All of the 17 volunteers arrived at Moonstone Villas, our home for the next 12 days, Sunday afternoon. Jet lag aside, Monday morning everyone was up at the crack of dawn for breakfast, a briefing and 7:45 departure to our three worksites. We were all excited to get going. Our first worksite is Canadapura Children’s Home. An orphanage started by a Canadian monk shortly after the 2004 tsunami, Canadapura is a safe harbour for 25 children and this is the fourth year that DWC/TRIP volunteers have supported the ongoing work at this remarkable place set comfortably in the countryside outside Tangalle.
Our team’s goal for this trip is to complete two more rooms on the second floor of the new building. This entails sifting sand to make mortar for the parging of walls (more mud!) and the construction of a brick wall to divide the space in two, as well as the concrete floor to underpin it all. At every site there are hired labourers and masons to teach us all new skills and make sure the work gets done.
Day One is a great start. We sifted, we sorted, we moved a ton of bricks. We parged, we danced, we laughed and we dripped sweat. Boy, did we sweat. But it was so worth it. We completed two walls, with a little help from our expert friends, and brought the bricks into position so that we can work on the new inside wall on tomorrow. Coleen, our DJ for the day, has promised a little Pink Floyd to motivate us tomorrow. All we need is just one more brick in the wall…
George worked on his backhand, much to the chagrin of those around him who caught the flying bits that didn’t land as expected. Amalie, our fearless leader, taught us all a lesson in tolerance as she sidestepped a gimba (frog!) that hopped out at her in the loo. Susan, who has been on many trips with TRIP, demonstrated her sifting technique and motivated us all.
When all was said and done, we were totally blown away by the amazing kids who kept smiling and waving and taking photos with us. They are the reason we are here and we could not be happier.
For the group at the second site day one was fantastic from start to finish! Upon our arrival, four-year-old Thenuli greeted us with a wave and a beautiful smile. She currently lives in a tiny mud house; our job today was to help local workers construct a new, larger brick home for Thenuli and her parents to live in. Thenuli’s father, Jeevana, suffered brain damage after a motorcycle accident. He is a lovely man and does his very best to support the family working as a “short-eats” cook whenever he is able. The foundation of the home is already done.
After meeting the local work crew, team members rolled up their sleeves and dug in to various jobs assigned by our indomitable leader Bruce. Everyone had the opportunity to sift sand, mix concrete, move bricks, dig a walkway and assist the masons in building walls. The Sri Lankan workers were very patient and willing to show us the ropes. It’s amazing how easily we all understood each other, despite our language differences. Having said that, it’s unclear whether their constant smiles were motivated by enjoyment or amusement at our skill levels! Thenuli’s family graciously served us tea and cookies at break time, and in addition introduced us to the cashew apple (a rather bitter fruit, one sample of it was definitely enough!).
Although tired at day’s end, we were also equally energized by the opportunity to interact with fellow team members, this amazing family and the Sri Lankan workers. There’s no question this kind of work experience brings people together in a unique way—although most of us began the morning as strangers, we finished the afternoon as fast friends.
Adeesha is twelve years old and suffers from cerebral palsy. He has spent his entire life living in a two-room mud hut with his 8-year-old sister Deuni and their parents. To earn a living for the family his father, Lalith, spends most of his time driving in Colombo. Through the generosity of a neighbour, land was donated and in January our hired workers started construction on a new home for Adeesha and his family. It is a peaceful, beautiful, rural setting with many trees and two other homes on the plot of land. It was truly humbling to be so welcomed by this family, the neighbours and the men who have worked so hard to start building the new home.
Like our team mates at the other sites we sifted sand (pretty easy), learned to “parge” (definitely not!!) and developed many blisters digging out the heavy, wet soil surrounding the house to pour concrete for a porch. Making plaster and cement is a combination of art, science and lots of muscle – where is the cement mixer when you need it! Our goal is to get this house done so the family can move in at the end of the month. By day’s end we had most of a room and the walkway done and were in total awe of how much can be accomplished with the very rudimentary tools our workers use! Couldn’t have done it without our leader Don.
While we started out as “the shame of the plaster game” most of us advanced a lot. Hilary declares that this home has the best “squat” toilet ever and she has lots of experience. Worked hard, had fun and we all agreed that the most impactful part of the day was seeing this family in action. Adeesha’s parents, young sister and cousin worked alongside us the entire day. While Adeesha, looking on, never stopped smiling, loved high 5s and whenever Julie’s music was playing he snapped his fingers and was jiving in his chair. We are grateful for this incredible day.
We had a special dinner Monday night with 20 of our scholarship graduates and students joining the volunteers for a curry buffet. Speaking with them and understanding how hard they have worked to achieve their academic and job success made us all respect their commitment and family sacrifice. It was a highlight to participate in the recognition for four recent university graduates: Chameth from a Bio-Medical Research program, Sanjana in Aquatics Resources Technology, Upeksha with a Computer Engineering degree and Sumudu with an Accounting specialty from a Management program.
A fitting end for our first day.
Thanks to our contributors Mary Jean, Susan, Beth, Jennifer, George, Julie, Hilary, Janet