Ooh tales of my travels with me pals …

March 9, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Following the last entry I’ll continue with a bit of a catch up regarding my travels around this beautiful island. The end of Nov 2009 brought with it the arrival of my friends Al and Stu from Manchester for 2 weeks holiday. They had no requests only that elephants were a must! I put together an itinerary and with the help of Joanna at paradisevoyage@sltnet.lk hotels, transport ( a van with driver) and train travel were arranged with no problem. The plan was they would arrive, chill at the PP for few days then we would head east by train to Polonnaruwa for a couple of days to visit the ancient city and environs.I would then return to Colombo ( after all I am here to do some work!!)Leaving the boys to travel with the man and a van to climb Sigiriyia ( see them for details of a near death experience!), visit Dambulla caves before a couple of days in Kandy to do the sights inc the Elephant orphanage, the Temple of the Tooth, the amazing sights at Botanical gardens. They would travel south to the tea country and a compulsory visit to a tea plantation and factory of course. They would proceed to Kitulgala with white water rafting as an option. Take the train to Nuwara Eliya where I would join them to walk to Worlds End again before we made our way to climb Adams Peak for my birthday ,ending up at the beach at Unawatuna for 3 days before a stay at the Galle Face Hotel before leaving the shores….phew fab or what I got to see some places Id never been before and to share some of my favourites with them they were very happy with the schedule.
However best laid plans etc a few days before they arrived I was asked to join some colleagues and their families on a trip to Trincomalee ( again great hey?) the weekend the boys were to arrive , I explained my situation as I declined the invite due to my visitors arriving… “ Hey Miss Sera no problem bring them a long, why not “they asked ?
Why not indeed a quick e to the intrepid travellers and it was sorted. They arrived at the PP , a few hours sleep up and out to a joint birthday celebration in Colombo home by midnight up at 4am to join the trip to Trinco on the road by 5am( time for jet lag and adjustment to the heat? …not a chance with Togs tours!) The journey took nearly 13 hours yes 13.It was truly amazing experience for them. There was 33 of us 4 vols, the 2 holiday makers ,26 colleagues, husbands ,wives ,aunties and children and enough food to feed the world. A couple sets of drums (and the odd bottle of arrack!)The highlight was stopping for brekkie at 9am we pulled in at the side of the road, all off the bus traipsed down a lane to a house the owner of which was someone’s brothers friend who opened the door showed the way to those with the buckets of food to the kitchen, others the outside toilet and tap to wash hands before we formed a line to received a plate ladened with bread, dhal , hot and spicy sambol, with a potato curry followed by bananas and sweet milky tea. We were all back on the bus within 30 mins. Like a military operation more fun and beat any motorway service station I’ve ever frequented that’s for sure!
We were sung to until lunch stop ( we ashamedly could not reciprocate as between us we only knew the first line of a song apart from Jerusalem and Ging gang goolie!) Lunch was a simple affair pulled in at a half erect building, put some tables together and out came more buckets this time with rice and 3or 4 curries ….delicious Al and Stu got stuck in eating with their fingers!
We arrived like I say about 6pm via lakes, temples and the natural spa’s 13 hrs later. Not a moan or complaint from either of them only praises and compliments for the warmth and generosity they had experienced during a journey not to be forgotten for a long time. They carried on with the itinerary as planned 2 days later what a great start to the holiday!( Which by the way included lots of additional little extra visits plus facts and information about SL from the driver Roland
Briefly since then I have visited Dambulla caves, I have been white water rafting, twice! Done some climbing and walking in the Knuckles range and swam in twin water falls….so you’re up to date with me travels!
Next blog about the developments at work , as I prepare for my return to the UK in April.


All sorts o’ stuff going on…

August 4, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Where to start, been soooo busy?…ok work first. Pleased to be able to say progress continues. Last month the ladies who go out to work at the paper factory were invited by a VSO colleague to visit her rehabilitation centre down south in Ridiyagama Hambantota District. The visit was an opportunity for the ladies to share their work experience with the residents and staff. I had a small part just set up my laptop and projector to show the photographs I’d put together of the project. Ms PP social worker explained this with the ladies chipping in, then a question and answer session followed. The ladies were brilliant taking it in turns to respond with such confidence and enthusiasm to the questions posed. It was a great afternoon which was finished off with music, singing and a little dancing before tea.
Hambantota is a seven hour drive from Mulleriyawa which meant an over night stay for the party of 18 another experience for some the ladies had never been this far in their lives! We had a great journey down staff and ladies singing along like one big family. This was exactly what they said when I asked for feed back of the trip, from both groups. The staff kindly wrote their thoughts for my report, they too appreciated the opportunity to leave the unit and share the trip with the ladies …tear jerking stuff!
As my friend lives there, I did not travel back with the ladies and was joined by 2 other vols and we took the chance to visit in the area which included Kataragama and Yalla National Park. First Kataragama which is one of the 3 most venerated religious sites in SL (along with Adams Peak and the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy …I didn’t realise this – I’ve done all 3!)according to Rough Guide“ held sacred by Buddhists ,Muslims and Hindus alike-even Christians visit in search of divine assistance” that’ll be me then one can always use a bit of divine assistance! The town is famous for its festival with its varying forms of physical mortification, pilgrims express their devotion to the god Kataragama, ranging from crawling from the river to the Temple, (its a fair ole way!) to acts of self mutilation some pierce their cheeks or tongue with skewers, others walk across burning coals- all believe that god will protect them from pain. We were a day early for the festival I am glad actually reading about it was enough!
Instead we rose at 5am to go to Yala SL most visited wildlife reserve. We hired a jeep and set off in search of the leopard the parks most infamous resident we were disappointed we saw only footprints. We did however ooh! and ahh! over herds of Bambi deer, a wild elephant, water buffalo, crocodiles, and amazing birdlife which included storks, pelicans, egrets, kingfishers many brightly coloured parakeets. Our guide informed us of the devastation caused by the tsunami, despite the human casualties in the area virtually none of the parks wild life perished in the tidal waves.
Nuwara Eliya and Badulla are 2 other places I’ve visited recently, they are in the hill country and a real contrast to the dryness of the south, green and lush. Nuwara Eliya is known as little England it was a fantastic trip we did some walking at Horton Plains. Badulla was a trip with work to a community psychosocial programme launch. The drive was breathtaking, 7 hours east of Colombo climbing through the countryside in the moon light is a memory I’ll treasure. To avoid being accused of being in Judith Chalmers mode, I’ll cease my travel warbling and give you the link to the Rough Guide to Sri Lanka for more info for those of you planning to visit http://www.roughguides.com

Back to work , which finds me being involved with long term strategy proposals for mental health nurse education and curriculum development, I am member of a steering group for mental health community nurse training, supporting colleagues with funding applications for a bridging course for development social workers to convert to psychiatric social workers and facilitating the delivery of training in practical dementia care. Then back at the ranch, supporting the staff at Mulleriyawa develop and deliver training for the support staff. We did the first 2 hour session on Sunday these staff having worked there for many many years and never received any training, were brilliant. Animated , asking questions, doing group work with out hesitation , being proud to tell us what they knew. I was time keeper as usual but they were not bothered,they could have sat there for another 2 hours!!!
Apart from work and seeing the island, in the last weeks I’ve been to a recording studio to help a friend of a friend (an English teacher) produce some audio learning materials for her students .She wanted some different accents to read out various scripts. You know me and my social phobia had to have my arm twisted to get involved…not! It was jolly good fun and a great laugh.
Last Tuesday British Nationals were invited along to the British High Commission. The Colombo volunteers went along to check out where the tax payers money goes! It was terribly nice don’t you know I enjoyed the cucumber sandwich, a scone(or 3… they were small) and a cuppa !We did the tour of the building saw lots of water features and glass ,thanked our hosts and nipped for a beer on the way home!
Needless to say I am really enjoying the variety of work and the involvement the placement offers. At a recent meeting with the volunteers in the mental health programme, and their partner organisations I realised that collectively we are making some very positive big steps in the improving mental health in Sri Lanka and that’s an incredible feeling! And as you’ve read I have no complaints about living in this beautiful country either!

Hemin Hemin…slowly slowly!

June 18, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Posted in Life, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Pole Pole” – “Oiy togs pace”- “where’s the fire”- “wait for us” have all been said to me  many times over the years, and not just when out walking on the hills!  I’m pleased to say that has definetely changed being here. I think I may have said in an earlier blog the heat slows you down and if you overtake a Sri Lankan you are walking to fast. However now it’s me saying hemin hemin (slowly slowly) to the amusement of my SL colleagues in relation to the work we are doing. A nurse was in fits of giggles when I said it during a conversation this afternoon, she turned to the doctor and said in Sinhala words to the effect “hemin hemin is Miss Sera’s catch phrase about Mulleriyawa”!
There seems to be some thing in the air that makes my colleagues want to get to 5th gear when they are still in the garage (umm I know, me of all people should not use gears as an example …) anyway when we are discussing issues, of discharge for instance, a family is located and that’s it, the poor woman is practically air lifted out (a slight exaggeration!) and there’s Ms Sera saying lets do some preparation on planning  the discharge to make sure it’s successful so she does not return to our door after 2 weeks…so hemin hemin, she’s been here 10- 15 years ,2 weeks to get the discharge arranged properly is not too unrealistic …is it?
With just over 9 months remaining of my placement, VSO programme office staff and myself facilitated a review meeting last week, engaging with the colleagues and staff I have been working with to review changes at the unit in the last 12 months, what had happened to make these changes, what impact had having a VSO volunteer made to the organisation, staff and the patients.
In the true participatory style that is VSO, there was plenty of flip chart paper, post it notes and group work to fill the 3 hours. It was conducted in Sinhala, I was able to get the gist as if they were referring to me they would point ,smile and say things like Sera Miss ‘planning’, ‘process,’ ‘ now we have meetings for everybody’, Sera miss always use diary, I have a diary now…giggle giggle. Miss Sera friendly to all, and even wear saree, more giggles, she always try to speak Sinhala.
The programme office staff made positive observations about  the working relationships, interactions and response to the session (I try to run the 2 monthly workshops in the same interactive way) I do acknowledge that “hemin hemin” some things albeit small and maybe not so small are changing for the  both the women and the staff!
What was really good was the final session, focussing the staff to think of the future, the year 2012, what would the unit be like. It was reassuring to hear them share their vision of fewer patients at the unit, with more employment for some, and more community services. They also agreed on 2 changes to focus on for the next year. This was positive as they were similar to the outcome of the discussions (about my focus/objectives) I had had with the director on return from UK, so I feel I’ve got direction and I’m on course, for the rest of my placement hoorah…chocks away!

Holidays ,Holy days…Happy days!

May 9, 2009 at 4:39 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I’ve been and come back or as they say here gihan ennan ..I’ll go and come.
Returning home at the end of March to join the family celebrate my parents golden wedding anniversary was a great way to start nearly 3 weeks holiday in the UK. Wow an instant hit of my nearest and dearest which included going to mass the receiving of a Papal blessing ( its like the Queen sending a telegram for birthdays of significance, but this is from the Pope!) eating drinking lots of laughing and catching up, staying at Ripley Castle, North York’s, more eating ,drinking and much merriment and many happy memories.
I had a great time seeing friends in Chester, Manchester and London including going to the theatre to see “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” which was fabulous darlings! Time was spent with my family, visiting relative’s, a day at the coast in Scarborough by train with my nephew, eating, seeing friends from work ,more food, shopping ,hot chocolate in M&S, cheese, cinema, DVD’s, walking, and gardening pretty well sums up the vacation! On leaving I was naturally a little sad but was I ready to return, I’d missed the heat… my mum’s heating bill will certainly be up this quarter!
So I’m back all is well. George the geeko had moved some more mates in lots of geeko poo to sweep up along with 3 weeks dust was the first job before unpacking. My Landlord and family were keen to hear about my visit and invited me for an evening meal with them which was a lovely welcome back.
Returning to work, I was interested to see what had happened in my absence. Before leaving I had met with Matron and a few senior staff to discuss on going projects, agreeing a list of things ” to do”.I am pleased to say that matron met me with a beaming Sri Lankan smile and before we had time to say hello, beckoned me to the flip chart paper on the wall with big ticks all over it WOW …she and the staff had been busy. She gave me an up date of progress and a rationale for why something’s had not been ticked, about 65% complete I was blown away …YIPEE! On the Friday of that week we held our 4th communication meeting this time (with much encouragement from yours truly) Matron facilitated, updating the action plan and establishing 2 working groups …slowly slowly things are changing!
The rest of that week was spent listening to the events that had happened relating to the New Year celebrations I’d missed; the thing is here events go on for 2 weeks after the event so I was able to spend time at Angoda Hospital New Year Festival.
This year instead of each ward having an event all wards combined to have a big event in the sports field next to hospital. You may remember last year I spent a similar day at the horticulture project where I took part in the ‘ eat the hanging cream cracker, hands tied behind your back game.’ This year I got knocked out in the first round of musical chairs!
It was good to witness, staff and clients having fun together. New games this year, guess how many seeds in the Papaya( size of a rugby ball)this was a hard one as some papaya that big have been known on opening to contain less than 10 and others 1000’s.I had 3 goes …no where near the answer of 894 …glad I wasn’t asked to count!
An event I’d not seen before was a pillow fight…with a difference. A wooden ‘A’ frame was erected about 7ft high and 8ft long, 2 contestants mounted with pillow in hand the other hand behind their back. The idea was of course to knock your opponent off to land on the mattresses below…it was hilarious, some of these chaps put so much effort in to taking a swing they fell off with out delivering a blow. Others were veterans at the game and held their position while receiving the blows rained on them picking their time when the opponent was tiring to take one swing and off he’d go. Watching with a colleague she enquired did these events happen in the UK? I had thoughts of Eddie Waring and Stewart Hall on TV’s ‘ Its a ‘Knock Out’. Thinking about the NHS … health and safety and fun in the same sentence…
Yesterday was Vesak Poya the Festival of Light, I went to watch the Perahera (parade) with my landlady and landlord as their son was taking part. This reminded me of the perehera I watched in Kandy but with less elephants (there were 2 )the children in their class groups were dressed in traditional brightly coloured costumes from 4 -18 yr olds, lots of noise from the drums and singing. It was supported by proud parents with family and friends .Despite a few showers of rain we walked about 3 km through the town, passing the shops and booths displaying their lamps and streamers cars and buses heavily decorated also. On our return home we were stopped at roadside booths ‘dansal’ which were erected for the purpose, to give away free food yes rice and curry, some with drinks and biscuits all the villagers out smiling chatting a real sense of community …this is where I live at the moment and I’m happy to be back!

Oh didn’t we have a lovely day the day we went to…Kalutara?

March 10, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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On Sunday 1st of March along with the other 3 volunteers at Angoda (plus 2 of their friends from Holland) we were invited to the home of AA (a senior social worker collegue). She lives in Kalutara about 40 km south of Colombo. Kalutara was one of the northern most points along the coast to be hit by the tsunami, the hotels have been patched up and the effects of the tidal wave are visible in the ruined houses and fishing villages on approach to the town. We travelled by van the journey taking about a 1 1/2 hrs (AA uses public transport daily leaving her home at 5.30am to get to Angoda for 8am!)
On our arrival we were immediately fed in true SL style banana, fish cutlet and freshly made milk toffee (condensed milk, vanilla and sugar) delicious. Following our elevenses, we boarded the van with AA as our guide to go to Gangatilaka Vihara. A huge white dagoba I had admired on my previous travels down the Galle Road. Built in 1960’s on the site of a Portuguese fort it is unusual as it is the only one in the world that is entirely hollow. Once inside the cavernously echoing chamber you get a fantastic view of the Kalu Ganga estuary, the coast line beach, Railway Bridge and the surrounding environs inland. These were once famous for spice trading, now more famous for the islands source of finest mangosteens (looks like a purple tomato, with a hard shell like skin that softens when ripe, the delicate flesh within tastes a little like grape with a citrus tang!)The walls of the interior are covered by a sequence of murals depicting various scenes from Buddha’s life…my he had an interesting time let me tell you! (Perhaps another time hey?)On existing we crossed the road to the other temple buildings where we observed the usual lighting of incense sticks and the offering of flowers to the many Buddha shrines, it was after mid day the sun was hot so was the sand underfoot(footwear removed in the temple area)so we moved around pretty sharpish I’ll tell you! AA blessed us all by rubbing hot oil on our foreheads, as we watched the locals tying prayers to the bo tree or pouring water into the channels to water the bo tree roots.
We hot footed it( literally) to the van to return to AA’s for our lunch which was laid out for us by her son and daughter. Again masses of food, 2 different rice’s, 8 or 9 curries on offer for the guests, who have to eat before the hosts. We did all eat the dessert fruit and ice cream together, or was that because I was on my second helping?
After a short rest we again boarded our van and headed for the beach (deserted) for a paddle (warm water) before going on to AA’s business venture a rehabilitation home. This project is a house for up to 10 residents( currently only 2) set up as a halfway home AA will work here herself when she retires next year, since she became a widow 5 years ago she used some family land to build the house, the gardens need some work. She had invited us as she is proud of her achievements which are fantastic, but also for our ideas of how to support the future developments, the discussions of course aided by chocolate cake and tea! After an hour or so in this retreat, we dropped AA off at home and wend our way back up the coast road passing the temple with its roadside donation boxes, fed by motorists who stop to say a prayer and offer a few coins for a safe journey… when you’ve seen the state of the road you’d understand why!
A good day was had by all…

The ups and downs of life in SL continue…

February 15, 2009 at 2:08 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Last Sat morning at 6.15am I got the first of 5 buses that would eventually get me to my destination of Dalhousie some 10hours later for less than 200Rs/=The reason for this journey was 2 fold ,firstly it was a get together of vols for Lynn’s birthday, secondly to Climb Adams Peak (Sri Pada check out the website on http://sripada.org/)

Travelling with the large group was good fun, catching up, sharing food, snacks (yeap my favourite part of any trip!)Listening to music, a chorus of “ging gang goo lie”( well the SL ‘s song sounded like it) and marvelling at the wonderful scenery making the journey not seem that long at all.
Adams Peak is situated at the south western edge of the hill country; it is one of Sri Lankans most striking features and one of its most celebrated places of pilgrimage- according to my guide book a miniature ‘Matterhorn’. It was indeed an impressive sight to behold (at 2243m it is SL’s 5th highest peak) as we weaved our way through the tea plantations and surrounding hills.
Arriving at Dalhousie we checked in at the River View Wathsala Inn, a beautiful spot with views of the river, hills and the Peak looming in the distance as the sun began to set.
We agreed to eat and get a few hours rest /sleep before making the ascent to arrive at the top to watch the sunset. I think I’d mentioned to folk that I was no novice at this having successfully climbed Kilimanjaro in 2001… Did I tell you???
Anyway we set off about 1am the temperature was very pleasant, although the locals were obviously were feeling the cold as they donned hats, jackets ,scarf’s and towels around their shoulders ( never got to the reason why?). As it was a poya weekend, we anticipated it to be busy with others making their annual pilgrimage we expected the ascent to take 4 or so hours including time to stop for tea at one the stalls lining the steps (approx 4900) en route to the top.
It was indeed very busy, we’d made good way after 2 hours stopping for tea everyone was feeling ok no serious aches at this stage. There was a great atmosphere amongst the pilgrims, old and young groups of families and friends the age varying from months old (being breast fed as mum walked up) to late 80’s.Lots of stalls selling food , drink,plastic flowers ,hats, scarf’s etc ;It felt like a festival of sorts, without the music and the mud of course!
Sadly after another couple of hours of very slow ascent of the steps (suiting my knees) we came to a complete standstill for over ½ an hour (a real people jam, no movement either way!)We were 2/3rds of the way up the lights from the top twinkling down at us. We were told the top was completely blocked with early arrivals waiting for the sun to rise in 2 hours time. What to do??
A group decision to head down was made as at this rate we would not make it to the top for sunrise. So a little disappointed we started to make our descent, but I did managed (in my typical brown owl style) to rally the troops to raise a chorus of ging gang goo lie with much hilarity from a group of SL lads if front of us! Stopping for tea again we met Brenda an 80 yr SL guide who at 6 in the morning had great pleasure in entertaining us by telling us that she had managed the peak 72 times, she had the press cuttings and photos from grateful tourists to prove it, we left promising to return and go with her the next time!
After a bit of brekky we again retired for a few hours rest, we had a walk around the local area we were a bit stiff. It was just fab to out and not perspiring. We meandered through the tea plantations, photographing lakes and waterfalls; it was lovely, confirming my love and preference for the countryside over the beach, vowing to visit the area again very soon.
With our disappointment at not reaching the summit behind us, it was after all Lynn’s birthday weekend we returned to the hotel for birthday cake and the party started! Hoorah!

A New Year…

January 31, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

 A New Year and another month flies by, I have completed 10 months of my 24.I’m aware that I seem to be counting the time but that’s because I don’t know where it goes.

As per the advice we received on arrival, I have experienced a bit of a downer in the last couple of weeks ….nothing too worry about just par for the course really. This  could be attributed to the start of a New Year a time of reflection and resolution of course, however I’m feeling or should say was feeling that it had more to do with being a third of the way into the placement, and questioning myself on what have I done, what am I doing here, does it make any difference???? This was particularly evident when co- facilitating a workshop for a group of 39 nurses, identifying their training needs. I was talking( slowly) through a simple base line data sheet we wanted them to complete ( it was being translated in Sinhala at the same time), I remember looking at the 39 pairs of eyes  and thinking of rabbits startled by the head lights  or had someone thrown Harry Potters invisibility cloak over me again??  

There have been days where I seem to wear the invisibility cloak all the time, its not just the lack of recognition its the lack of basic courtesy respect and poor communication which makes me question myself and role here, which is alien being out of my comfort zone, yes I did want a challenge I appreciate that this is part of it… some days are harder than others!   

Anyway I seem to be on an up ward swing again I don’t know what suddenly makes it seem better, I do talk with the other vols which is really valuable ( I do miss my monthly clinical and managerial supervision sessions)and I do give myself a talking too ( bad sign I know)

Yes so a New Year is with us, I saw it in down south in Unawatuna, sadly I had a bit of a stomach bug I managed to stay up to watch the fire works on the beach at midnight without injury no particular safety code here regards the displays with the local dogs loving every minute of it, and retired to my room by 00.15.

Back to work with the stakeholder event  being held on the 8thJan which was regarded as a success despite a poor show from the business community we did attract good media coverage which ticked the box for raising awareness of mental health issues! The highlight for me was Ms J (who works at the paper factory) standing up and reading her testimony of experience to the audience of 74, what a star! We did get 3 shows of interest in engaging in employment opportunities …watch this space for further details.

From the shop floor to strategy, I have been involved with the programme office staff at VSO and the analysis of the SL programme area review. This was very informative (and hard going at times, lots of paper) I was able to see the evidence of the overall impact of the Mental Health programme in SL and putting my role in context.

The president’s wife visited the unit last week to open a new vocational training unit,( on with the saree!) there was a great deal of security and interestingly the front of the unit got a coat of paint the evening before she arrived… some things never change where ever you are!

Other visitors to the unit recently was a group of people (I met shortly after I arrived last year on their first visit )from the Netherlands ,Global Initiative on Psychiatry ( http://www.gip-global.org)  They are an international not for profit organisation focussing on  mental healthand human rights globally. They were back with secured funding for the forensic services at Angoda. They were very positive about the developments they saw at Mulleriyawawhich were just ideas last year. They have provided funds for a water tank for each ward and are hoping to support the much needed repairs to the toilets and the ancient drainage system. They are awaiting my report, which I prepared withthe new Matron and Infection control nurse, we await the estimates from the technical officer…that’s another story but I’m on the case! It was great to get the feedback and make contact with their consultants regarding resources for the new library and initial discussions about exchange programmes for student nurses …all good stuff hey!

Talking of students I am going back to the books I have enrolled on a part time diploma in Human Rights at the Institute (www. ihrsrilanka.lk ) here in Colombo 9-1pm every Saturday for 6 months it was  due to start on the 10thJan but in true SL time its been  rescheduled  twice already to 14th Feb.  Anyway I am really looking forward to it, I’ll keep you posted

Daily living continues to make me smile last week riding up the road after a visit to the veg stall I was aware of voices behind me asking the usual “where are you going?” trying not too fall off and keep my produce in the basket as I turned round I saw the tops of 3 bald heads disappear behind a 8 ft wall…the wall surrounds the Buddhist college…

Christmas is here …and it’s HOT!

December 23, 2008 at 7:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Hopefully not becoming a bore but being in a warmer clime for the first time in my life at this time of the year is a tad strange. Being a Buddhist country the festive season is not widely celebrated ( they do get a bank holiday) and living out in the sticks the shops only started to get Christmassy this week, tried to buy cards to post last month not a sausage this week the streets are a wash with them, so perhaps I should get next years now. Go in to the city there are lights and expensive decorations in the shops but only in the last 3 weeks which is a change from the commercial explosion in the UK from after Easter as I remember. Despite buying a little tree, decorating it, receiving cards and gifts, decorating my window bars with tinsel its not quite got that feeling, coz I’m so hot!
I am however looking forward to getting together with my friends and other vols in the next few days and of course going to the beach… I know enough – move on!
Work continues to make me smile some days with satisfaction others with bewilderment! Returning briefly to the festive season for a mo the women of Mulleriyawa have been the recipients of various donations which has been lovely to witness. The Sisters from the Mother Theresa convent visited the other day bringing with them the dry goods for a meal for the 700 residents, plus a Christmas goodie bag for all of them which contained, 2 pieces of fruit, biscuits, choc bar, toothpaste, tooth brush, soap, washing soap, a hankie, necklace earrings and bangles, and some nail varnish. I assisted the nuns and their helpers distribute these gift bags to the wards, when I walked through an hour later there was a lovely smell of oranges in the air…ahh. They were accompanied by some volunteers and children who put on a little nativity play, sang some carols, and Santa came to distribute sweeties to the audience, which nearly saw the end of him when the ladies came a little to keen to get heir hands on the candy !
The nuns were amazing so much energy and an unending desire to help the women. A result of several phone conversations in the past weeks with them, is that they may be able to house some of the older women (possibly as many as 30) at their Elders Homes through out the country…meetings planned to explore this opportunity in the diary for January.
Thoughts of the New Year and another community development, we visited a community home (supported by St Andrews Church of Scotland Colombo) last Saturday with some of the ladies who are working at the paper factory. We are exploring the possibility of 3 ladies moving to the home as an intermediate measure the long term goal being they go back to their families or they move on to independent housing. We have been doing some preparation work with them which resulted in 5 of the 8 being really eager to give it a go. This has also given me the chance to work on introducing the concept of team working , and community follow up, with the staff, this has been a little slow, but working with the keener staff is starting to pay off…well there’s been lots of head wobbling!
The garden continues to take shape with the women busy in it most mornings as I cycle into work. This project is headed by Dr S one of the Medical officers, he recently contacted his old school The Royal College of Colombo, some teachers and students visited a few months ago and have been supporting his ideas and plans, which has resulted in funding through UNESCO to support the development. It is hoped it will be able to grow enough veg to support the kitchen in improving the diet for the women and to sell the rest locally. Plans also include a bio gas plant so watch this space for developments. So its all go at Unit 2 I am pleased to say!
I attended a 2 day workshop on proposal writing and funding applications last week. It was facilitated by VSO vols working in the Participation and Governance sector. The mental health sector in SL is funded by the EC until 2015.There is money available to support the development of the partner organisations, various funds, means forms which previously ended up being completed by the volunteer!!! Therefore the workshop was aimed at staff from various organisations, different grades of Dr’s, social workers, nurses in SL. It gave the chance to discuss planning and project management which is lacking and often the cause of frustrations experienced by Vols .We continue to make in roads to development and sustainability with such workshops …so there you go an update of what I ‘m doing here. ..on the work front anyway ,more of the social side next year!

I wish you all a Very Happy Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year!

The living is easy…red letter days!

November 11, 2008 at 7:12 pm | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Love, Travel, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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 Part 2 work life balance… 

  The last few weeks including work have been pretty good, certainly makes the time fly by as I sit here tapping at the beginning of Nov, I recall what I’ve been up to. A new batch of Volunteers arrived 4 weeks ago one of which is working at main hospital and living 10 minutes away by bike. She ventured out to see her accommodation with 3 other vols and popped in for a brew on the balcony of the PP. I felt like a 2nd year at school no longer the “newbie”  as I answered the stream of questions similar to the ones I’d asked on my arrival…it seemed an age ago(March that is, not me being a second year coz that is eons ago!!!)

I actually started this 2 weeks ago and have edited it as it went on a bit about a trip to Water World  which boasts to being “Sri Lanka’s first Public Aquarium” and the “jobs worth” on the gate refusing to give me residents rates. I waxed lyrical about a trip down south Ambalantota, continuing with the water theme I enjoyed a Sunday afternoon trip down the river, spied some amazing birds of prey and a crocodile!!!  I saw a few temples at Tissamaharama and ate curd which is infamous in Sri Lanka but curd from Ambalantota apparently the best. They use the buffalo urine to sterilize the clay pot, (the curd is delicious), but they don’t reuse the pot (saw hundreds of them laying about the place or used as edging in gardens) due to the use of urine …folk are funny hey? I cut it short as events of last week  were far more memorable more of them later, my update continues…

New friends have been made in the last weeks, linked to work.  First is Barbara, widow of an ex Medical Superintendant of Mulleriyawa ’69 – ’81. She is an amazing octogenarian (81 to be precise!)In memory of the 10th anniversary of his death, the family wanted to make a donation to the unit. She contacted JM the director he invited her to visit the unit following the purchase of an industrial washing machine, I was dispatched to give her a tour. We hit it off straight away, the visit ended with her asking for my contact details a) so she could keep in touch to make sure the machine got installed and b) so she could invite me round to hers for lunch, which she did the following week. On my arrival a drink was offered in true SL style, water or tea I presumed, no …a beer or a rum and coke with fresh mint, taken a back for a second, I informed her that technically I was on duty. I was corrected I was a guest in her house for lunch, she was having a rum would I care to join her…I left a couple hours later, family and life histories swapped, plus some hand embroidered table mats as a gift, I’m sure there will be more of Barbara in future blogs.

Pat is Scottish married to John of St Andrews Church in Colombo, supported by the Church of Scotland, donor to one of the wards at the unit. Pat contacted me to discuss training for staff at a community home, where 6 women had been settled for a few years. She had been given my name by Lorraine from Lanka Alzheimer’s society(small place this island)We met 2 weeks ago discussed a future meeting and visit to the house with social workers and Occupational therapy staff on Thursday  this week. She and John been here 5 years, apart from church and charity work they also run a Scottish evening at the Canadian embassy every Tuesday, I’m sure that will be visited before long for a bit of a knees up!

Last Wednesday has to go down as the best day in Sri Lanka so far (tissues at the ready). I may have mentioned a trip to Anuradapura in July, to visit AKASA women physically disability project. On this trip a lady( resident at the unit) called MC had travelled with us, as the social worker Ms P who was coordinating the trip had been working with her for a few months, trying to locate her son, who she had last seen 12 years ago. A series of phone calls and letters with only a name and date of birth, to the many children’s homes and orphanages in SL, he had been located in the SOS village in Anuradupura (an Austrian organisation134 village’s world wide)

In July we visited the orphanage to meet the staff but not her son. MC was relieved to know her son’s whereabouts that he was progressing well at school and enjoyed football. Despite our reassurances she was bitterly disappointed that she could not have met him, she did how ever handle the situation well and saved her tears for when she was back on the van. This had been a big day for her, on the return journey she sang a song in Sinhala, which she had made up her self stating her love for her son, her inability to care for him as she had been unwell, and that one day they would be together. She also thanked all the staff for making her feel ‘normal’, she felt very special, but unworthy, she did not deserve this. On return the she wrote the words of the song with the help of the nurse in a letter to her son and enclosed some photos I had taken. Ms P continued the contact with the director of the orphanage who had started to prepare the boy; the letter had been given to him. The problem was when we would be able to access transport for the 6 hour journey to travel north again?

My friend Riza a vol at AKASA, was in Colombo renewing work permits and visa  and came to see me at work we met Ms P, never one to miss an opportunity asked when she was returning to Anuradurpura …could we have a lift( as VSO provide a van), we had business to attend to!

So last Wednesday we headed off, all  of us were quite upbeat as you can imagine, the 6 hour journey  passed quickly as it does when there’s something special at the end…

Ms P and I spoke with the director to discuss formalities what info had been given to the boy how he had taken it. No problems , they were the experts after all. MC was to meet the house mother she had looked after the boy for the last 12 years. We were all shown the shared house and met other children; I was befriended by a beautiful big brown eyed 8 yr old girl, who was quite good with my camera at the end of the visit.  We were told R, the boy had arrived from school he was seeing his key worker first. We waited, I clicked away nervously…then  there he was standing in the door way, there was no doubt who his mother was, that big grin and big sparkling eyes… a mother and child reunion, an incredible moment to have witnessed.

MC and son R spent over an hour together, we shared tea, songs were sung, hands were held, hugs and big grins all round. A fantastic day, one I will remember for a long time…


Not that I’m counting…the big screen?

September 26, 2008 at 10:28 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I can hardly believe it on the 26th Sept I’ll have been here 6 months…whew clichés a plenty, time goes by when you’re having fun, time and tide wait for no man, time goes by….  another Madonna reference sorry…

Need less to say if you have been following my Sri Lankan experience so far, you’ll agree I have actually done ,seen , tasted ,etc a whole selection box of wonderful things in this relatively short period of time.

Selection box ahah …leads me nicely onto the fact that some of  us vols have been talking about our plans for Christmas and New Year, like we have nothing better to do in this developing country but to focus on our selves …yes well, despite these days not being celebrated in this Buddhist country they fall in the high season. The weather is HOT and holiday makers flee cooler climes for SL winter sun – yep you’ve got it, the prices go up.

So those of us on a small allowance try to book beach accommodation a) early  and b)get residents rates or negotiate a deal if we have previously stayed there. Not really wishing our time away here, it is purely for practical, financial and of course volunteer supportive reasons we are thinking ahead. I’ll keep you posted nearer the time of the out come.

A small down side of these thoughts, being those of home, highlighted by a quick text from my sis Rosie, saying she would be at home last weekend. Ooh the taste of my mum’s home cooking, been driven  to the pub by my dad, going to see my nephews, and a  glass of cold white wine I have to admit a I felt a little home sick ,with 6 months suddenly feeling like a very along time! 

Hey ho, the moment has passed prashna nae ,as they say here no problem, I am doing OK, please don’t worry, feeling a tad home sick now and again is good and normal, ’tis all part of the SL experience!!!

Aeti = enough! I move on.

The first full week back at work has been really good catching up with things. Like I said last blog not a lot has happened as things do not move at a fast pace here. However things like funding applications have been discussed with the Rotary Club of SL.This was a fascinating meeting to hear how funds are generated on an international scale and utilized creatively for example the building of schools in the tsunami hit areas.

Our proposal was put together with input from staff at the hospital myself and written up by W.H.O. The main objective focussed on the provision of a “homely environment”, which included costs for items such as 400 beds, lockers,  water tanks, TV ‘s and arm chairs to a vehicle. This would to be utilized by staff to do home visits when families located, and by the women to support their integration into the community through shopping trips going to the cinema, the zoo, the temples etc

Mulleriyawa hospital also received a large donation of goods from the LIONS club this week. This included items ranging from soap to an exercise bike, with underwear, sheets, plates ,gas bottles and cleaning equipment in between. It will improve the quality of life for the women in a small but relevant way. So things are progressing for the women I am glad to report.

Now I am getting about a bit more independently( did I tell you I broke a bone in my foot???)  and using the bus to work(bike use to commence once I get the flat tyre sorted!)I ventured into town       ( Colombo City 25 mins from the pink palace) to join a couple of mates to go to the flix as you do on Saturday evening. The Liberty Plaza cinema was showing the Batman film Dark Night or was it Knight(oops cant remember!)Once we purchased our  tickets popcorn was required, however to my delight and surprise you can purchase a beer should you so wish to enjoy with your film, very civilised I thought as was the interval , when you get chance  for another!  Once the second half started the sound quality which hadn’t been that brilliant was drowned out by the sound of the audience munching their way through the bags of prawn crackers they’d bought (obviously not big drinkers!) I did enjoy the film although we suspect it had been cut in a few places.  I am not complaining as it was a pleasant change compared to my usual viewing of DVD’s on the laptop under me mossie net!… which is where I’m headed for now!!!  Another instalment soon…



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