Kirinda Boat Project

Trip Start Oct 20, 2004
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Trip End Apr 26, 2005


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Monday, March 7, 2005

KIRINDA: BOAT DAY!

Our brief stint as tourists ended late Friday afternoon when we returned to Colombo. A few hours later we were back in the car, this time headed south to Kirinda. This was to be our final trip to Kirinda for the time being. Our plan was to oversee and document the initial delivery of boats, motors, and nets that we had purchased with donations from family and friends from around the world. We were anxious, to say the very least. We were responsible for a lot of funding, and wanted to be absolutely certain that every single penny was accounted for and distributed properly. Our anxiety also stemmed from having never done something like this before. How would the villagers respond? Would the boats be well received? Having heard that people with motors (no boats) were refusing to join up with others with boats (no motors), we anticipated a very individualistic situation. Would the non-winners be crushed? Would the winners encourage others to share in their luck? We had no idea what to expect, and we were faced with a plethora of logistical issues. With common sense and a leap of faith, we hoped for the best.

The lottery was our first challenge. We were originally against the idea of a lottery; we questioned such action, wondering how responsible it would be to just give the boats away. We leaned towards the establishment of a co-op or a consortium; we had heard of their successful existence in other Sri Lankan villages, and thought this method would surely instill a sense of community within Kirinda. However, each village is unique in its needs and wants. It would have been absurd for us to create a lifestyle for a village based on our personal interest or ideals. With that in mind, we devised a plan that would comply with Kirinda's request for a lottery while encouraging responsibility, fairness, and community spirit among the fishermen. Elegibility for the lottery required a fisherman to have lost his boat, motor, and net to the tsunami. Each winner must pay Cast-A-Net Lanka the equivalent of $500 USD (less than 15% of the total cost) within six months, one hundred percent of which will be returned to the community; the payments will repair his neighbors' damaged boats. Once paid for, the titles of the boats will be transferred to the recipients.

The drawing was scheduled for 9:30 (or 11:00, Sri Lanka time!) Sunday morning in the local primary school. Since the tsunami, this school has been the center for many relief-oriented activities and meetings, as it is one of the few remaining buildings in town. It was also the location where the dead bodies were placed after the tsunami. The schoolyard was a very different place on the morning of the boat lottery. When we arrived, the boats were surrounded by 60 or 70 village men, including the eager 37 elegible for the lottery. Following a few words from a representative of the Hambantota Chamber of Commerce, the respected school principal, and Ashfaque, Andy and I each made a brief statement. We explained that we were gathered before them because of the caring and generous nature of people from around the world. We attempted to convey our desire to do more, and encouraged the men to join together as a community to make best use of the boats.

We then proceeded to draw two numbers from a red, plastic pail (lined with a piece of newspaper to cover the hole in the bottom), and as each winner's name was declared, the villagers clapped and cheered. It was a surreal moment. Clearly stifling emotion, each winner personally took a moment to convey his gratitude. One of the winners grasped Andy's hand, shaking it, saying, "Thank you....I very happy." We later learned that this man had lost his eldest son to the tsunami.

In short, the initial phase of the boat project was incredibly successful. What impressed us most about the experience was the number of people (non-winners) that personally thanked us for helping Kirinda. They exemplified genuine appreciation and community spirit -- it was beautiful. The lottery concluded with an image I will never forget: we watched as the men gathered around the boats, hoisted them into the air, and carried them away.

After this experience, we were ready to depart Sri Lanka. While the initial boat packages have been delivered and distributed, we are aware that our involvement is just now beginning. At present, we are preparing to rent a house in Kirinda; it is a place at which repairs can be made, materials can be stored, and fiberglass workers can stay while fixing boats. We remain confident in the future success of Cast-A-Net Lanka, and will remain active upon our return to the US. A million thanks to the donors that made this project possible!
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