Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Sri Lanka.


Volunteers changing lives in Sri Lanka

Posted in Sri Lanka on April 5, 2019

Is there enough meaningful work for all of us?

Tired and exhausted after what seemed, for most of us at least, a very, very long journey, we gathered together to hear about our project and go on a tour of previous projects sites.

With eyes only half open, we marveled at work done by previous project teams and all secretly wondered if we’d be up to the challenge or, more importantly, be able to make a similar difference in people’s lives.

After the first post-flight sleep things started to look up. Many of the group, having recovered from jet lag, were beginning to wonder, “Is there going to be enough work for all twelve of us?” However, after the first visit to Navajeevana, an analysis revealed what could be accomplished and there was a lot.

We quickly divided ourselves up into work groups.

Lin, Sandy, Penny and Dave became “the painters” sanding and staining dozens of metres of railings and handrails.

Cohen, Marlon, Siva and Issacs became the “residences remodeling workers”, washing and painting walls, removing mosquito netting, and broken mirrors, and generally making the place spiffy.

Genevieve became an electrician’s apprentice and learned how important a gofer can be to a man at the top of a very high ladder!

Jack and Jacqueline became the carpenters of the bunch, replacing locks, refitting hinges and making supreme efforts to prevent doors scraping the floor as they had to be dragged open.

Terry-Lynn simply lollygagged making sure everyone else was working and things were organized—and that is only the first day! Don’t miss tomorrow’s exciting episode.

Terry-Lynn Stone
DWC Team Leader
Sri Lanka, April 2019

Busy, Busy Busy—Working Hard and Having Fun

So, we have geared up; —and some interesting local food as well as getting over the flights has increased our stamina and the work is progressing well.

Offices and desks have new handles and locks; the residences are looking great with a good coat of paint on the walls, doors, door frames and window frames.

Everyone has been working so hard—and if a dirty face is the living evidence of hard work then the sanding/painting crew takes the crown! A dirtier lot we have yet to see—you would be amazed to see how much dust can stick to a person after hours of sanding floors and railings. Though, perhaps, the biggest indicator of how much has been accomplished so far by the entire team is the palpable feeling of achievement shared by all by the end of a very busy day.

But if you thought all that work and expended energy would mean we all come back to the hotel and collapse—you would be wrong! Sandy, Lin, Penny, Isaac and TL decided we could just manage a trip to the Rock Temple—a temple literally hewn out of a rock cliff—oh, and did I mention it is at the top of a cliff accessed on a wobbly irregular 400 stone step stairway?

The journey in Tuk Tuks travelled through the countryside and through paddy fields; stopping to photograph water buffalo and iguanas; we felt so lucky to be here.
We finished the day at the aptly named Palm Paradise restaurant for rice and curry Sri Lankan style.
At the end of the day, exhausted, satiated and very satisfied, we climbed into bed and felt gratitude to be here.

Terry-Lynn Stone
DWC Team Leader
Sri Lanka, April 2019

The Trip Intangibles

It might be tempting to measure the success of this trip by the amount of work accomplished—but that really doesn’t fully apply. Some folks have ongoing jobs that will probably last until we leave; while others are doing smaller jobs, and after completing each one, have to hunt down supplies for the next job.

We might be tempted to measure the fun of this trip by the diversity of food in Sri Lanka—which while interesting, really reduces to rice and curry in the end.

Possibly we could measure the enjoyment of the trip by the cultural activities—climbing to the top of the Rock Temple, Tuk Tuk rides, River Safari, animal Safaris or immersing ourselves in the Sunday market; but that doesn’t really work either.

The success of this trip is perhaps better measured by the intangibles: the joy on the face of a child as he or she puts on a brand new pair of shoes, his parents could otherwise not afford; the nodding and grinning of someone who now has a door lock that works, or a desk draw that opens. The look of amazement on the face of our hotel manager, who, when he delivered lunch to our worksite, said, “I thought you were all on holiday! But you are all working so hard—and dirty!” He was still shaking his head as he left!

There are a hundred more examples of these intangible measures of success and everyone working here has a special tale to tell. Over the next few days, I will try to articulate some of them.

Here’s to success—however it is measured!

Terry-Lynn Stone
DWC Team Leader
Sri Lanka, April 2019

Where did THAT week go?

Last night, we celebrated the end of our first week here by going on a River Safari—an amazing, colourful, stunning river safari. From the numerous birds—many of them migratory, to the cheeky monkeys literally bouncing through the trees to the staggeringly beautiful sunset, it was a perfect way to celebrate a wonderful week. But we were all left wondering, where did that week go?

Looking back over the first week, it is amazing what has been achieved. We stripped the residences down to the bare bones, washed and sanded the walls and then painted the walls, the window frames, cleaned the fans and the blinds, painted the frames of the mirrors—and then put everything back! Now it looks clean and spiffy!

Literally dozens of door locks have been changed and doors that for years jammed on the floor as they opened, now swing easily. Desk drawers have been opened and the contents revealed for the first time in years and bathrooms now lock AND unlock!

Dozens of stair spindles have been sanded, stained and then varnished. The floor on the deck has been sanded—a very, very dirty job that is now in the process of being stained.

Tables have been sanded and old paint and rust has painstakingly been removed, and although the work has taken several hours—its not over yet! Still one very big table to go!

All the doors in the main entrance to Navajeevana have also been sanded and stained—some needing three coats of stain to be completed.

The presentation area has been painted and all the very dirty and ill sized blinds have been taken down.

If in reading this you are thinking, “that sounds like boring work”—you are missing the point! This work, while less than glamourous, will allow Navajeevana to host conferences and to rent out their rooms and presentation room, thereby generating much needed income and building a reputation that will hopefully lead to support and donations—all things vital to this amazing organization.

And for sure, the work may not be bragworthy—but this group couldn’t be more proud of their contribution. Remember the intangibles of the last post? All twelve of us end each day exhausted, dirty and grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat! But what we can’t quite work out is, where the heck did that week go?

Terry-Lynn Stone
DWC Team Leader
Sri Lanka, April 2019

A little thing with a big impact

Over the past week, many gestures have been made that were done often quietly without fanfare; but I think you should know about them. However, because this is not part of the requirement of doing a DWC trip and not possible for many, we have chosen not to name the folks involved.

A few days ago, a team member accompanied the head teacher as well as 15 challenged children and their parents, to a shoe store in Tangalle. In the course of just over an hour, all 15 youngsters whose parents are unable to buy their children new shoes, received not only a brand new pair of school shoes, but a pair of socks, a tin of shoe polish and then a new school bag—all ready to start the new year on April 22nd. This significant gift made a moving and profound difference in the lives of all concerned.

Realising that there were two other Navajeevana schools in the outlying areas, the team member decided to extend his wonderful generosity to these schools too. So, yesterday morning, three members of our team accompanied the same head teacher of Navajeevana to a shoe store in Tangalle and soon the children and their parents arrived, and the process of the previous day was repeated. In the end, these team members impacted the lives of more than 60 children and teachers. Needing shoes may seem like a small thing, but getting new shoes has a big impact.

Terry-Lynn Stone
DWC Team Leader
Sri Lanka, April 2019

Little makes a difference

Imagine you are working in Canada and your job is making prosthetics; the light in your room isn’t good enough for you to see properly. The most likely thing you would do is either ask for more lighting or more likely, refuse to work in such poor conditions. At Navajeevana, poor lighting is simply the consequence of too little funding—and an excellent opportunity to make a difference. A donation and a trip to the electrical store later, and Sujith, the deaf gentleman who works in prosthetics is thrilled with the light in his work area!

If most of us are looking for locks, a hammer, or some screws and wall plugs for a job we are doing, we will likely find them in our overloaded basement or garage or failing all else, find them easily on a quick trip to Home Depot. Yet, without these basic tools, many simple jobs cannot be easily completed. Thanks to a generous team member, Navajeevana now boast a few of the tools they need to make everyday repairs and improvements easy.

Now imagine you have over 1000 square feet of decking to sand and all you have is some Styrofoam to make a “brick” and about 100 sheets of sandpaper that need to be cut and wrapped somehow around the Styrofoam! The team members facing this daunting reality quickly realised how valuable an electric sander would be. Imagine the dances of joy when thanks to their own generosity the sanders extraordinaire could increase output about 1000-fold!

Have you ever tried cleaning up with a broom that has about six working bristles? Likely not, because we would simply throw those out and get new ones. Well, Canadian traditions were brought to bear and after tossing the old ones, some team members marched into town and came back with brushes, dustpans and even a small garbage can!

None of these items cost more than a good dinner at a restaurant, but the difference having them is significant. Making a difference in this manner certainly isn’t required on DWC trips, but it sure makes everyone feel a little more grateful for what we have and what we take for granted.

Terry-Lynn Stone
DWC Team Leader
Sri Lanka, April 2019

Looking forward to next week

While the team is enjoying some well-deserved R & R this weekend—and more about that in an upcoming blog, we are also planning our next week.

The trouble with maintenance and renovations, as anyone who has embarked on these sorts of projects knows, is how one job leads to another! I remember my own kitchen reno when every day it seemed we thought, “while we are replacing the floor in the kitchen—now is the time to replace the floor in the dining room too” or “while we are doing the counter tops, now is the time to do the electrics!”
The same thoughts abound here!

We brought 25 custom made cushion covers to recover all the chairs in the common area and while some of the old foam cushions are reusable, many are not. So, with Anil, our wonderful in-country leader acting as the negotiator, we managed to get all the cushion forms we need made and we hope to pick them up on Monday morning—all ready to be zipped into the new cushion covers—a simple job for next week.

The staff in the physio department at Navajeevana really do make a significant difference in the lives of the patients who come here for rehabilitation after an accident or stroke, or ongoing work on physical challenges. However, two of the beds have duct tape holding them together—not the most comfortable for the patients. One of our jobs this coming week is to remove the old fabric and replace it so that the beds are all as good as new—another job for next week.

Remember those 1000 square feet of sanded deck? Well next week they all need to be stained—with at least two coats of stain—and maybe a final coat too! A great job for next week!

There are still dozens of feet of railings to sand and stain to say nothing of at least four more doors that need to be done too—great jobs for next week!

Remember the locks? Well there are more of them as well as that big table to sand and then all the tables need to be spray painted—more jobs for next week!

Those blinds which were taken down, now need to be cut to length, washed—nay, scrubbed, and then the weights need to be glued and sewn into place before they are hung again. All good jobs for next week!
There is still washing, sanding, painting, taking down and putting up to do. Somehow, I doubt we will run out of work and my guess is at the end of the week, our main question will be, where did that week go?

Terry-Lynn Stone
DWC Team Leader
Sri Lanka, April 2019

Fabric, Fabric, Fabric—giving and taking!

 

One of the highlights for the members of this team, is the distribution of Days for Girls feminine hygiene kits to the girls of Navajeevana at all its schools and outreach centres. We are planning on a trip to do part of the distribution on Tuesday; something we are looking forward to very much. The distribution will be significant as we brought over 400 kits with us to give to the girls!
But in the meantime, those Days for Girls team members had another treat in store.

With Anil’s amazing negotiating skills, we managed to negotiate a fantastic price of slightly less than $2 per metre—if we bought 400 metres!

The problem, however, was that the store basically ran out of fabric because we bought so much and so we were taken next door to the store owners house to see a newly delivered load of fabric! Purchasing 20 metres of each design, we soon had just a few centimetres shy of 450 metres!

While some of us were having fun choosing appropriate fabrics, Penny, was having fun making friends with the store owner’s little daughter. The two of them had a wonderful time playing games and the little girl took Penny to show her the whole house. At one point, we worried we might have to leave Penny behind as those two were definitely enjoying each others’ company. Once a kindergarten teacher, always a kindergarten teacher, I guess.

We were so grateful we had come by van and not Tuk Tuk as we loaded the two huge very heavy sacks of material into the back of the van and hurriedly slammed the door shut to stop the enormous sack from rolling out!

We felt so grateful to be able to purchase so much fabric at such a good price; and we felt really happy that we were able to support the local economy in such a meaningful way and finally, driving back to the hotel, we were thinking of the thousands of hours and thousands of shields for Days for Girls kits, this fabric represented.

What joy!!

Terry-Lynn Stone
DWC Team Leader
Sri Lanka, April 2019

Musings of a painter

I’ve been working on three large sets of doors for two days, adding over-diluted stain to old wood; which soaks up the stain at different rates in different places. The ‘Head Painter’(HP) and I communicate through hand signs, a few words and gestures. He was a little concerned about my method; I was concerned about him diluting the stain so much.

This morning I started working on what I hoped would be the final coat of stain—sometimes I’d had to do three coats; other times just two—always trying to please the HP.

Final Coat was my goal!

It was quiet. I could hear parrots in a tree, and the cat with the beautiful eyes meowed her way past me and into the shade under a car. Upstairs I could hear Sandy and Penny taking turns with the power sander as they sanded down the wood floors so they could add fresh stain to the worn-out floor—maybe two coats—maybe three.

Every few minutes I heard a particularly large wave crash onto the shore. At the end of the porch some students and their teachers did their morning exercises to drum beats and chants. They sang ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ in their own language—except for the line, ‘Tip me over and pour me out’—which they sang in English. I smiled and I painted.

Volunteers began arriving for a meeting with the board and gathered near the doors.
More people arrived; young women dressed in a variety of colourful clothes, chatting in their beautiful language at what seemed to me to be record speed—the men talking louder and more slowly. I doubt I’d ever be able to wrap my tongue around their language.

They moved into the conference rooms. I moved on to the second set of doors; and painted.

Occasionally a cloud would obscure the sun for a few seconds and the temperature would drop ever so slightly…what a gift! Groups of people moved through the doors I was now painting, and I worried about getting paint on their clothes. They moved into the conference rooms. I painted.

HP came by and told me that now I could put on ‘Final Coat.’ “What? That wasn’t the Final Coat, I had to do them again?!?!” I resisted the urge to have a melt down, and I settled down to the job. People arrived for their physio appointments. I painted.

At the last set of doors, another large group of women crowded past me and into the room. I pulled the doors open as wide as possible and painted behind one of them, invisible to all—there, but invisible. That made me think of all the men and women from Sri Lanka, India and the Philippines who leave their homes in search of work to support their families back home. I thought about that and painted, painting myself into that life style, painting my thoughts into being unnoticed, painting myself into my thoughts.

And then, suddenly, crouching next to me was a beautiful young woman. She broke through my thoughts and focus to tell me she was the physiotherapist. She said that if I was having any aches and pains, she could help me. All I had to do was just ask! I smiled and thanked her. She smiled and left.

And I finished the Final Coat.

HP will be pleased.

Linda Froese
DWC Volunteer
Sri Lanka, April 2019

The Weekend in Review

If we thought the first week went quickly, we were even more amazed how quickly the weekend disappeared!
On Saturday we split into three groups: The eager beavers left the hotel just after 4.30 am for a safari and were delighted when they encountered elephants, jackals and various other animals really close up. We even heard that some in the group were disappointed to hear they weren’t allowed to leave the jeep to take a selfie with the animals! However, they all agreed that seeing crocodiles from a little further afield was prudent especially as more than one crock was seen to wink and heard to mutter—see you in a while….
The second group, the Not Quite So Keeners left at 1pm for a similar safari and after what seemed to be a pretty sparse experience, this group was just about giving up on seeing any elephants when they were treated to a torrential tropical storm—an experience in itself and then, after the storm passed, they were absolutely delighted to watch elephants spraying themselves with the newly dampened earth and rolling around in the sand. It was an experience none of the participants will soon forget.
The third group was the birders and they too headed out at 1pm to see the plethora of local and migrating birds. Unfortunately, April is not the best time to see birds in this area as many migratory birds had already moved on, but never the less it was a great experience.
We all gathered in the evening to talk about our experiences and to wonder at our good fortune being here in this wonderful country together.

Terry-Lynn Stone
DWC Team Leader
Sri Lanka, April 2019

The Weekend has Two Days…

And we enjoyed both of them to the fullest! After our day out on Safari yesterday you might have thought we would all choose to lie in and catch a few zzzs—but not this group.
By 8am we had all had breakfast and were zooming down the road in Tuk Tuks to the local market. What an amazing sensory experience—the noise of loud talking and bartering; the smells of exotic spices and vegetables; the sight of brightly coloured wares all displayed to full advantage.
We bought sarongs, we bartered for skirts and blouses or shirts and we laughed at ourselves as we realised here in Sri Lanka, we are XXL not medium! More responsible folks in our party bargained for tools and materials for the work site. Ah, priorities.

We split up after the market and everyone headed to his or her favourite place. A group of ladies headed to a sari store looking for something to wear to our cultural event coming up on Thursday; they browsed the shop’s inventory for something interesting to wear, and with an eye to turn their beautiful purchase into something lovely when they get back home. None of us was disappointed! Where else can you purchase six metres of pashmina silk for about $10 CDN?
After lunch at our hotel, some of us headed to Palm Paradise early so we could swim in the ocean before supper—a true highlight of the trip! The ocean is such a vibrant crystal clear blue and the surf always made us laugh as it tossed us toward the shore or dragged us back out again. What a great afternoon!
After a shower to remove the 25 pounds of sand trapped in our swim suits, we were ready to join the others for dinner—a traditional Sri Lankan rice and curry dinner followed by buffalo curds or fruit salad. What a great way to finish up the weekend.
On now to our final week and a whole whack of jobs still to be done.

Terry-Lynn Stone
DWC Team Leader
Sri Lanka, April 2019

Days for Girls

One of the most anticipated days arrived and all of the ladies of the group piled into the van for a trip to a multidisciplinary clinic to Welllawaya in the outlaying districe of the Southern Province.
This clinic provides mobile orthotics, special hand created footwear, hearing tests, eye exams, limited medical treatment and it was here we delivered some of our Days for Girls kits.
To see the poverty and yet the pride was almost overwhelming. Every girl who received a kit was not only a member of a family far too poor to buy menstrual supplies, but also had either physical or mental challenges. Every family had a story.
One social worker came and asked for a kit for a child whose parents are both illiterate. The girl is physically challenged and there was no way to get her to the clinic as there was no money for transportation and it was too far to walk. She does attend the local special needs school run by Navajeevana—except when she has her period, at which time she “lays in her bed on plastic until it is gone.” The social worker asked me to repeat the educational piece for her so she could be certain what she would tell her charge.
Two of the girls were in wheelchairs and both were so excited at the thought of having a kit that would not only allow them to school but were also comfortable. They stroked the liners and sniffed the inside of the kit with obvious pleasure.
One woman came and asked if she could have a kit for her two disabled daughters. The field workers told us that both girls were physically challenged but bright. They were almost never able to attend school during their periods. Their mother took a kit for the girls. We were puzzled; “don’t you have two daughters?” We asked. And we offered her a second kit. The mother hesitated and asked the field worker, “is that okay?”. She was grateful for one kit and was prepared for her girls to share. None of the distribution team had a dry eye!
Girls with Down’s Syndrome, and girls who were deaf or blind came up and were given a kit. Girls in wheelchairs and those who needed help walking received a kit. Our team always allows girls to choose their own bag and we always carry a few extra, so no one has to take the ‘last bag’. The girls giggled and grinned as they chose from the array of colourful bags.
Some of the girls dropped to their knees to say thank you—all for something they should have access to.
Several mothers spoke to us and offered obviously sincere thanks and talked of the sadness of having to keep their girls home because they had to decide between putting food on the table or buying pads for the girls. We were able to change that.
What came over so clearly to us, is how important every stitch cut, every thread cut, every shield sewn, every pocket ironed, every sorted pair of panties, every turned shield, every single serged liner, is important. Every single job that goes into a kit has value so far beyond the seemingly simple kit.
Thank you to everyone who helped make this day possible and to the wonderful field workers who took the education program we gave so they can give the kits to girls who would otherwise simply not be able to go to school during their periods.
As was said at the Oscars, “a period should end a sentence—not a girl’s education.”

Terry-Lynn Stone
DWC Team Leader
Sri Lanka, April 2019

Intense Gratitude

I have been thinking about this experience and all that happened with us as individuals and as a group, and two words come to mind: gratitude and intensity.

Gratitude that we were able to work so well together for an important cause and gratitude for all that we have back home—and not just financially. Most of us can say we’ve never experienced poverty, the devastation of a tsunami, the inability to go to school, the effects of war, the lack of food, clothing or shelter, or a physical disability that hindered all aspects  of our lives.

Gratitude for surviving our daily gauntlet (walk) to and from Navajeevana, and the hair-raising tuk tuk rides, as well as our pretty intense rides in the vans.

Intensity for me was the total experience. Everything we did or experienced was intense: the heat, humidity and sweat; the travel distance in one 24 hour period; the amount of work we accomplished  each day; the amazing food; the river cruise and birdlife; the rainstorms during the safari; the views and the elephant safari…everything was compressed beyond what one would ‘normally’ do in a holiday.

And I am intensely grateful for everything you did for us, Terry-Lynn. This was the trip of lifetime. Thank you!

Linda Froese, DWC Volunteer
Sri Lanka, April 2019

I’m sorry; I must have blinked!

On Monday morning, there we were marching down the very narrow side of the road on our twice daily walk between Sole Luna and Navajeevana, singing, “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go” at the top of our voices and then it seemed as if the next minute we were being called to our boarding gate by an anonymous, commanding voice.

It is true we couldn’t work on Friday as this was the start of the Buddhist New Year and we knew that; some of us actually had to leave Sole Luna on Friday too as our flight left Columbo just after midnight on Saturday morning.

But we worked all day Monday, and some of us attended a multi-clinic on Tuesday for part of the day; then we worked Wednesday all day and worked until a late lunch on Thursday getting the final bits finished before we had a farewell ceremony with the staff of Navajeevana. But none of this seems to adequately explain where the heck the last week went! I must have blinked.

They say that time travels fast when you are having fun—and our experience proves that.

We had a wonderful time. The team was cohesive, and everyone was focused on getting work done—despite the incredible heat that saw everyone soaked in sweat within two minutes of leaving the cool comfort of our air-conditioned rooms!

In the last week, we managed to complete the painting of the front entranceway—and we even managed to erase the evidence of our drippy brushes and paint rollers, so the whole area looked so much better.

The fans in the residences which were completely blocked with dust so that they were simply ineffective, were taken down, rubbed down with a metal brush and then washed and dried before being put back up again. The final painting of the window frames was completed last Friday so the residences finally looked almost as good as new.

The final painting of the conference room was completed, and the transformation was absolutely amazing. All the vertical blinds had been taken down, washed and dried to remove numerous years’ worth of dust, then they were shortened, the weights reinserted, glued and sewn before being rehung. As so often is the case, some of the pieces of the blinds were broken and despite our best efforts, we were left frustratingly close to finishing the whole project, but unable to do so, because of a very little part that we were unable to get in time.

It is difficult to accept such frustrations, especially at the time, but they serve as a lesson as to how very lucky we are to simply be able to jump in the car and head to the local hardware store for a few parts that cost barely a few cents so the job could be complete.

The last of the physio department’s torn beds were reupholstered so it will be much more comfortable for the patients. The whole room was painted and spiffed up and then all the window frames were given a much needed coat of paint. It felt really good to see the transformation.

Bathrooms received new locks, new fans were put up and old ones relocated. A very beautiful desk and an antique cabinet—the total furnishings in the Navajeevana shop, got a complete facelift—they were sanded and stained back to something like their former glory transforming the look of the whole room and making it so much more welcoming to potential customers.

The front facade and the front pillars were given a much needed coat of paint making the whole entranceway so much more welcoming and making a much smarter and better first impression for visitors and staff alike.

Old and rusted tables that had taken days to sand and clean, were finally given a coat of special primer and paint giving them a new lease on life.

All in all, the last few days—although they truly seemed to whiz by, were so satisfying; things came together and as the final pieces slotted into place, we were faced with the reality that despite the frustrations, despite the lack of tools and sometimes simply the lack of skills, we made an incredible difference and the winners were, not surprisingly perhaps. ourselves!

Some projects are grand—teams build things—they move from A to R or even sometimes to Z. those projects have a wonderful and tangible sense of achievement, and rightly so. But our project was bitty; it was frustrating; it was not very glorious; and it was the most satisfying and fulfilling experience you could imagine. The time may have passed in the wink of an eye—but there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as we listened to the staff and teachers describe how, what we had done, meant to them. I believe I speak for the whole team when I say, that we are very tired and very full of gratitude.

We will be back!

Terry Lynn Stone, DWC Team Leader

Sri Lanka, Spring 2019

 

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