Monday, 5 November 2007

New blog - London

Here's the address for my new blog now that I've moved to London - for 6 months at the moment.

Friday, 27 July 2007

End of placement

So, it's over - HELP-O have a strategic plan which they seem to be happy with. I'm relatively happy with what we've ended up with although the test will be the extent to which it actually gets used as a way of directing their activities - we'll just have to wait and see on that one. But the managers seem to be committed to using it, and reviewing it, so...

I leave Galle tomorrow, although I'll be back for a few days in August when Kevin's here, so currently winding down/up towards start of holiday. I'll be really sad to leave here, as it's been such a good experience to be here and I feel very at home. 3 months is hardly any time and to be honest, it feels like I'm only just getting to know the place in any meaningful way - and there's a lot more to learn. But it's been a great taster and Sri Lanka will definitely have a place in my heart.

Won't attempt to summarise the highs and lows at this point but will look forward to catching up with everyone over the coming weeks and months, and will post an update or two from holidays!

Emma x

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Thoughts from a train journey

Some random thoughts that came to mind yesterday as I sat on a train from Bentota to Galle, gazing out of the window at the mish mash of houses and villages en route, mostly very poor. To set the scene...I'd just been to visit a centre for abused and orphaned children. On my way back the train passed a village called "KPMG Village", presumably christened that after post-tsunami rebuilding support.

There is a kind of 'secret shame' that goes on here when it comes to various things including child abuse, children who are abandoned because their families are too poor to look after them, street kids who go on to become prey for "sex tourists" (one of those phrases like "ethnic cleansing" that doesn't remotely do justice to its meaning), elderly people who are abandoned into filthy, squalid care homes, disabled people who are left to wither because they're seen as a burden, domestic violence, rampant alcoholism, and no doubt a lot more...

People don't talk about any of these things. There's little public acknowledgement of them and where there is it tends to be discussed in terms of blaming 'bad families' or 'village people and their ignorant ways'. Sri Lanka's entrenched system of caste, class and religious discriminiation and prejudice comes to the fore.

Do these problems exist because of lack of money - because Sri Lanka is a 'poor' country? I'm no expert and these things are, of course, complicated. But there seems to be plenty of money around to spend on military campaigns, national celebrations of the 'recapture' of the Eastern province, palatial homes and luxury cars for the 100+ ministries that exist here (for a population of 19 million), employing 8 people to do a job that one person could do...etc etc. Meanwhile well-meaning but not always very effective international aid and development agencies do what they can on the ground while getting slated by the government for 'funding the terrorists', while local campaigners and activists carry on as best they can in the face of public and government apathy to their causes.

More than lack of money, it seems there is a lack of will and desire to change the way things are - many people appear to be fatalistic about the status quo and/or feel powerless to change things, while those that can leave, do - there is a huge brain drain problem and massive competition among middle classes to send their children overseas to study/work.

All of this raises familiar questions about the role of international aid, how best to tackle global poverty, imbalances in economies and so on. It's ok that there aren't any easy or straightforward answers, but it would be better if people/organisations who are trying to find answers at least recognised the complexities and didn't make grand claims for things that aren't borne out in reality.

Ho hum.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

One week of work left...

Wow, how did that happen - only one week of my placement left! I leave Galle 1 week today for 4 weeks of holiday (hurrah).

A few people have asked me recently if I've enjoyed my time here and if I'd recommend volunteering to other people. Here's what I've said (it's all very cliched, I warn you now!)

I've had an amazing time and feel really privileged to have had the chance to spend time living and working in such a beautiful country, meeting some fabulous people and generally getting so much out of experiencing a different culture first-hand.

The work side of things has been more difficult than I expected, mainly in terms of not having enough work to fill a normal working week for me - that's been really frustrating and although some of it has been about our particular NGO, some of it is just the way things are here. Although I've managed to do other things to fill my time and have ended up adjusting quite a bit to the way/pace of life, it's been a big lesson for me as I think about whether I'd like to do similar work in the future.

Having said that, the very fact of working in a 'real' organisation is a great insight into life here that you would never get from other types of volunteering or travelling - and that I'm glad of. And I've definitely developed my skills by being here - maybe not the ones I expected to, but still!

The non-work side of things has been absolutely fantastic and it's been wonderful to get to know the country in a way that wouldn't be possible without being here for a while. I'm painfully aware of how lucky I am, in many ways, to be white, British and educated. The way in which people live their lives here is very humbling at points although there are definitely advantages to the UK that I hadn't appreciated fully before (like a free press!)

So, would I recommend doing this to someone else? Definitely. But I would caution against having unrealistic expectations and I would stress that you have to come with an open mind, be as flexible as you can be, and make the most of the opportunity to learn as much as you can about other people and yourself.

I told you it was cliche-ridden!!

Love to all

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

A blatant plug..

Regular readers (if there are any!) will notice a new link on this blog - to my guest house in Galle. This is a blatant plug for them - please take two minutes to click on the link as we're trying to get their website boosted in Google/Yahoo rankings etc and the more visitors from this and other sites, the better!

The lovely website design and content was done by yours truly in collaboration with Karen, my fellow volunteer and guest, and the family who run the guest house - was a bit of a saga to get it finished so the more use it gets, the better! (thanks in advance)

Monday, 16 July 2007

Happy campers & leopard spotting

Just had fantastic weekend of mini safari in Yala National Park. Met up with other volunteers in Tissa on Fri night and had a great house party in Will's house, which mostly involved dancing madly with lots of Sri Lankans to the sound of bongos and various bad dance music. Managed to lay off the arrack more than usual so didn't feel too bad on Saturday morning!

Went to Yala after lunch on Saturday and along the way, saw hundreds of pilgrims walking down towards Kataragama for annual Hindu and Buddhist festival. Most of them had been walking for days on end and were remarkably cheery considering! I wasn't quite as moved by this demonstration of humanity's ability to do mad things in the name of religion as some of my more spiritually-minded pals, but still it was an impressive site!

Safari then began and by the time the day was out we'd seen an impressive number of crocodiles, painted storks (which we promptly renamed pink-a**ed storks), mongoose (or is it mongeese), a cobra and, last but very much not least, a leopard cub - very cute!

We then made our way to our campsite and after much use of the 4x4 facilities on the jeep, eventually emerged at an idyllic little riverside spot where we pitched our tents on the beach and relaxed around the massive camp fire and barbecue prepared by our fabulous guides. An hour or two later we were very happy campers with a plate of rice, vegetables and melt-in-the-mouth fish - we all agreed it was the best meal we've had in Sri Lanka!

There was much arrack and beer consumption but not too much by me as wanted to be alert for 5am start the next day. Headed to bed about 1am and had a pretty broken sleep, including a few concerning rustles next to the tent and sounds of something big-sounding swimming in the river! Funny how you get quite sanguine about potentially being eaten by a crocodile when you're absolutely knackered! (don't worry mum, I'm sure there weren't crocs there really)

Next morning was amazing - because we'd camped we had park almost to ourselves and we were really lucky to come across a pair of leopards (male, female) at a watering hole just off the road. Magnificent doesn't come close to describing them, they were absolutely beautiful and so dignified - unlike us in our 2 jeeps frantically snapping away and jostling with each other like paparrazi!

We also saw a bull elephant wallowing in a lake full of lotus flowers and more crocs, a python and lots more birds. All in all a brilliant experience - and excellent value as the whole thing was about 35 quid.

The bus journey back to Galle was a bit of an epic with even more maniacal bus drivers than normal, but we eventually got back about 7.30pm Sunday, tired, weary, filthy but very, very happy!

This week I'm busy at work as my NGO has suddenly decided to make good use of me for my last few weeks and today will see my third strategic planning group meeting in the space of two days! I'm also doing bits and pieces with other NGOs so it's all good.

Love to all
Emma x

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Things that go bump in the night

A few of the sounds that occasionally wake me up during the night here:

1. A gang of feral cats mating loudly in the street below my open window – sounds hideously painful and even more disturbing is the occasional bark from a dog – hopefully just an observer!

2. The mullah from the local mosque calling people to prayer (there’s a high Muslim population where we live). This happens 4.30 on the dot, every morning – it goes on for about 10 minutes and is a kind of loud, repetitive chanting sing-song.

3. The high-pitched cackle of a gecko or two in my room – so loud for such a small creature

4. Huge wall-shaking claps of thunder as another storm rolls in from sea

5. A power-shower of rain battering down onto the street outside – makes Glasgow rain seem pathetic!

6. Tuk-tuks trundling up and down the lanes and peeping their horns at the little junctions

7. The local vegetable hawker roaming round the streets on a bike, pulling his cart behind him. Hard to describe the sound he makes – closest comparison is an Evening Times seller in Glasgow!

Took a few weeks but 99% of the time I sleep right through all of this now – wonder if I’ll find it too quiet to sleep at home!?