After a manic 2 weeks of meeting INGOs, entrepreneurs and fantastic projects, we have finally found the time to sneak away from the crazy schedule to update you all on our progress!
2 weeks ago today the team were stood at Gatwick Airport, excited for the trip to come. 36 hours, two long flights and hours of transit later, a slightly hazy group of 11 University students crawled through immigration at Colombo Airport, ready to face the challenges that lay ahead (after a long deserved sleep first!).
After a relaxed morning, the team set to contacting NGOs in Colombo who were carrying out livelihood projects in Northern Sri Lanka in order to hear about their work. Particular focus and interest was placed on projects involving business training or entrepreneurship. Over the next few days, we had several constructive meetings with organisations, including Sewa Lanka Foundation, Alliance Development Trust, World Vision, BRAC and ZOA, to name a few. From these we organised follow-up meetings with the appropriate people in the north, and began to form a clear idea of both the progress in the region, and of our vision and goals as a charity. Of course it wasn’t all hard work, and during our downtime we visited Peta market, showed off our sporting prowess at the beach and sampled the local beverages…
Following up from a chance meeting in Colombo we were given the opportunity to meet a project called the Foundation of Goodness, based near Hikkaduwa in the south. There we met with the founder, Kushil Gunasekera, who gave up his lucrative business in order to help his home village after the 2004 Tsunami, and with support from the international community developed his fantastic vision for the area. The centre offered free healthcare and a dental clinic, skills training, women’s enterprise, sports facilities and employment opportunities, and as a team we left feeling inspired and full of ideas for development in the North.
The following day we left for Jaffna, travelling via Negombo to meet with Ranjith Fernando, the Governor of the Lion’s Club for Northern Sri Lanka. He was incredibly supportive and put us in touch with a number of influential people to meet in Jaffna when we arrived, and was committed to supporting us in any way he could in the foreseeable future, including providing us with food and refreshments at his brother’s hotel before the long trip north – Sri Lankan generosity never fails to surprise us! We arrived in Jaffna in the evening and settled down for an early night, ready for the busy week ahead.
Monday was primarily spent organising meetings for the following days and having long, detailed discussions as a team about Future For Jaffna’s strengths, objectives and ultimate vision. It became apparent quite quickly that this particular group is not afraid to voice their opinions (and are certainly not shortof these either), so much so that we were politely told to find somewhere else to convene away from the hotel’s restaurant!
On Tuesday we met with the lovely Mary Cuttle from the Jaffna Social Action Centre (JSAC), who not only was insightful but also put us in touch with a number of useful contacts and local entrepreneurs. We also met with PARCIC and visited one of their successful livelihood projects, where they are using Japanese modern fishing techniques to create a more sustainable income for the beneficiaries.
Additionally we met with World Vision in Jaffna and Kilinochchi, who were both well organised and ran extremely thorough skills training programmes, giving us an example of a highly successful livelihood framework.
With our free afternoon on Tuesday Mesh took us all on a tour of Jaffna, which included the heavily bombed Dutch Fort and Jaffna Train Station,
as well as the beautiful library. The evening was spent at the Nallur Hindu Festival, where we took part in the celebrations and visited the temple, with some members of the team putting their negotiation skills
to the test with the local traders, with little success!
On Thursday and Friday the team visited a number of NGOs, with some heading to Kilinochchi to meet Child Fund, returning with rave reviews of their business programs and in particular the opportunity for a 6 month on-the-job training scheme, and others visiting CARE International, a charity bridging the gap between groups of people and private enterprises since Sri Lankan Independence. We had two meetings with Jaffna University, meeting the Professors of the Business School and Economics, as well as some students and graduates from both faculties. These meetings further emphasised the opportunity for entrepreneurship in Jaffna, and created important links between us and bright, young individuals.
The following day we were up early to go and visit a rural community centre ran by Alliance Development Trust, a Christian organisation working in the region. It was clear when we arrived that this was a forgotten area with few amenities, and that the community centre needed some much needed TLC, not just cosmetically, but in the services that it provided. Alliance are limited to running only children and business classes once a week, however having spoke to the villagers, we saw plenty of potential and a strong community spirit. On leaving the centre, sweaty from hours of playing cricket, football and multiple games of the hokey cokey, we all felt, on a personal level at least, that our relationship with that village should continue in the future.
At this point it is important to recognise the ongoing, incredible support from Thilak Thilagaraj, owner of the Tilko City Hotel in Jaffna. Over our 4 years here he has provided us with a base from which to work and connections with influential people in Jaffna, some of whom he has arranged for us to meet today and tomorrow. He is a larger than life character and very generous, having taken us on a trip to his beach restaurant and graced us with his witty banter and lots of ‘refreshments’. On top of this he has given us access, free of charge, to a space from which we can run our event that we are hosting on Monday. The evening will include an introduction to us as a charity, followed by a forum for discussion and networking, and will be attended by businesspeople, entrepreneurs and NGOs. It is amazing how many influential people we can persuade to come to such an event in a week, but I guess it comes as no surprise considering our youthful charm and good looks! Maybe the UK just doesn’t appreciate us enough…
Whilst on the subject of larger than life characters, we met the tallest man in Sri Lanka, who happens to work at the Tilko Hotel. How tall? 7 foot 2. Crikey.
We’ll round off now as lots to prepare for tomorrow’s event, however we promise not to leave you in the dark for as long next time.
Batman and Robin (aka Tom and Vicky)