Final thoughts from Kate.

OceanStars :: Tuesday 4th November 2008 :: This Story

I have been back in Fleet for a couple of days now and it is a struggle to return to normal life – packed lunches, dark and damp weather, layers of clothes and busy people.

For me the recent trip to Sri Lanka bombarded my senses and I have come away with images and sounds that will live with me forever…………

The sound of laughter at the Grace Children’s Home as I played ‘bean bags’ with the boys…

The dark room lit by one small oil lamp in the home of one of the sponsored children...

The fear of a small child when seeing two soldiers passing the playgroup on a motorbike…

The sound of the drums as Harshana, Ranga and Sudah played and sang for us on our last evening in Colombo…

The contrast between the tsunami damaged buildings on one side of the road and the calm Indian Ocean on the other…

The numerous shelled out buildings we saw as we drove across to the east towards Batticaloa…

Armed soldiers every few hundred yards; youngsters carrying guns, sometimes with their faces hidden; most with fear in their eyes. What have they witnessed?

Buffaloes wallowing up to their necks in a water lily covered lagoon – their idea of heaven I expect…

The voices of the five girls who sang and danced for us in the chapel at Wesley College as we waited to leave for Colombo…

The exhaustion induced hysterical laughter as various members of the Ocean Stars Team related some tale…

The smiling faces of the mothers who watched their children having fun running around wearing paper crowns, laughing…

The generosity of the people who have so little to give but give so much…

The wide eyes of the children when given a teddy bear to take home with them; something of their very own to love and cuddle…

The rising sun over the Indian Ocean – surely a sign of hope for better things to come; a new beginning…

I could carry on with this list for ever as sounds and images are continually flooding back to me at random whenever I get the chance to sit and daydream for a moment. It was a journey of contrasts and one I have had the privilege to share with eleven others including the three drivers. It will take a while to settle back into life here in Fleet and I ask for patience and understanding as I gradually process the experience and slowly settle back into reality.

Finally a big thank you to everyone for the parts they have played in my ‘adventure’, however big or small…..

Bron - A day later...

OceanStars :: Monday 3rd November 2008 :: This Story

And so we have returned, and I am truly happy to be back home with my family. Life here has gone on whilst I have been away, yet I am changed in some way. I have seen so many things and learned so much over the last 11 days that my life can never be the same again, and helping those around me to understand this will take time, patience, love and understanding on both sides.

So what have I learned? Well…

I have learned that Korma is not the only curry…

I have learned that it is not always impolite to eat with ones fingers – indeed, it is sometimes essential…

I have learned that ‘night bus moments’ are not necessarily fatal…

I have learned that the ability to count does not extend to hairpin bends…

I have learned that sharing mosquito repellent and after bite cream can help to build a team…

I have re-learned that money cannot buy happiness…

I have learned that communication crosses the boundaries of language…

I have learned that civil conflicts do not necessarily extend to individuals…

I have learned that the abuse of power causes fear among the innocent…

I have re-learned that people are people the world over – God’s children regardless of race,
religion or culture…

I have learned that rebuilding houses is not the same as rebuilding lives and livelihoods…

I have learned that I can learn so much from people…

I have learned humility from those facing poverty on a scale I can barely imagine, yet who shared so much from what they didn’t have…

I have learned that the Sri Lankan people – the ordinary people – have a warmth and openness and gift of hospitality second to none…

I would like to thank and pay tribute to OST 2008 – Amali (the ‘baby’), Helen (the Scot), Jan (the finance), Jo (the includer), Kate (the tireless), Maureen (the teacher), Sharon (the listener), and in particular Dilanee (the enabler and powerhouse). You have been great! I am so grateful to you all for our time together, and I look forward to meeting up again soon.

I would also like to remember with thanks the extended team, our trio of intrepid drivers – Ranga the good shepherd, (who had this title explained to him in terms of a herd of buffalo, which I wasn't quite sure about!), Harshana and Sudha (daaarling!!), without whose hard work, support, care and willingness to be so much part of the team this trip would have been a great deal harder. They are two Buddhists and a Hindu, one Tamil and two Sinhalese, but these differences made no difference to them that I could see, as they looked out for each other and us. Their words at our final debrief session confirmed that the work we had done, and which Ocean Stars will continue to do, was of great value to their people, and they said they were proud to have been part of the team, which reduced some of us to tired tears.

Then the other people I have met and got to know a little in Sri Lanka – Rangini, Joseph, Ranchen, Gita, Yasmin, Rohan, Gauri, Jacthi, Rev Jothini, Kumar and his family, and others I’m sure I have missed out, and for that I apologise. Thank you for your generosity of time, and for giving a greater understanding of the situation in Sri Lanka. And I also apologise for the mis-spelling of names…

And the many people I have met whose names I don’t know, and therefore cant mis-spell! The teachers in the playgroups we have visited, the parents whose generosity with what little material possessions they have has been a lesson in itself, and especially to the children with whom we have worked. Their faces as we played with them, making things for them to take home with them, and their laughter as we threw beanbags and sang the interminable ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’. The invitation into homes in the Batti area which were just tiny shacks built of pieces of wood and corrugated iron, and being surrounded by small people still wearing the paper crowns we had made earlier in the day.

I have left a part of my heart back there in Sri Lanka, and I look forward to returning in the future...maybe next year?

And Team 2008…I’m FINE!!!


Some images from the week...

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

Sorry, but they take quite a while to upload - I will put some more on when there is a bit more time!


Jo with her sponsor family


Sri Lanka elephant ride

Amali and Jan on elephant


Sri Lanka snake

Sharon with a snake


Sri Lanka nursery children

Amali with playgroup children


Ocean Stars Trust team 2008

OST team 2008!


Sri Lanka elephant orphanage

Elephant orphanage :)

Final group blog on the ground...

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

Friday 31st October/Saturday 1st November

The morning began, for some of us, with a very early morning swim – 5.15am – to see the sunrise! The sea was calm, and full of leaping fish and swimming crabs! Jan overslept and finally arrived on the back of a bicycle having missed the minibus! We were going to walk, but Ranga (our good shepherd) would not allow us to! The sunrise over the sea was beautiful and a sad reminder of all we are going to miss when we are back in Britain.

When everyone was up and about, it was time to get sorted for our last morning at the playgroups. Our schedule did not run to time (so what’s new!?) as Harshana had problems getting an exit pass out of Batticaloa from the police. Most of the group eventually left for their respective playgroups while Dilanee, Janaki and Jo spent the morning meeting with project leaders/ministers to discuss funding and proposed projects.

Our morning playgroup sessions went well and once again it was just a joy to see the children laugh and enjoy themselves. For all of us it was a wrench to leave them – they have truly left a mark in each of our lives just as we hope we have in theirs.

Our departure from Batticaloa was 2 hours later than scheduled due to endless exit paperwork, which was not ideal with a 10 hour journey ahead of us!! Meanwhile....... Maureen and Helen spent a happy hour playing dress up at the home of Nilanthe, their playgroup teacher!

The rest of the group met up with Reverend Jothini at Wesley High School and were treated to an impromptu concert by girls who boarded at the college which was a really special parting memory.

We finally set off at 3pm and slowly wended our way towards Colombo. The journey was tedious at times, but the scenery was stunning – until it got dark! Due to the fact that we were too late to take the road across the dam for fear of people driving over the edge in the dark (!), we had to take a longer route up the mountain pass which the drivers assured us involved 18 hairpin bends, but we counted many more!! This route was even more precarious than the original with precipitous drops on each side. At one point we thought we would be spending the night there as an accident involving a lorry was blocking the road and emergency access would have been impossible. Luckily there were enough capable ‘men’ to lift the lorry back onto the road and the blockage quickly cleared (not the only one of the week!)

So we continued on our way bouncing along from pothole to pothole thus ensuring that sleep was not possible for most. Sudha told us that the road would finish soon, but we all felt that it had been finished for a while which caused a bout of exhausted hysteria! We finally arrived at Colombo at 1am to be greeted with orange juice and piped hotel lobby music. The opulence was in stark contrast to much of what we had seen. The realisation that some of the families we had met this week were living in a space not much bigger than one of our beds struck home!

After a good night’s sleep, an early morning swim (For Jo and DIlanee it was a nostalgic reminder of their first meeting in a swimming pool 17 years ago!) a hearty breakfast and a trip to the police station to report a lost camera, it was off for a little sightseeing around Colombo and a return for Dilanee and Janaki to their childhood with a visit to their 100 year old great aunt. An opportunity,too, for Helen to share in a part of Jan’s childhood. This was followed by trips to a Buddhist temple and a little retail therapy!!!

This evening we have spent a wonderful time at the home of Yasmin where we thanked our fantastic trio of drivers – our ‘daahlings’!!! This was followed by the Sri Lankan version of fish and chips – Lumprais – curry and rice wrapped in banana leaves, which was delicious!! Kate brought along her newly purchased drums and we prevailed on Ranga, Harshana and Sudha to sing some traditional songs. We responded with a pathetic rendering of ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain’ – with adapted words!!

It was then back to the hotel for cocktails, blogging and packing and this is our last group entry. And so..... the end is near!!! Some of us may add to this when we get home and we hope you will too. Thank you for reading this blog and for all your support and encouragement before and throughout this trip which has been a real help to us. If you are picking us up from the airport or are waiting at home for us please be warned we are all shattered!

Mika Nandri/Bohomo isthuthi/Thank you very much!!!!

Dilanee, Janaki, Maureen, Bron, Jo, Sharon, Helen, Amali, Kate

PS: Helen wanting to know at 2.00am.......Is it time for our showers yet..............!!

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.


Where to start...

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

Where to start? So many experiences crammed into the space of 10 days!

Highlights for me? Too many to mention, but arriving at the playgroup in Trinco, seeing the children lined up to present us with garlands made from shells was very special for me. Although I have been part of Ocean Stars since the beginning, back in January 2005, this was my first trip out here, so for me all those evenings spent sitting in Fleet discussing funding and projects had finally come to life!

We have spent the last 10 days immersed in Sri Lankan life and culture. It has been an incredible experience, the warmth and hospitality of all the people we have met has at times overwhelmed us. They have welcomed us into their homes and taken us to their hearts. Their generosity of spirit has been second to none.

It has been a very busy time with very long days, early mornings and lots of travelling but to see the smiling faces of the children we have been working with has made it all fade into insignificance. To see them relax, smile and laugh with us made every 5.30am start more than worthwhile. We watched them take pleasure from the simplest of things, and heard them squeal with laughter despite the fact that they are not blessed with life’s luxuries, and sometimes barely life’s necessities.

There have of course inevitably been some very sad, emotional moments, hearing heartbreaking firsthand accounts of the tsunami, visiting families living in single room tin shacks – and yet these people still manage to smile!

I think we have all agreed that that this is a land of contrasts – walking on an idyllic beach looking across the road at the destruction wrought by the tsunami, which still remains and swimming in the sea at sunrise watching armed soldiers patrolling along the beach.

It has been a truly all encompassing and absorbing experience – a complete sensory overload! I don’t think any of us will forget the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Sri Lanka and it has certainly touched our hearts and will stay with us for a very long time.


So many stars...

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

How do you describe the last few days when each experience has been crammed with so much? Our time in Batticola and the surrounding area has only continued to heighten the emotions of our trip here. The welcome we have had from everyone we have met has been so warm and has just continued.So many Sri Lankans,Tamil and Sinhalese live with constant fear:as if not only trying to rebuild their Tsunami shattered lives is enough, but also living under the shadow and dangers of the inner conflict,fathers disappear ,kidnapped in the night,never to be seen again.

So much has touched my heart I don’t know where to start; a Kurumenvely family’s gratitude to us for visiting their home which was made of bamboo and dried grass;a child’s face light up when they were given a balloon;a widow’s pleasure of receiving a candle:the old man who was sitting on the dirt path gently singing to a child less than a year old as he used a razor to shave the child’s head;the kindness of complete strangers allowing me to use their facilities-a squat in the ground, or the sheer delight from the 4 year olds in Kalkudah,as we blowed bubbles and they tried to catch them in the area they called a playground,empty of nothing but dust and for that short time, laughter. Only a few of the many poignant moments.......there are many,many more and I am sure,before we leave, still more to come.


What did I expect?

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

What did I expect? I had no definite picture in my head of what pre-school in this part of Sri Lanka would be like. At home the pre-schools I know are well stocked with toys, games, craft resources etc. So it came as yet another shock to arrive at Poonachimunai pre-school on Tuesday morning to find 35 children dressed in their finest (!) They were waiting patiently in their seats and looking tentative.

We were warmly welcomed and Jan and I then proceeded to try and introduce the children to circle games, beanbags(!), stories, rhymes and picture. They gradually relaxed and it was a joy to see them smile when they completed something by themselves or had fun taking part in one of the games.

Jan found some unopened jigsaws in a cupboard – they’d obviously not seen anything like them before. So we spent a while working with them one at a time, allowing each to have a go by themselves. They quickly realised what they had to do and were obviously so chuffed when they found they could complete the puzzle themselves. Their smiles and laughter meant everything to us.

The soldiers came by at one point and sat outside under a tree for a while – what they made of the “humpty dumpty” falling off his “wall”, I’m not quite sure.
Wednesday was more of the same – the children gradually became more confident and noisier. By Wednesday lunch time we were exhausted – the heat is intense, as are the flies. There is nowhere to hide.

Visiting several of the children in their homes is another part of the story. A whole different world – it is one thing to see pictures of families in poverty. It is another to be in their presence and look into their eyes. I love the way they care for each other – sharing all that they have. They are a true community and in that sense far richer than us.

Maureen and Jan

Message received and understood!

OceanStars :: Thursday 30th October 2008 :: This Story

Hi there everyone,

Message received about photos - we will get some posted as soon as poss!

It's great to hear your comments and to know that you are following our adventure. Please keep them coming!


Tuesday 28th October - TASKS ASSIGNED!

OceanStars :: Thursday 30th October 2008 :: This Story

Another early start, this time to the playgroups we have all been looking forward to working in. For Sharon, Jo and Helen it was a journey to Kalkudah, once again through many roadblocks with the security of armed soldiers.

The playgroup was housed in a simple open brick building and on arrival we were adorned with beautiful, fragrant garlands of flowers which the children placed around our necks. Straight away they were eagerly drawing pictures of their houses as we attempted to learn their names!! ‘Two little dickie birds’ added some fun to this, and everyone started to relax and embrace the morning’s activities. It wasn’t long before the personalities began to shine through.....shy, cheeky and confident. It was a delight to see how, with very little resources, Prema and her helpers had nurtured a safe and happy environment for these 3-5 year olds. They were keen for us to come back tomorrow and finish the story we started....!!

We were then treated to a delicious lunch at the new, post- tsunami home of our translator Victor and his mum Victoria, who lost her husband Trevor in the disaster. Her resilience in the aftermath shone through and her cooking was a tribute to Sri Lankan cuisine. The food was all naturally grown in her garden – water melons, aubergines, beans, okra, mangoes and cashews amongst others!

On return to Batticaloa we had our first 30 minutes of chill out time since arrival. It’s been so busy diaries have been abandoned but not forgotten.

Before sunset ,most of the group took an emotional drive to Dutch Bar, a bay badly hit by the tsunami. We were very moved by the devastation. The contrast between the idyllic beach on one side of the road and only foundations of buildings on the other really struck us. As well as the memorial which bore the names of those lost -the oldest born 1925, the youngest only 26 days old - there was the poignancy of a solitary child’s shoe in amongst the rubble and a motorbike on the second floor of a wrecked house placed there in memory of the owner.

We all needed space with our thoughts on the beach. After this Harshana (one of our drivers – a Buddhist) gently reminded us that life is not permanent.

Our reflective mood lightened as we enjoyed an evening meal – yet another home cooked feast – with our deaf friends at the Kalladay project. It was somehow easier communicating with impromptu sign language than with Tamil and Sinhalese! These people really welcomed us and yet again we were overwhelmed by the gracious nature of Sri Lankan hospitality.

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