My 1st week
Trip Start May 21, 2007
131Trip End Aug 09, 2013
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The project I'm working with is called "Smile Lanka". It is part of Smile International but has to be registered in Sri Lanka as a charity. Smile purchased it's current site in Sept 06. They initially rented a house after the Tsunami but the school outgrew it. Already built on the site were 2 shop fronts and a house. The 2 shops now act as the classrooms and the house is the Smile center where I am living. The center was extended in Feb so it can now accommodate Smile teams of up to 15people. There is still land left at the back which will be where Smile will build an orphanage
Smile Lanka is managed by Ronali and Heshan who are husband and wife and live in Colombo. Ronali visits Hambantota twice a month but is staying with us here until Wednesday to help us find our feet etc. It's been great having her here and also she is fluent in English so can interpret.
Initially I was to travel alone but a few weeks ago was told Gordon was to come to. Gordon is in the construction industry and is overseeing the building of 2 new classrooms, which will take around 10weeks. This is his 6th time in Sri Lanka with Smile, his first visit was delivering aid days after the Tsunami. It's been great having him around and our weekends are going to be planned around safaris, rainforest etc.
My day is divided into 2 parts - preschool (3-5yrs) and an afterschool club (6 upwards). Smile relies on the children being sponsored so they can receive free schooling- and most importantly they are provided with at least 1 hot meal. As some children live in the nearby slums, they are dependent on this food. Preschool starts at 8am and they have their breakfast before doing typical preschool activities - singing, colouring, playing. The day finishes at 12 when they have their lunch. Then around 130, the older children come straight from school and get lunch. From 3-4pm they have an hour of lessons (English, maths, sinhala, music etc). There are 2 full time teachers and 2 part time teachers who come to help with the afterschool club. There is also a headmistress and a cook. All staff are Christians and so the children are surrounded by Christian influences
I've never met a more gorgeous bunch of children than the ones here. They have big brown eyes which just entice you and constantly have a smile on their face. We are known to them as "White auntie" and "white uncle" but it sounds more like "sweat lankie" which to be fair is summing me up at the moment! The preschool ones are especially adorable - there are no boundaries and they are constantly hugging you, grabbing your hand and telling you random English words - you never think you'll have tongue, elephant and bag all in 1 sentence! It is also priceless to see the joy on face of the children when you simply clap when they catch a ball. It's sad seeing some of the older ones as you can see the trauma and hurt in their eyes. They are old enough to have seen the devastation first hand that the Tsunami caused and it has left them permanently scarred.
Think that's really all the background...here's a "brief (!)" rundown of my week so far.....
Monday - left sunny NI at 1115am bound for Heathrow. We were due to fly out at 5pm but it was delayed until 730. On the plus side, there were 250 free seats so we were able to spread out for the 10.5hr journey. It didn't seem too long and was quite surreal being woken at 430am by a member of cabin crew asking if I'd like a mixed grilled!!
Tuesday - arrived in Sri Lanka at 11am and was met by Ronali. As our destination is 6+ hrs drive from Colombo, we stayed their overnight
Wednesday - it was an early start. We set off for Hambantota at 6am. I would have thought the streets would have been empty - far from it. Children were walking/waiting for their bus to school and the cars were everywhere. Ronali was even able to call into the bank at 630am (some think they have it tough in Ulster Bank!!)
Halfway through the journey, we stopped in a town called Galle to see an orphanage that was being built. It'll hopefully be ready by August so can't wait to see it up and running when I'm heading home. It's going to make such a difference to 25/30 children.
We arrived in Hambantota around 230pm and once we had food, unpacked and had a look around, headed to explore the town.
Thursday - this was my 1st day in the actual school and Ronali advised me just to observe and get to know the kids. Before the class started, the children welcomed Gordon and I with flowers.
One of the teachers had to leave early to go to hospital so I had to look after her class. Before she left she handed me blank paper and crayons. She told me I had to put the names on the pages, draw a picture and then the children would color. Now there are 2 obstacles here - 1) how was I to spell their names and 2) I can't even draw a straight line! But that did not defeat me - now hanging in a classroom in Sri Lanka, there are 15 deformed pictures of flowers and apples with phonetically spelt names that bear no resemblance to what they really are!!
Thursday's subject for the afterschool club was maths. My initial thoughts were "happy days, numbers are universal, I'll know what's going on...." How wrong I was!! The questions were in sinhala and they answered in sinhala. At least I'll be able to follow part of their English class!!
Rodrick (Ronali's brother) arrived with us on Thursday and left this afternoon. He came to help Gordon source materials, builders etc. He'll be back and forward during my time and we are already planning surfing trips, snorkeling and any other weekend trips!
Friday - yesterday was an eye opener. After school we went to visit a mother and her 2yr old boy who live in a house probably about 15ft square. Gordon first met them when he was over in Feb. The boy was very weak and had been diagnosed with a hole in his heart. His only chance of survival was an operation that the family couldn't afford. When he came home, Gordon told this story in his church. After the service people voluntarily gave him money. Because of this and Smile's widow sponsorship scheme, the little boy can now have the care he needs. His fight still isn't over. Although the money is now available for the operation, he isn't strong enough so has to take a course of vitamins and energy powder drink. Per month, this only costs 7.50 - absolutely nothing to us, but the mother simply couldn't afford it. It showed me first hand how sponsorship can save a child's life.