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

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!


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!

Another week goes by …Barbie moves to the jungle

April 15, 2008 at 10:40 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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 Tuesday 15/04/08.

I must be enjoying myself as time is certainly flying by. Having survived the lightening storms (which seemed to have eased now) and another week of language training I am typing this from my new abode …the pink house! –  More of that later.

Last week saw Lynn Riza and Sarah 2(now called podi Sarah- small Sarah) venture to Raheems the tailor (he was recommended by another volunteer) where you can imagine much hilarity ensued as we chose fabrics looked at patterns complimented each other or not on choices, being measured and having to do our own in side leg as we were all wearing skirts!!! (Oh suits you sir!) Raheem assumed I was mother of the brood! I did correct him, he said that due to my hair colour people would assume I was the eldest (which is true)or mother ,he did redeem him self by saying  “ I had youth in my heart”…ahh flattery left him with a orders from all of us for trousers  (shalwar) and long shirt tops (kameez) should be ready for collection this week.

Tuesday was fun our first bus trip and as the rough guide informed me, regular use of this form of transportation is to taken you can forget your gym membership … standing on a crowded bus you use muscle s you never knew you had, even seated  as the seats are narrow. We explored the areas where Podi Sarah and Jesse will be living and working. Practised our language (sinhala chuTTak pulawan = I speak a tiny bit of Sinhala) to purchase limes –(for the Vodka) and a cooking spoon for James birthday on Wednesday. I also did my first text in sinalen to the language tutor Ianthe.

Wednesday saw us all dressed in our work attire (not casual wear), as we would be meeting representatives from our organisations, they were attending a briefing session to prepare for having a volunteer. I found this quite daunting as the 2 nurses’ who attended from Mulleriyawa (pronounced mull- aarea –waa) had as much English as I Sinhala!!! Instant thoughts of how the ???? am I going to do this, so smiling a lot and giving it my best shot we were able to make some small talk. After lunch I was introduced to a senior social worker very proactive in discharge at Angoda (the main hospital) who is fluent in English. She has worked with VSO vols before was very kind and I felt adopted by her, I have arranged to meet her on Wed 16th when I start.

Lynn had met with her partners and over a quick drink before dining out for James birthday, realised she had felt the same. We rationalised our anxieties, reassured each other about skills and abilities and agreed to stop fretting as we headed of to the Cinnamon Grand ( described as Colombo’s most appealing luxury option. Well it was a special occasion James was 31,we headed for the Cheers bar for a beer and English fodder – I had fish and chips it was delicious! James wanted to dance so we retired to the lounge bar to be entertained by Aubrey and his band Heat, entertained by his very poor James Brown and Shaggy impressions. James got to dance; we laughed a lot just what the doctor ordered!

Thursday was the VSO Project Launch- Supporting and Developing Rights Based Mental Health Services in Sri Lanka. Here I met Dr Jayan Mendis Director of Mental health services Angoda, he is the driving force behind the developments and changes in Mental health. He was keen to meet me and was very kind in his welcome  – the New Year would have dawned when I started he felt this was a good sign…  how much more reassurance do I need! Once the pleasantries were over and the spicy fish pasties and veg rolls munched we headed off with other vols of 12- 18 months experience for a beer to hear tales of their experiences and travels around the island, we ended up in Clancy’s Irish bar dancing to Reggae till 1 am…

Friday morning language classes were a little quiet – we got our come up pence as we spent the afternoon shopping for household goods in Apico one shop for all like a big Tesco. Packed with people buying in for the New Year festivities us VSO vols debated about toilet brushes, sheets, saucepans and cockroach sprays! Not an activity I will wish to repeat too soon.

Saturday saw us on the buses again heading to Angoda to meet Helen a vol social worker, who kindly arranged for us to have a look around the Hospital. I was very surprised at what I saw. Large open spaces, wards clean and tidy, patients up and about, garden space and evidence of activities taking place. A lot of money has been spent recently it even has a mother and baby unit, although all very basic they have come along way. Helen reminded me that Mulleriwaya (Mully) was not as developed but that was the reason for my placement. Dr Mendis had recently taken over administration for Mully and had made in roads with change, plans were in place to obtain community housing to support the discharge of the patients incarcerated there…ECT I think = Exciting challenging times for me!

Helen kindly invited us back to hers fro a welcomed glass of arrack and ginger beer  (lashing and lashings of ginger beer! just like the famous five by Enid Blyton I think not) Her placement is until Nov – so I can see myself calling on her experiences both professionally and personally of living in Sri Lankan. She will be a tri shaw ride away she saw my CV before I arrived and is keen to sample my cooking …she will have to wait a bit until I’m settled before the soup is on the menu though if she wants to pop in for an arrack I’ve told her the door will be open.

Sunday 13th saw us girls making the most of the Bank Holiday and headed for

Colombo to see a couple of temples the streets and roads were deserted as the locals were preparing for the new year 2551 which was to arrive at 6.29pm that evening. We visited 2 Buddhist temples Seema Malaka and Gangaramaya. Both different one modern on a platform on a lake the second a hotch potch of Buddhist arts and architecture from Sri Lanka, with a Bo tree in the court yard draped with prayer flags. The museum holds a collection of vintage British cars amongst old printing presses from London and Edinburgh. We had to remove our shoes, no problem but the marble flooring was so hot – it burnt our feet as we did  “ahh grasshopper” impressions on to the sparse matting. We returned via the Holiday Inn to check out the pool access for non residents – 200 rupees( Rs) which is duly noted compared to that of the aforementioned Cinnamon Grand at 800Rs we were informed later the Holiday Inn is the best bet as CG has very chlorinated water.

Returning to the Guesthouse I made poor attempts at home work then packing before listening to the New Year arrive with the gang in the garden. Lots of fire works just loud bangs though no visual display.

Monday dawned the bags were packed. We arrived at the office to find a New Year Breakfast awaited us put on by the office staff. It is a traditional thing to do.wish some one had told me I would not have had breakfast but I managed to sample a little of every thing it would have been rude not too!

That afternoon I was taken to my new abode I had seen it from the outside on Saturday and admired the setting, the house was surrounded by palm trees and had orchids growing in the garden and was newly painted in PINK. Opening the gate at the bottom of the stairs leading to my rooms I realised that it was pink there too and the bedroom and the kitchen and the balcony ….how lovely. As you know I like my pastel shades especially pink but it was a bit of a shocker luckily Lynn came with me so we laughed a lot! I am sure as she text me later- at the moment it is a pink house soon I will make it a home. Once I’d done some immediate cleaning I showered and made a drink before retiring to my bed which by the way has pink sheets and a pink mosquito net!

More from Barbie’s house soon!







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