Freya's Story

Freya Innes, Head Girl (2019-2020), Calthorpe Park School, talks about the impact of the trip to Sri Lanka as a Year 10. Freya was part of a group of twenty one students and four teachers who travelled to Sri Lanka in October 2019 to visit their link scho

Naomi Booth :: Monday 11th May 2020 :: This Story

My journey with Ocean Stars started aged 7 when I was in Year 4 at Velmead School. This journey has affected my friends and me and I would like to tell you about it.

I was first introduced to the charity when I was in year 4 and performed with Velmead School at the Ocean Stars Variety show. I sang with the choir and performed in various different acts during the four years I was at Velmead school. From the first year I was captivated by the amazing work Ocean Stars were doing and was very keen to support from then.

Freya on her visit to Sri Lanka

When I joined Calthorpe in 2015, I continued to take part in the Variety shows with music groups and then I was made aware of the exciting opportunity elder students were getting at school to go to Sri Lanka. It seemed like such a surreal opportunity I so desperately wanted to take part in.

In 2017, I applied to go on the trip of a lifetime run by Ocean Stars to Sri Lanka and I was fortunate enough to be offered a place along with 20 other students. Then the real work began! For over a year in advance the team spent lots of time fundraising doing a range of things from cake sales to bike rides, car washes to fun walks. However, we worked exceedingly well as a team and by the time we travelled out in October 2018 we had raised just over £11,000.

While on our fantastic trip, we spent the first few days travelling around and exploring how beautiful, interesting and incredible the country is. Though I very much enjoyed what we referred to as our tourist side of the trip, we were all really there for one thing and that was to work with the children Ocean Stars supports.

A few days into the trip, we arrived on the East Coast of Sri Lanka in the area known as Batticaloa. There is nothing there. The people live basic lives and even today are still affected by the 2004 tsunami and civil war. During the 5 days we spent there we worked in the schools Ocean Stars supports, colouring, playing sports and sharing laughter with the students. If I had to choose my top 3 highlights from my time there, they would be these:

One afternoon we attended the opening ceremony of a new pre-school in Chenkallady. £6000 of our fundraising had gone towards building it and we all felt incredibly proud and special when we arrived and the young children put on a traditional dancing show for us in their beautiful costumes. 

Freya on her visit to Sri Lanka

Another highlight was when a smaller group of us attended a deaf school the charity supports. It was a very emotional experience being among the children who not only were affected by natural disasters but also by their own disability. However, that did not stop them being thoroughly enthusiastic.  Despite the barriers they proceeded to teach me the alphabet in sign language. Laughing hysterically when I made the wrong signs – it was truly a precious time.

On our last day in Batticaloa the mood shifted when we experienced the true extent of the devastation caused in a village now named the "Tsunami Village". Families living there were displaced by the disaster and were assisted by the government until a few years ago when they had to return to the ghost like village. We distributed bags of essential resources to the families there who live in ruins with no electricity or running water. It really made us reflect on how lucky we all are and the subsequent journey back across the island was subdued in a thoughtful silence.

After spending a couple of days in Colombo, both teams met up in the hotel for a final debrief. Something that has resonated with me and the whole of our cohort is something a member of team 2 shared with us all. "Though we in the West are so materially rich we will never be able to reach the level of spiritual contentment every person we met displayed though they had no possessions or wealth"

Since we have returned, that message has remained with me and makes me value everything I have a little bit more. Although we took many resources out there and gave them away, I personally have gained much more than I gave from the experience.

So that has been my journey with Ocean Stars which I hope continues for many more years because it is such a shining charity doing incredible work. I hope everyone here tonight, whether you are part of Ocean Stars, have never heard of it before or knows only a little, gets a feel about how the charity which began so small creates so much positive change to children and their families devastated by the 2004 Tsunami. We really saw how empowering children through education really makes a difference first-hand. Ocean Stars will always have a place in my heart, and I hope tonight it has entered into yours.