Trip Start May 21, 2007
131Trip End Aug 09, 2013
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As Friday was the festival to celebrate the end of Ramadan the school was closed. We decided to take advantage of this free time by baking! This was not before a well deserved afternoon by the pool at the local hotel. We arrived back ready for a rest, only to be greeted by our friend Nilu, one of the teachers at the school, who had kindly brought us a doggy bag of food from their festivities! We should have known that Nilu would not be alone in visiting us, and within moments her aunt, uncle, mother and 2 cousins emerged from the car to greet us! Being the excellent hostesses we are, we laid on a spread of water and ginger nut biscuits. After they left we decided that we must be prepared for any future visits, and decided to bake some banana cake, courtesy of Delia, via Anna’s dad Will. Our cake was amazing, and word had clearly got round as the door bell rang again almost as soon as the cake was out of the oven! This time it was Ishika, a former Smile teacher who is now at teacher training college in Colombo, and her mother Parlani, also a teacher at Smile. They were each presented with a piece of the freshly baked cake and we think we can both safely say they too found that it melted in their mouths!
On Saturday the day was meant to start at 8.30am, however as we are on Sri Lankan time, we set off at 9.45am. We arranged to spend the day with some of the teachers and hired a vehicle to take us to Ella, hill country north of Hambantota. We were drawn to it as it is somewhat cooler than the desert of the South! After stopping off at a waterfall, we stopped for lunch and then had the bright idea of climbing "Little Adams Peak". It is named after its bigger brother “Adam’s Peak”, which is the most sacred mountain in Sri Lanka as all the religions have a story about it, for example Buddhists believe the footprint at the top is the footprint of the Buddha. The Sinhala name for this mountain is “Sri Pada” meaning “sacred footprint”. We had a great time in Ella and would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to visit Sri Lanka.
That brings us up to today, and it was back to Prison for us! Every year on this date, a “Welfare Day” is organised for 15 families and children of prisoners who Smile sponsor along with other welfare organisations. Our role in the proceeding was as “TWP’s” or “Token White People”! Again Nayani was meant to arrive at 12.30pm to dress us in our Sari’s, however as expected she came about 1.15pm, bearing in mind the conference was meant to start at 2pm and it takes over an hour in a tuk tuk to get there! This sense of urgency did not deter Nayani from making us change Sari’s as she said we couldn’t wear the same ones as we did on Thursday. She wasn’t even happy with us swapping Sari’s but instead produced 2 new ones from her bag for us to be dressed in, At 1.35pm we left, at 1.38pm we returned as the children’s parcels had been forgotten in the hysteria! En route we even stopped for petrol and to buy some envelopes to put money into for each child. Sri Lanka really does have it’s own time zone!
When we eventually arrived at Tangalle Prison, half an hour late, it was no where near starting. After Nayani regaled the wardens with tales of our legendary sing along a few days before, she sternly told us that we were not to laugh today. This was tested, when in the middle of a speech, the speaker burst into Buddhist chanting with no warning. However we made a great effort not to look at each other and kept our stern “teacher faces” throughout!
Sitting in full view of the families and surrounded by the inmates, we were all invited to light a candle to start things off, which was then followed by a few speeches. After this were the presentations of the parcels and money filled envelopes, which we carried out in style! After the ceremony, we were invited into the Governor’s Office for coke and biscuits, before heading back to Hambantota.
On the journey back, Nayani shared her story with us. She grew up in a Buddhist family and originally wanted to train to become a Doctor. However in her early 20’s, she was given some literature from a group of Christians which made her want to find out more. Despite being ostracised by her family and community, she began working for a local church and told us how she had seen many miracles in the village. It was during this time that she met Ronali and the rest, as they say is history! Smile Lanka, through the work of Nayani and Ronali is now a thriving organisation helping hundreds of families within the community. Though the loss of Ronali has been hard for all here, her legacy can live on through the work of Smile Lanka.