Moratuwa, Sri Lanka - July 2018
This was a three-week project in Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. The purpose of the project was to double in size a small resource centre which was refurbished with a grant from AidCamps in 2017. The Centre in Lunawa Flats provides much-needed support to local children and their parents and currently delivers a range of classes to the children as well as providing support to women’s self-help groups.
The following account was written by Sarah, a volunteer on the project. The account is written in Sarah’s own words.
“This was my first and definitely not my last volunteer project overseas and the longest I have spent away from my family.
After months of excited planning, fundraising and numerous questions the day arrived and like Blackadder we set forth. I’m not a great flyer but the anticipation of what was to come pushed any fears to one side, the journey began in earnest when my Sri Lankan breakfast was served! A taster of the weeks ahead.
After a couple of days acclimatising and meeting fellow volunteers, we travelled to the project site and our home for the next three weeks. Nothing had prepared me for what was to come, especially not the heat and humidity. Our accommodation in the SERVE building was positively 5 star with flushing toilets, showers (cold) and newly constructed beds in a dorm that I can only liken to Enid Blyton days! Whilst we had a rota for the preparation of breakfasts and housekeeping, we were lucky to have the delightful Annesta to prepare our lunches and evening meals. We were fed extremely well and as a group what we couldn’t do with a breakfast egg is not worth knowing.
We were a small group with Bill as our leader, two trainee co-ordinators and seven volunteers. The project was to double in size a community resource centre for the women and children in the Lunawa Flats in Moratuwa. The first time we saw the site the feeling that we would never do this in the time we were there was somewhat overwhelming. However, the enthusiasm of all the volunteers, the building team and local residents was infectious giving us the determination and impetus to see it completed. We were encouraged to try all aspects of the building work sifting sand, hand mixing cement, bricking laying, compacting, painting, clearing huge amounts of debris and plastering which mostly resulted in hilarity as our new plaster would very gracefully detach itself from the wall as we turned away. Chain gangs became the norm to shift blocks, bricks, sand, beams or rubbish and we soon became very accustomed to the basic tools available and to understand how precious resources were to them.
Bernard Cribbins underwent a revival as we dug a “Hole in the Ground” that turned out to be two holes both four foot in diameter and six-foot-deep to accommodate the septic tank. All the time we were being supported by the team from SERVE and the local community who were not shy of picking up a paintbrush, shovel or sand sifter and keep us supplied with delicious sweet ginger tea and biscuits. The most delightful aspect being the children who would benefit from the building helping alongside us. To develop the relationship with them was fantastic and for me to see the joy in their faces with something as simple as a balloon, bubbles or a marble discovered in the ground was the overriding memory I will take away from this experience.
Weekends were spent immersed in the culture and sights of this beautiful island along with our guides. When news of the Boxing Day tsunami emerged back in 2004 I followed the coverage as did others but could not appreciate the enormity of the event. Time spent talking to those who experienced, survived and rebuilt their lives after the disaster was both emotional and humbling. Each day we walked to the project site along the shanty town built on the coast and gradually people took an interest in us and what we were doing. The accommodation built for those displaced by the tsunami offered shelter but for some this could be far away from where they had previously lived and worked resulting in them losing means of making a living and the ability to provide their family with amenities in their home such as water and electricity. The resource centre provided a place for children to learn and women in the community to develop new skills, this made completing the project even more important to us.
We had the opportunity to visit other project sites, to take part in some of the work the charity undertakes, although I am certain our contribution to the women’s defence class will go down in history!! Interacting with the children, learning from them, as well as teaching them was very special.
The end of the project came all too soon. The opening ceremony was attended by so many, it was a moment to feel very proud, there were tears… but happy tears and a huge sense of achievement. The project was visited by one of our team a few weeks after we had left, and photos show the children we had come to know making full use of the facilities.
It hasn’t been a “life changing” experience, a term often used in describing such projects, but I am incredibly proud of what we achieved and feel humbled by people who appreciate so much when they have so little and the knowledge that in giving three weeks of my time I have helped to enable that community to move forward. It has certainly given me a greater appreciation of my life and how lucky I am.”