The first month of Matt's 2013 5 month trip with Ocean Stars

The first month of my 5 month trip with Ocean Stars has provided me with an amazing opportunity to witness a milestone project for Ocean Stars in Batticaloa. A team of 8 volunteers from Edinburgh arrived in Batticaloa on the 13th of June and are staying f

OceanStars :: Friday 18th October 2013 :: This Story

The team have been living with a host family in the village itself and have had the warmest welcome possible from all the people of the village. It's so wonderful to see such a motivated group of people who have spent a whole year fundraising see this project to completion themselves, and to be so involved with it's beneficiaries. For me it's also very rewarding to see them all becoming captivated by the rich culture of Sri Lanka itself, as well as becoming part of the magic of the Ocean Stars family.

The volunteers have been very impressed by the way Ocean Stars works, and in particular the 'hands on' contact we have with all our projects - a lasting friendship is one of the most powerful things we can offer to these people who have endured so much.

Final update from Sri Lanka 21/04/2010

Matt Marshall :: Wednesday 21st April 2010 :: This Story

Ocean Stars Sri Lanka Nursery

Wow, sorry I haven't updated for so long, so much has been going on and the trip just seemed to get more magical everywhere I went. I finished my work in Batti and had a chance to go on a trip with the teachers and children of Urani playgroup to the local playgroup, which was brilliant to see the kids having so much fun and the mothers who came along all looking so proud; all asking for their child to have a photo with me! Then the celebrity treatment continued as I was invited to a sports day programme organised by Eruvil playgroup - as the chief guest! Although I was too shy to make a speech as they wanted me to, I got to hand out prizes for the various events which was great fun, even if it all took place in the baking sun! So with a whole folder full of audit reports and requests and documents I left Batticaloa and went on to Negombo.

Spending Easter weekend in Negombo was my most difficult time in Sri Lanka until that point. I ended up having to spend 4 days in Negombo waiting for the department of immigration to open so I could renew my visa. Then the driver took me to various British embassies and consulates etc. until I managed to tell him where I actually needed to go. THEN somebody drove into the back of his car, gave him Rs500 (£3) for the damages and drove off! eventually I got my visa stamped for the princely sum of Rs6000 - enough for 4 or 5 days at Joseph's! And the next day I set off for the jungle.

The 6th of April is one of the days from this trip I'm sure I'll never forget - I woke up listening to the waves crashing on a negombo beach through my hotel window. After a few hours driving and a couple of fantastic meals I fell asleep listening to elephants crashing against trees all around me through - well a couple of poles. Rohan's place at Morakanda is truly one of the most spectacular places I have been - and probably will ever be - lucky enough to stay. The whole place just runs out into the teak plantation so harmoniously and the views are so untouched and natural, it is a rare thing indeed to be so close to nature. The guys there were great too, walking out onto the warm rock face to help me spot elephants, and then watching the sunset with me, and Upali cooking me the most wonderful meals! On my last afternoon he took me on a walk through the jungle to see even more spectacular views and walk barefoot through elephant watering holes (and an ants nest which wasn't so fun!) Although I did so little for 5 days I will take away so much from that place and so many memories to look back on when I'm back in cold England.

From Habarana, Janapdeen took me up to Vellai Manal (which is Tamil for white sand - I'm getting there!) And a lot of you will know how nervous I was about staying in his family home - but as you all told me there was absolutely nothing to worry about. His whole family were amazing to me and the whole village seemed to want to make me as comfortable as possible - I lost track of how many people's motorbikes I rode on the back of. One moment that struck me as to how rural and traditional this village is was during a nursery session when the teacher brought us a drink - not a bottle of coke or water but a fresh king coconut, which she hacked open with a huge knife. This just sums up how beautifully these people live - the biggest crime in the area seems to be monkeys stealing fruit from trees! Janapdeens house was a real hub of the community - kids were always wandering in and out (some times difficult to tell who was who's child!) and I think I met most of his brothers and his mother etc.

While I was staying in Vellai Manal it was Tamil and Sinhala new year, and something totally unprecedented happened. "Dead Man's Cove" is the body of water only around 1km from the village but access to which the people have been totally denied for around 10 years. But this year the Navy opened the beach so I spent the day eating with the locals, watching a cricket match between the Navy and the locals and getting to swim with some of the boys from my evening class who loved splashing around and having swimming races. Although this is obviously a massive step in the relations between the two peoples of the country, there was a feeling that this access was only granted as a result of the Sinhalese holiday and the same treatment wouldn't have happened if it had been a purely Tamil or Muslim holiday - but it was clear progress nonetheless. The classes themselves didn't warrant my worrying either - in the mornings I played with the nursery and in the evenings I tried to teach the older kids (around 8-11) some English. This mostly took the form of the teacher drawing pictures or writing the Tamil words and the children spelling out the English. It was great to see the shy class of 12 transform into a much more confident class of about 32 by the end of the week! Janapdeen was feeling ill for a few days from a nasty insect bite so the children mostly walked with me to and from the school, and some of his friends who were on a tour from Batticoloa were kind enough to take me with them to "Pigeon Island" off the coast of Nilaveli beach. They were even gracious enough to put up with my shocking attempts at eating rice with my fingers!

It was quite a change from the great feeling of Trincomalee to waiting in Negombo (again) not knowing whether Laura's flight would ever come and even if I would ever get home - but I won't go into that too much.

After staying in Negombo for 2 nights I decided it would be best to come down to Galle to visit the small Ocean Stars project there. I arrived here yesterday at another hotel at which I feel incredibly out of place, and today Rev Dareeju took me to the project and for a tour of Galle. He is such a fantastic and enigmatic host, and took me to see tea plants growing, to taste cinnamon plucked freshly from the plant and then down to a Buddhist Temple and Galle Fort, before going to lunch at his house. It has been a great chance to see a totally different side of Sri Lanka - although it is all too clear the problems tourism is causing for this area. Again the value of knowing a "local" was immeasurable, I was able to see things off the conventional tourist routes and enjoy yet another authentic Sri Lankan meal. Today was also improved with the news that Laura has booked a ticket for a flight tonight so with any luck she'll be here tomorrow - only a few days after we had originally planned. I'd like to say thanks to all those who took a concern in the developments and I'm sure a few prayers were said that she'd make it here - and it looks like things are back on track.

Sorry for such a long update, turns out I've done a lot in the 3 weeks or so I haven't written! And there's still so much more I've left out but I'll be back in 9 days to tell you all about it....

Thanks for following what has been such an amazing trip and I look forward to sharing the details with everyone.


Update 22/03/2010

Matt Marshall :: Monday 22nd March 2010 :: This Story

Devastating news: there were no chickens, just envelopes of money which will be used to buy chickens, along with a few bikes, water filters and tables for some of the nurseries and a whole load of shoes! It was quite manic with all the different people coming and going and getting different things - trying to name each person in each photo has proved a bit of a nightmare! But it was brilliant just to spend a whole day giving; being here on my own it's been easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of need i'm confronted with, with very little to actually give. So Saturday was a great chance to see Ocean Stars' money doing what it does best; some of the tables even went to Eruvil nursery whose need we established last year which really demonstrated the direct action the charity is able to take.

Today it was back on the road - about 2 hours on the back of Ranchan's motorbike each way - to visit Tirrukovil nursery. This was the first project I visited in Batticoloa last year so it has stayed in my mind when I was thinking about coming back. I was relieved to see that little had changed - the freedom and joy with which the children play is a real testament to the two teachers' abilities. In the end we spent almost all morning playing with skipping ropes, the parachute and blowing bubbles. Then it was time for the children to have lunch and go home - yet another round of goodbyes. I have 6 more nurseries to visit and a whole host of sponsored children and their families - Ranchan will keep me busy until I have to leave I'm sure!

Thanks for reading and sorry to disappoint on the chickens front

From Grace Children's home to Batti playgroups

Matt Marshall :: Thursday 18th March 2010 :: This Story


Since I wrote my last entry, I spent a couple more nights at Grace Children's Home; it was during these last couple of days that the boys really came out of their shells and began to relax around me. My most prominent memory is the night when I attended their prayers; the minister was such an exuberant worship leader and the boy's energy was so strong and focus for the whole hour of worship. After this I sat outside with the boys on a veranda for a long time, the boys taking it in turns to teach me tamil phrases, they seemed so happy and proud of their language, and so appreciative of having someone to share it with. Seeing the minister so enthusiastic in his worship was very hard for me to connect with his home which I visit the next day: about 30Km from Vavuniya city it is in a very remote and difficult area. His home showed the scars of a long and gruelling conflict - it was only just being repaired and he told me that he himself had been made a refugee by the conflict three times. On the long drive over unmade roads and past the infamous refugee camps, I struggled to understand how people in this position maintain faith in their country and can be so generous to those around them. As I left the boy's home I really wished i could have given them more; these boys - unlike the children in the nursery projects - seem somehow more damaged by their situation as they have come to an age where the marks are no longer erasable.

In a sense this makes the work I'm doing with Ranchan in Batticoloa more powerful; with these young children Ocean Stars really has the opportunity to make permanent change. Every day I'm visiting a nursery in the morning and then three or four sponsor children and their families each night; the reception from these families is without fail so happy and so grateful despite whatever the situation of that particular family may be. When asked if they have any messages for their sponsor, the vast majority ask for a family photo - they want to have a real and tangible link with these people towards whom they have so much gratitude - something that Ocean Stars can facilitate, whereas other larger NGO's may not. Even more so than my last visits, it has really struck me how powerful the gift of sponsorship is; the children almost always use the money for extra tuition, and it provides them with a very real sense of future and security.

On Saturday, Ranchan has arranged for the recipients of donations through the gift catalogue scheme to receive these presents - including hundreds of chickens - at his house, which should be a very exciting event.

I am continuing to do this work in Batticoloa for another two weeks, at which point I'll move down to Galle and the south. Hopefully I'll write again soon, thanks for all your comments!

Grace Children's Home - Vavuniya

Matt Marshall :: Saturday 13th March 2010 :: This Story

I've spent the last few days in Vavuniya at the Grace Children's home. Vavuniya is a less priviledged area of the country and so I haven't had much opportunity to access the internet.

All the boys at Grace were a little shy at first, as I met them at study time, but the bouncy balls Maureen had sent for the boys went down a treat and we spent hours of my first night playing with them! At this point the boys were still calling me master which was strange to me given that I was there to play with them and not to take the authoritative role they are used to men taking. However yesterday they started calling me uncle in Tamil, which made me feel a lot more comfortable. Yesterday I had a chance to watch the boys doing their chores; watering the plants and sweeping up the leaves before they were allowed to play sports. As soon as the chores were done a group of grinning boys ran out to the grass with the parachute donated by Heatherside School last year; they had taken such good care of it and took great pride in showing me the games they like to play with it.

Yesterday evening I sat with the boys while they studied, and showed me the english phrases the knew, as they love to speak english and to hear me repeat the words back. I tried to learn to count to ten in Tamil in a similar way but I could only get as far as 8 before my accent became to funny for the boys. Tonight I think we are going to play cricket in the boys' free time and I have been invited to an hours prayers, which will no doubt be followed by a delicious meal provided by Mrs Nadrajah who has been a wonderful host. I think I'll have time for a couple hours more sleep before the boys get home from school...

Pre-trip thoughts from the airport

Matt Marshall :: Monday 8th March 2010 :: This Story

At the airport going to Sri Lanka

It seems such a close memory that I sat in the costa in terminal 4 of heathrow, passing the time until we could board the flight to a completely unknown place. I had no idea then how much of an effect Sri Lanka and its people would have on me, but here I am again, less than half a year later, a few yards from the same costa, waiting to get on the plane. Throughout the trip last year, the blog served us all as a way of sharing what we were going through and helped us all in some way to process it for ourselves. I hope to use this blog for very much the same purpose, perhaps as much for myself as for others: what lies in front of me will no doubt be an exciting and life-changing experience and I am so glad to have a way to share it with those of you who are reading and supporting me.

For mums benefit I have attached a picture of my self at the airport.

I hope to speak to you on the other side of the long-haul flight!