads. However they negotiate the cows, endless cycles, haphazard pedestrians and other tuk-tuks with great skill.
The children were wonderful and we were greeted with garlands followed by solo singing performances by a number of the more confident ones. We proceeded to entertain them with threading teddies, 5 little ducks, streamers and numerous action songs. While occupied with children Danny turned his hand to helping with re-fixing doors (to keep the dogs out) and securing windows with metal mesh framework (to keep the birds out). Both should help to stop the necessary daily clean prior to the children coming in. Workforce aplenty, tools lacking and timber an extortionate price.
After a packed morning we went to another nursery in the area that is looking for funding from Ocean Stars. The children were beautifully turned out and again presented us with more flowers. A tasty lunch at the first nursery followed before we had to catch the ferry back.
We then visited a couple of families from the Deaf and Dumb project. Both families are struggling with the very dry conditions though are among the luckier ones as they have been rehoused since the tsunami.
It has been an amazing day and for me (Kate) and lovely to be back among the Batticaloa community. I am saddened to see the impact of the very dry conditions on the local people, many of whom rely on agriculture for a living. The paddy fields are parched and the wells are dry and reports from Bron and Helena tell us that the area around Thur……. nursery no longer has any water – the waterlilies are standing upright on parched ground, and the buffaloes have nowhere to wallow.
Wesley High School and Thurukovil Nursery – Ruth, Matt, Dilanee and Maureen
Another early start as, it seems, is the norm for Ocean Stars trips! After about an hours journey we arrived at Wesley High School, in time for their morning assembly. We were warmly welcomed each of us being given several pretty garlands of flowers. Then the grand entrance – we were ushered on to the main stage and introduced to the school who had all gathered in the courtyard in front of us. Initially it felt quite intimidating and overwhelming but the welcome was so warm that we soon relaxed and enjoyed the programme of ‘entertainment’ that the pupils had prepared for us. And what a programme it was – singing, poetry and traditional dance. There were several star performances but the highlight for me was a dance performed by a young girl who is both deaf and dumb. She moved perfectly in time with the music using only the vibrations she could sense as her guide. Dilanee was then invited to speak to the school which she did in her usual calm and caring manner. In fact she positively inspired them to follow their dreams as she was doing with Ocean Stars, for you never know where it might lead or what it might be possible to achieve.
It was hard to drag ourselves away but before long we were on our way once more. Next stop was Thurukovil Nursery. This was Ocean Stars first visit and we had a thoroughly enjoyable morning. The children were relaxed, friendly and full of fun. The two teachers encouraged and supported them constantly and seem to be doing everything they can with the resources they have, to do their best for the children.
Again it was hard to drag ourselves away but Ranchan had planned a busy schedule for the day so off we had to go. Our next appointment was with several of the sponsor families. It is a truly humbling and moving experience to go into these homes. We were waited on hand and foot – nothing was too much trouble. They may materially be less wealthy than ourselves, but at times I feel sure that in spirit, they are the richer people.
Another account of the rock climb...
Chris Booth :: Tuesday 27th October 2009 :: This Story
Day 4 - Climb up Sigiriya rock.
We started the day today with a bit of a lie in (breakfast at 7am!) And then started the journey towards batti. We planned to stop for Sigiriya after one and half hours, but after what felt like half an hour we saw the majestic presence of the rock dominating the landscape. So we started the journey up the rock, beginning at the outer moat, past the inner moat, and through the water gardens, in which our tour guide took great pleasure in describing the kings luxurious lifestyle, and the ins and outs of the castle’s defense system. As the climb continued, groups of helpful men appeared, who were employed for the sole purpose of escorting tourists up the precarious steps. So the group of us continued some walking, some seemingly being dragged, up to the second level. Here there were a pair of lions paws either side of a stair case, which the guide told us would have meant climbing through a lions mouth in the period in which the castle was active.
Here a couple of members of the group decided that the idea of carrying on higher on the increasingly rickety steps simply didn’t appeal, but those of us who continued found the final stage to be the most rewarding, as we were greeted by stunning views in every direction. The whole trip was made far more enjoyable by the guide who we all felt had a brilliant knowledge of the area and its history, as well as fantastic story telling skills!
From Sigiriya we continued on the journey to batticoloa. The drivers’ estimates for the journey seemed to range from two to four hours, so we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived after just over an hour more driving, and were immediately made to feel so welcome by Joseph. Tomorrow we split into three teams and begin the process of visiting various projects in the region, managed by the EOST time, so as you can imagine, the rooms have been a hive of activity, preparing various craft activities and games for the children.
Matt and Yasmin