Trip to Sri Lanka - April 2011

Shona Holroyd reflects on her return visit to Sri Lanka in April 2011

OceanStars :: Wednesday 29th June 2011 :: This Story

In April this year, I had the privilege of accompanying Dilanee on a return visit to Sri Lanka, five and half years after my initial visit which took place several months after the tsunami.  A lot has happened in those five years; notably the civil war, flooding, the establishment of EOSL and a tenfold increase in the number of Ocean Stars Projects! 

As somebody who has been involved with Ocean Stars since its inception, this trip gave me a chance to see not only how the initial projects which OST had been involved have developed but also to see how the new projects were meeting the needs of the beneficiaries.

We had a lot to pack into our eight days, so after our 11.5 hour flight we got straight to work and set off on our 6 hour journey to Grace Children’s Home in Vavuniya which is in the north of Sri Lanka.  This home has been supported by OST through Heatherside Infant School in Fleet for five years now.

 I was struck by how warm and welcoming it was. To be honest, I was not expecting the home to be quite so homely, given that until recently, the home was located in the heart of the conflict area .  I believe that this is down to two main reasons; firstly Mrs Nahardajah, the founder and matron mother to the boys and also to Ocean Stars, who as a charity has been fairly unique in my opinion in that it has partnered Grace for the long term and helped it to grow and develop.  OST has not been like many other charities which give & than walk away.  Not only does OST continually support the home financially but it also gives emotional and social support through regular visits and continued contact.

Our second stop was Trinco. Personally, this was quite an emotional day as I finally got to meet the children that both myself and my parents sponsor. It was simply wonderful to meet the children and their families in their home environment. Both families welcomed me into their homes and valued the time we had together.  We then spent time with Janabdeen and his family.  Janabdeen is the person who looks after all the sponsor families locally in Trinco on behalf of OST. Given the low level of awareness of English amongst these very poor families, he is a key link and tries to keep the communication flow going between the Trinco families and their sponsor families in the UK.

Our next stop was Batti and to finally meet the EOSL team.  EOSL is a not for profit organisation established in Sri Lanka and it is through this body, that OST runs many of its key projects.  EOSL is managed by Ranchan and his team of five people who look after all the projects in the Batti area.  Their primary focus is on pre-school education although its remit is broadening around this area.  The day we arrived was the start of the Tamil and Singhalese New Year but I was amazed that most of the teachers wanted to come to the EOSL offices and meet us in person.  As a result, we were able to distribute all the new uniforms for the playgroups for the year and meet the new teachers which OST has now agreed to sponsor.

Later on, we began the mammoth task of distributing the Xmas Catalogue gifts.  Words cannot express how grateful the recipients of the gifts were. All the gifts presented will undoubtedly make a huge change to their lives & this shone through by their wide beaming smiles!

It was also during our time in Batti that we were able to visit and lay the foundation stone of the first ever OST nursery, which we call “Matt’s nursery” after OST trustee, Matt Marshall who has been fundraising for the construction of this nursery.  It was located in a very remote area.  Although it was only 30 kilometres away from Batti, it took us two hours to get there including the ferry!  The area is probably the poorest area in Sri Lanka that we visited.  The roads are mere dust tracks, there is no industry and the children have to walk an hour to get to school each day.  The nearby villages have been badly bombed as this area was in the heart of the Tamil Tiger territory. The wildlife is immense with water buffalo and peacocks roaming freely!  Dilanee laid the foundation stone and construction is now well under way & we hope to have the official opening ceremony in October 2011 when Team 11 visits.

Next door to Matt’s nursery is the site of the Green Project and it was pleasing to meet the family who is going to provide the land and support the development of this project.  Fundraising for this project continues and we hope to begin work shortly.  As there is low level of employment in this area, it will provide a real economic boost to the local community.

Our final stop was in the South. For me this was a really special day as I was able to go back and see how the first beneficiaries of OST were getting on & how our initial help had impacted their lives.  The first stop was to the home of Chandra and Swarna.  Chandra is an elderly lady who gave up space in her house to the Thoten Project which was a project that promoted health awareness and monitored sanitation in the aftermath of the tsunami.

Many of the young people involved in running the project received further educational sponsorship from OST to enable them to obtain jobs once the project came to an end. Sangeeth had a desire to enter the catering industry and OST funded a catering management course for him.  After the Thoten project ended, Sangeeth went into partnership with another of the Thoten students and now they have developed their skills such that they are now working in the 5 star hotel s in Dubai earning a very good wage to support their families back in Sri Lanka.  Indeed Sangeeth married one of the other Thoten students, Dinesha, and it was lovely to meet up with her and their beautiful young son.

Our last stop of the day was to see an after school project outside Galle which OST has been supporting for the past two years. The project is located in a new hilly post tsunami village a good 30 minutes from Galle. The residents were all displaced in the aftermath of the tsunami and many lost immediate family members. They were rehoused in this post tsunami village and many of the residents told us about how many of them found it hard to cope not being able to live near the sea. sea.

This project provides extra tuition and support after school, something that most parents consider vital but few are able to financially provide.  Dilanee and I were treated to a truly sensational performance by the children keen to show us what they had learnt in the classes. Most of the children were fascinated by us and keen to learn all about the way we lived in the UK.

 So after a week and many hundreds of kilometres of travelling, our trip round Sri Lanka sadly came to an end. It was wonderful being back & already I am planning my next trip back in 2012.  I am definitely not going to be leaving it so long before I return to this truly wonderful country.

Shona Holroyd