Return to Batticaloa

It was with a mixture of emotions that I left Dambulla for Batti.

OceanStars :: Tuesday 2nd November 2010 :: This Story

I had been up most of the night with sickness and diarrhoea and felt quite drained of energy which wasn’t ideal before several hours on a minibus followed by a strenuous schedule at the other end.  It was my first Ocean Stars trip without my sister Dilanee and I felt responsible for my four companions; my dear long-term pal Helen for whom it was her second and long-awaited return to Sri Lanka, her friend Sheila, a keen supporter of Ocean Stars eagerly anticipating the chance to work and play with the children in the nursery schools and my two youthful nieces, Jo and Sarah, who were visiting Sri Lanka for the first time and bursting with enthusiasm for all they were seeing and experiencing.  As it turned out however, I had little to fear as the magic of Batti soon engulfed us and within a day, everyone was talking about “the next time”.  


Travel to Batticaloa Nursery
Ocean Stars visits Batticaloa The major difference since my last visit two years ago was the end of the twenty seven year old ethnic conflict.  We didn’t travel to the far north where the final stand-off between the government forces and the Tamil Tigers had taken place but we were in the Tamil area of Batticaloa.  The atmosphere was significantly lighter as the military checkpoints had all but disappeared, there was no night curfew and for the first time, the people of Batti could talk and plan for their future.  It was delightful to see local fishermen fish again and the lagoons and sea were dotted with little boats.  There were signs of road building and even the foundations of a new bridge to replace the one built by the British.

One of the charms of Batti for me is the total absence of tourism and the lack of technology.  People are genuinely warm and hospitable and can’t do enough to please.  They seem to be able to combine hard work with smiles and laughter showing no outward signs of stress.  Nothing is too much trouble and everything we did was soaked up and appreciated.  Our guest house owner, Joseph, ensured we sampled a range of Sri Lankan cuisine ranging from roti, noodles, locally caught prawns and crab to traditional rice and curry.  The local Ocean Stars team, in particular Ranchan and Ranjini, bent over backwards to make sure all our needs were met and atiently answered all our questions.   

 Our five days in Batti were mainly spent teaching in different nursery schools apart from one day where we facilitated a teachers’ workshop for 12 teachers.  The teachers do a remarkable job with little resources and their love and kindness is apparent when you see the children happy and secure within their environment.  However, the teachers informed us that they are under pressure from parents to teach reading and writing at a very early age resulting in nursery education being formal and structured with little play and creativity.  As we were immune to the pressures the local teachers face, we took the opportunity to cram as many musical and creative activities into our day even introducing painting into the children’s lives for the first time.  Squeals of laughter filled the air as we played parachute games, circle time activities and the all time favourite of blowing and chasing bubbles.

Pre school activities Batticaloa nursery - under the parachute
Parachute games Sri Lanka Pre school story

The teachers’ workshop brought together twelve teachers, one teacher from each school.  This was an opportunity for them to share the challenges and highlights they face and for us to share appropriate activities.  We had an action packed day ranging from making play dough, pretending to be various animals, reflecting on what makes a good teacher, completing team-building / problem solving tasks and learning the Scottish Gay Gordon!  The teachers were incredibly motivated and as the day went on began to see the merits of learning through play and how enjoyment is key to stimulating creativity amongst young children.

Teachers workshop

Our evenings were mainly spent sitting around mosquito coils, sipping ginger beer and discussing our experiences.  One evening we had the chance to meet the local Ocean Stars committee and hear about their work first hand. It was particularly refreshing to hear their ideas on sustainability which ranged from setting up a bakery, to running a small scale fertiliser plant and several cottage industries.  Due to the war these discussions couldn’t have happened earlier and the excitement was clearly apparent as they finally had opportunities to set up income generating activities and not rely solely on aid.  All dressed up

As I reflect on my trip, one of the overwhelming memories is the sense of
camaraderie we shared, not only between the UK group but between all the people we spent our time with.  Ranga, our ever faithful driver, Guna, our translator, Ranchan and Ranjini from the local Ocean Stars team, the teachers and cooks, Joseph from Avonlea guest house and of course Helen, Sheila, Jo and Sarah.  The group from the UK arrived offering different levels of knowledge and skills.  On one journey back to our guest house I was aware of the range of conversations taking place around me. 

Helen and Sheila avidly discussing how carefully the children concentrated on painting their paper plates, Sarah talking animatedly with Guna about the subtleties of the influence of French and German on the English language, Jo writing a children’s story about Armey the turtle and his adventures in the paddy fields, Ranchan describing to me how it is possible to turn rubbish into compost as an income generating project!  It didn’t matter that we were Singhalese, Tamil, Scottish, Welsh or English, Hindu, Buddhist or Christian.  We shared a common purpose and together we worked hard and laughed ourselves senseless at times.

As a new dawn rises on Batti, we leave with a deeper understanding of humanity and a greater generosity of spirit.  Thank you everyone for a truly memorable time.

Beach sun set - Batticaloa