Monday, 28 July 2014

Trip to the Keleniya Project (Racheal)

The charity we are working with have 5 projects throughout Sri Lanka; Kandy being the largest.  I took a short trip to visit the Keleniya Project in the West of the country this week.
The day started early with our ever reliable tuk tuk  driver 'Sunil' collecting me at 5:30am prompt to take me safely to the train station.  Sri Lanka seems proud of its railways and it is not hard to see why, trains leave on time and the tracks, trains and stations have changed little since the colonial days.  It's like travelling through time....but more importantly any country that paints trains bright pink is a winner in my book!

The bone shaking three hour journey into Colombo climbed around lush, green hills then through dark tunnels carved into mountains with treacherous sheer drops.  No buses run from Colombo to the project so another tuk tuk ride was required to battle its way through the 'SHOCKING' pollution and traffic of Colombo; all made the more exhilarating by my driver erratically weaving in and out of traffic and taking frequent and sudden off road trips. Only he knew where he was going.

The project in Keleniya consists of a morning pre-school then after school 5-8 year olds arrive for a hot meal, education and fun.  The children come from the most vulnerable families; many are single parents living with alcoholism, mental health problems and literally struggling to survive.  The project is fortunate enough to be funded by a multi-national company and Keleniya is considered to be their flagship 'social responsibility project'. I was informed this model is planned to be replicated in China and India.  Coming from the Kandy project where the health of the children is so very poor I was surprised by the excellent health of these children. They are given milk every day and have monthly health checks by a doctor.  Whilst there I ran a class making 'flowers with feelings' and hand paintings in the hottest class room I have ever visited in my entire life!!!! We sang and played lots of roaring and chasing games. 

I decided to spend the night there. Being very rural and remote I spent a long and very warm night on the floor of the office under an ageing fan and bathed in mozzy repellent.  Luckily none of the enormous cockroaches I heard rustling about visited my boudoir during the night.
We are hoping to return later in the year to deliver 'participation and children's rights' training to social workers and teachers. We are hoping to have trained some young people to assist by then.

We'll keep you posted.

Spk soon.


Monday, 21 July 2014

From July LOOkin to August...

Hey everyone,

We hear you're having a heat wave in the UK?? Fancy that. Hope you're all enjoying the sun wherever in the world you are and you get a decent run of it.

The weather is typically changeable here in Kandy at the moment. I think it's signalling a move towards another monsoon season; there are around three a year don't you know.  It's blue skies one minute then wind and rain the next; but it always stays warm.  We love it. We love the rain and it rarely lasts long anyway.  Usually we just have to pull 'Blue Monster' (our battered lil family 90cc scooter) under the nearest tree and wait until the rain passes.   We have a tried and tested technique for riding the scooter now.  Kyan is the eyes and ears up front (Asia-Lilly does take the helm when Kyan is at school but due to her tendency of falling asleep she must wiggle her fingers at all times to show alertness) and she is in charge of the honking the horn (which in Kandy is needed every other  minute...literally!) Then it's Daddy, I steer.  Asia-Lilly is next.  Her job is to sing out of tune and to call out 'BIG BUDDHA!!' when she sees one.  At the back is Racheal to sandwich Asia-Lilly in and hold the bags.  Added to this at any one time can be our vegetable shop from the markets and supermarket essentials. We are very proud of Blue Monster; surprisingly there has rarely been a hill that has beaten her yet. When she starts to struggle we all shout ''COME ON BLUE MONSTER, YOU CAN DO IT!!'' which mostly seems to do the trick.

We are getting accustomed to the pace of life now in Sri Lanka and the work practices. Both very different to the UK.  Not better or worse, just different.  For example, if you agree a time to do something say 1pm then you need to add 'Kandy time' onto that which could be another 3 hours or even days depending on the individual.  It can be frustrating but it kinda works, you just gotta roll with it.  It is really interesting adjusting  to the change of pace and the way we worked in the UK, work is less organised, plans and details are very collective by nature and subject to change at any time.

July has continued to be both busy & productive.  We have now set up a regular weekly arts workshop that both Racheal and myself run for some of the older young people and Racheal also takes a weekly English class for the eldest teenagers.  The classes have been a great way of helping to break down barriers with the young people and develop some key relationships.  Racheal is being tasked  to help advise & develop key policies for CAL & project manage future events.  I am planning to start and run another regular workshop from next week with our pre-school children, these little ones access the centre from 8am - 6pm each day and  are provided with 2 hot meals, a shower, education, fun and activities each day.  In a recent portrait drawing workshop some of the older kids created portraits of their peers which we plan to reproduce onto the entrance walls to the centre. On my days at the centre I have been spending the majority of my time with the toddlers and babies.  New additions arrive regularly and without the assistance from volunteers the workload of caring for approximately 20 toddlers and babies for the 3 regular staff would be impossible.  As a result of their difficult and harsh living conditions most of the children are often sick, always tired from lack of sleep and comfort, under fed and generally in need of some love and attention.  You do put yourself at risk though in this environment.  The constant exposure to the snots and coughs of the babies greatly increases your chances of becoming ill. I am coming to the end of a coarse of antibiotics after contracting a rather unpleasant chest infection from the loves.  It also took out the manager and hospitalised another worker this week.  What can you do, if a baby needs a cuddle then the baby needs a cuddle!

July also included us helping to co-ordinate a visit from 21 students and teaching staff from Tonbridge school in the UK. The boys visited two centres that are being set up in the North and East and culminated with a visit to see the centres in Kandy where again they provided practical skills helping to paint the interior walls of the children's class rooms.  On the last day of their stay before departing back to the UK a rugby match was held between The Tonbridge boys (representing CAL) and a team from the local Trinity College; who we have under good authority from our legendary neighbour 'Lucky' have the 2nd best college team in the country. Trinity were undefeated but having had time to acclimatise to the heat of SL Team CAL provided an excellent display of grit and determination to win over the local champions.  Racheal and I unfortunately saw little of the match as we provided impromptu and makeshift 'face painting' on the touchline for anyone not interested in the display of testosterone.  You can see some of the creations on our Facebook page.

August promises to be even busier.  Racheal is taking a 2-day visit to a project in Colombo this week before returning to help lead a month of activities that she has helped put together for the children during August when they are on holiday from school.  The planned schedule of activities has needed to be extensive to entice the children back off the streets and into the safety of the centre. The loss of school would usually signal a happy time for children but without the daily security school provides the young people are forced onto the streets to beg, steal & sell to the influx of tourists visiting during the Perahera Festival; which lasts for the whole month.  We are also planning a road trip in August with Kyan & Asia-Lilly to visit and work with other projects in the East of the Island where we hope to be able to develop our Empowerment & Awareness training programme.  Currently with Kyan's school commitments we are limited to travelling and supporting other projects in SL so we plan to make the most of the school holidays.

We still continue to be amazed by the warmth and kindness shown to us by our colleagues, the children we work with, from our neighbours (providing deliveries of chocolates, cakes & wondrous tropical fruits for the kids) and mostly absolute strangers on a daily basis. We are really feeling part of the community. We were fortunate recently to meet a young family from the UK who are working here for 3-months doing important research work at the local hospital. We were kindly invited to their daughters 3rd birthday party on Sunday; again I will post some pictures on our Facebook page. Mr. Mouse even made an appearance from The Gruffalo book, although there was concern at one point that heat exhaustion may get the better of him because of the need to translate from English to Sinhala which greatly increased this children's classic into an epic adventure akin to 'War & Peace'! We're very grateful to their hospitality, kindness & cooking advice to us over the past 2 weeks.

Our hope from writing these blogs is to tell you about some of the silly little things that happen to us out here alongside the bigger ones so that you can begin to create a picture of what your donations and support are enabling out here in Sri Lanka.

Sthuthi (Thank you) sincerely,

Love Carl, Racheal, Kyan & Asia-Lilly xxxx

(This post is dedicated to the memory of Peter Metcalf &  to his family)

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Work Has Begun!

Aybowan everyone!!

It's been a while since the last update.  Setting up the project and our new home has been time consuming.  But things are settling down a little so we thought we would take advantage (of some rare & decent Internet connection) of the opportunity to update you.  We've missed you all.....

Our house is feeling like home; Kyan and Asia-Lilly are enjoying school life and dealing fantastically with the heat and the constant attention of the locals.  Asia-Lilly is especially happy - Sri Lanka has brightened her life beyond recognition resulting in Racheal and I being able to fully focus on work.

We mentioned that this is a time of real growth and transition for the local charity we are working with. Previously the charity had four centres spread over the city but they have now secured a new(ish) space where all the centres co-exist under one roof; providing support for up to 60 + babies, pre-schoolers, kids aged 7 to 12 and 13 to 18 years.  The outskirts of Kandy city also provides a 'safe house' where mothers and children seek refuge from domestic violence, abuse and homelessness. 

The speed the charity has developed since it began in 2007 reflects the needs of parents for a safe place where their children can be cared for whilst they endure the labours of their survival.  The parents are poor and most survive by begging, street vending or street cleaning. There is no support system for the families who are of a cast that is neither recognised or heard but who contribute so much to fuel the machine of the city.

The most defining factors so far that Racheal and I have recognised has been our inability to judge correctly the age of the children we work with. Children who appear like babies unable to walk, crawl or feed properly are so undernourished and underdeveloped that they are actually twice the age they appear.  Children aged the same as Asia-Lilly's (who is three years old) are as light as newborn babies.  Another defining characteristic that sets them apart is the terrible condition of their skin; scarred legs, arms and heads with bodily warts, untreated sores and the infected bites of mosquitoes that result from having to sleep unprotected outdoors. We met a young volunteer from Germany in the week called Rachel (Rachel  1, and ours is Racheal 2 and not the older Racheal ok?!!). She helped some parents take home their four children from the centre, including two gorgeous newborn identical twins, a two and a six year old.  Their 'home' comprised of a 6 by 3 foot piece of cardboard on the floor of an annex to the busy, noisy and oxygen deficient bus station.  When the children return to the centre in the mornings all they want to do is SLEEP.  The luxury of a soft mattress, protection of walls, relief from a cooling fan and 1 to 1 care from staff are everything they crave.  

The approaching month of August is going to be a challenging one for everyone at the Kandy centre.  As in the UK the children will be on school holidays. Kandy is also the home of Sri Lanka's most defining festival called Esala Perahera that runs for 10-days and with thousands of visitors it attracts many dangers to the streets.  This will be a time of increased risk for the children we work with and we have been asked to devise a 20-day programme of activities to positively engage children and young people and entice them off the streets and back into the safety and security of the centres.  We are also planning a road trip in August to visit two other projects in the poorer Eastern & Northern towns of Batticolao and Kilonochi. The project in Batti is run by young community leaders and we feel this may be a great place to start our T.E.A training.  The North and East are still very much feeling the effects of the long civil war.

Racheal has recently begun teaching English to teenagers. This is very challenging as the behaviour and boundaries of the young people are typical of children who know how to survive on the streets.  Racheal is also helping to do some policy work so she splits her time between the head office and the centre.  Together we ran an arts workshop recently with fifteen 8-12 year olds who created lots of beautifully designed and laminated hands and feet silhouettes which you may have seen as the new cover photo on our Facebook page. The children were thrilled to be able to take home a design and the rest will be given as individual gifts to a group of 21 student volunteers who are visiting this month to help with the continuing renovation of the centres.   I have begun to inject some colour onto the walls of the centres; beginning with the babies nursery and in between feeding and caring for mostly unwell babies (i received a welcome vomit on my 1st day!lol) I have been designing and implementing positive art ideas for the blank walls.  I have plans to create a safe space that reflects the kids thoughts, feelings and aspirations. Where they can read, play, receive counselling or just relax and feel safe. The budget is little to none so if any of you feel like sending anything to us in the post it would be gratefully received, no matter how small. Even one pen would go a long way. Stickers, pens, pencils, sketch pads, glitter, glue, scissors, know the type of thing:

Our address is 148/6 Mapanawatura Road, Kandy, Sri Lanka if you want to get in touch. Asia-Lilly is in charge of collecting the post; so far we have only had a one water bill and some leaves so if you could send anything it would make her day.

Our present focus is the important task of developing relationships with the children and young people and to basically learn and understand where they are coming from and gain their trust. We are very mindful that before we can begin to develop any TEA Project children's rights training we must first culturally understand the children, the barriers and gain their respect.

Please send us a message if you have any ideas, thoughts or advice you would like to share or just want to say hi; we want you to remain as involved as possible in everything we do.  Even at this early stage we feel the potential to make a difference and a positive change to the lives of the street children is enormous.  

Without you none of this would be possible and we want you to know and really feel that your contributions & donations are directly having a positive effect. They really are. Well done you.

If it works i've hopefully attached some photos of the journey so far for you to see.

Speak soon and hope all is well in your worlds.

Love as always,

Racheal & Carl