Children's Resource Centre AidCamp

Sri Lanka - July 2013

Can we build it? Yes we can.

Take ten women aged 23 – 62 (plus Kevin our fantastic leader), each coming with their own reasons for signing up for this adventure in Sri Lanka.

Our mission: to help extend the children's resource centre near Moratuwa, a small coastal town 20 miles south of Colombo. We had just three weeks to turn an empty shell on the first floor into a ready-to-use classroom.

Run by SERVE, AidCamps' charity partner in Sri Lanka, the centre provides a child-friendly ‘home from home' where some 100 toddlers to teens come to play, study and do homework and where their mothers can meet for self-help support groups. Most importantly, the centre is free and open to all local families, regardless of race or religion - a strong influence for healing in a country so recently torn apart by civil war.

So on the first morning we arrived and tentatively put on our brand new work gloves. "What would you like us to do?" we asked Mr de Silva, the site manager. His list comprised a whole host of things we'd never done before but soon got the hang of.

Sifting sand by hand, mixing concrete, sawing through metal rods, carrying breezeblocks, digging foundations, whitewashing walls, sandpapering desks, plastering walls, clearing huge piles of debris.  

Meanwhile, the bemused local workmen on the site quietly got on with the really skillful work - building the walls, fixing in the windows, smoothing the plaster and creating a new flight of steps.

We worked on the site most mornings Monday to Friday, sustained by lusty communal renditions from The Sound of Music, Oliver and Les Mis, lots of laughs and a mid-morning break for sweet ginger tea, bananas and biscuits.

Best of all, we soon found we were not alone. Lots of the local children came to help us, armed only with huge smiles.

Buddhist temples, chilli and coconut sambol, lotus flowers, tuk tuks

We had lots of free time in the afternoons to explore (ok, go shopping in) Moratuwa or relax, and AidCamps and SERVE also arranged some wonderful trips for us further afield. We played cricket with the children at one of SERVE's more rural centres, went elephant and crocodile spotting on safari, soaked up the colonial atmosphere of Galle Old Town, strolled among the kite flyers on Colombo's seaside promenade. 

Travelling around, we saw the contrasts of Sri Lanka – the beautiful beaches and lush countryside, the swanky hotels of Colombo just minutes from the flotsam and jetsam shanty villages perched precariously next to the railway line and shells of Tsunami hit homes.

The highlight, I think, was our visit to Kandy to experience close up the amazing night-time Esala Perahera procession with its hundreds of drummers, dancers, fire twirlers and elephants swathed in coloured lights.
Candy coloured bungalows, string hoppers, chipmunks, kapok trees

Back to the centre. Our last day onsite and still tons to do - would it be finished for tomorrow's Opening Ceremony? 

We needn't have worried. Mr de Silva's workmen must have been there all night because the building looked wonderful  – painted, bedecked with flowers and plants – and packed with beaming parents, teachers and children who presented us with garlands.

After prayers by the local mullah and Buddhist monk and formal speeches, the children sang and danced for us. We responded with our well-rehearsed rendition of Frere Jacques in Sinhalese and Tamil. The party ended with everyone dancing the Hokey Cokey in the new classroom.

How to sum up? Well, from those ten individuals on personal journeys at the start we became a great team.  We were all thrilled to have been part, through the money we raised to help buy the building materials and through our own hands, of creating something useful for the community. But, even more rewarding than the building work was the chance to make friends with so many Sri Lankan people and learn about their way of life.

And I think we all got the bug to do more AidCamps. I hope our experience encourages you too to register, get fundraising - and buy some new work gloves!

Huge thanks from all the ‘Sigyriya Damsels' to Kevin, Steve, Sanjeeva, Ruwanta, Mrs da Silva, Karuna and all at SERVE and special hello to Lakshan, Priya, Dilshani and Chathura.

Nicola Baker


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