My trip to Sri Lanka - Day one to five

 



Day one

 


 


I arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka with Steve Pearce at 15:00 nearly two hours after we were scheduled to arrive! One of the main purposes of our visit is to produce a film on the work that the missions partner are doing in the country promoting the work that they do. When we arrive the weather is absolutely stunning that I am in no position to complain, we are greeted at the airport with warm smiles by the locals and the staff at the airport. The Methodist headquarters arranged for us to have a driver, Karu (who becomes our designated driver throughout the remainder of the trip) to take us to our Hotel- The Hotel Renuka in Colombo. On our way to the hotel, I was informed that I was travelling down the newly-made highway which was created for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting which was the 15-17th November. This is Sri Lanka’s second highway – The Airport Expressway and was opened by President Mahina Rajapaksa. The total cost of the project is US $292 million. Exim Bank of China funded US$ 248.2 million of the total cost and the government of Sri Lanka has spent US$ 45 million on the project. Today was a very short day as it was a very long flight! But we did manage to visit the Methodist headquarters (which thankfully was a couple of minutes walk from our hotel) – within its headquarters there is a Methodist chapel, a Methodist College and also its offices, we Met with Priscilla who is the Youth Secretary for the district and she showed us a youth project that she is working on. At the Methodist headquarters she plans on opening a place which will be open every day from 2pm- 7pm where young people can meet, socialise, play pool and have tea and coffee with one another, at the time of visiting this is still in the process of being built and is due to open in January. It was lovely speaking with Priscilla, as she mentions that in Sri Lanka the term youth is extended to the age of 30 and that at their Methodist conference there needs to be 40% young people under 30 in attendance. She highlighted that within the districts in Sri Lanka there is a youth movement and that they are integral to the wider Church. During this day we dropped by the Christmas carol service- which just seemed so bizarre to me as I associate the Christmas period with winter, but being here in Sri Lanka the air is warm and it is still daylight at 7pm during the December!


 


 

 
 

 

















































Day two

 

This morning the cameraman Luke arrives, who is from a company called frogspawn and will be helping us film the work that the mission partners are doing here in Sri Lanka. At 11:30 we met with Jebba (Methodist President of the Conference) at the Headquarters who spoke of the interfaith work that the church has been involved with, the political issues and how religion is integral in Sri Lanka which is predominantly Buddhist. He is one of most graceful, intelligent people that I have ever met, who is very graceful with dealing with the current conflicts in this country. He also spoke about social issues of Sri Lanka, how the phrase after lunch is used often and how this could mean anytime before 6pm! How the boundary of public and private is very narrow, people will ask you are you married, where is your wife, etc (which later on during my stay I am asked a few times!) he also informed us that it happens often that Sri Lankans don't say what they truly mean not to be deceiving but this is just their culture, they may be thinking something but they say something else! Jebba’s advice I have to admit is extremely helpful! After lunch (which ended up being 2:30pm) we are back in the Van as we travel to Pilimatalawa  to stay with Mannie and Lynne Jacob who mission partners in the Theological College of Lanka (TCL). TCL is The Theological College of Lanka was inaugurated in 1963 by the Anglican Church, the Methodist Church and the Baptist Church. Later the Presbyterian Church (Presbytery of Lanka) joined the federation to educate the new clergy in the environment of Sri Lanka and their own Languages; Sinhala & Tamil. It is believed that language is the vehicle of culture and when Christians begin to think, speak, preach,. pray and write in their own languages, they soon become familiar with their cultural values and begin to appreciate them in the practice of their Christian faith. Over 90% of the active clergy in the constituent churches in Sri Lanka today have received their theological and pastoral education at the TCL. TCL is the only Ecumenical Theological College among the Protestant churches of Sri Lanka, which not only maintains its ecumenical foundation, but also brings together the Sinhala and Tamil students who are both men and women in a fellowship both at work and at leisure. This fellowship of both Tamil and Sinhala students I believe is crucial in Sri Lanka following on from the war which ended just 4 years ago. This college provides them with an experience which they may not have encountered before – interaction with one another. Typically the Sinhalese live in the Central, Western and Southern parts of Sri Lanka and the Tamils live in the Northern and eastern region of Sri Lanka.  Mannie and Lynn Jacob have been in Sri Lanka for nearly 2 years and have settled in well at the Theological College (TCL).Mannie is enjoying teaching and Lynn is very much appreciated for her work in the library. They are such a lovely couple who welcomed me into their home for the night, which Steve and Luke staying the college guest house.


Day 3
This morning at TCL I attended the meditative worship at 7:00 (which I have to admit this time in the morning is not my brightest hour) in the chapel on campus. We had Breakfast with the president of TCL  Jerome Sahabandhu he spoke of how the college is the fullest that it has ever been with 30 students with 50% Tamil and 50 % sinhala but with only 3 females at the college. He spoke of how although there is tension between the two communities that through the college and the outreach work that they do they bond with one another and wouldn't usually under circumstance. He spoke of how although there are women at the college that they struggle with ministry as a woman and it doesn't allow them to be ‘free’. He informed us of the national youth camp which happens once every three years. At 9am we went to the faculty meeting (department meeting) where me and Steve introduced ourselves and the reason for us filming and being at TCL (this morning luke filmed the mission partners, Mannie and Lynne and the work that they do for the college). After speaking about the children and youth assembly (3Generate) the members at the faculty meeting spoke of the youth movement within Sri Lanka and how they are beginning to prefer charismatic worship, the interfaith work they are involved in where people of other faiths meet together to speak about what they can do together in the community rather than what typically happens over where faith groups come together and talk about what they believe in and work from there. During my brief stay at TCL whilst Steve and Luke are filming I speak with the students there, I take a look around the beautiful campus and also visit the library. I also met with Andrew who is associated with the Baptist church but works at TCL who just so happens to be my university friend’s father! It really is a small world! It really is a brief stay at TCL as we are back in the van after lunch and travel up north on the A9 to Jaffna. This would not have been possible a couple of years back during the height of the war when the army blocked people from going out or coming in to Jaffna, even forcing some people out of their homes. It is really strange hearing about the history as driving down these roads (we are on a 6 hour drive from TCL) they look so peaceful not the breeding ground where the government that exerted their control. There are areas which the government have said that no one is to live there ever again. We visit one of the farmers in the Jaffna who adheres to organic farming (for reasons that I will explain to you later on) and speak with two men who were affected by the fact that some farmers that didn’t follow this. Consequently these two men have suffered from kidney problems and now are on dialysis and are unlikely to recover unless they have a kidney transplant, this is saddening to here as even though the two men are present before my eyes, it looks like they have already died inside and are an empty shell which is in stark contrast to everyone that I have met in Sri Lanka who are so warm and friendly. We have dinner at the farmer’s house with his family and we hear about the two men’s experiences. It breaks my heart that there is nothing I can do for these two men, I feel so helpless and as we leave the farmer’s house I pray that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for them both. That night I struggle to sleep as their faces are burned into the back of my eyelids and evade my dreams.

 


 
 
 














































































 






 
 
Day 4

In the morning we travel to Navajeevanem, in the 1950s the missionary built a place for disabled children here. It also had a church, preschool and dormitories the missionary was destroyed because it was in between the LTT and government military. The War started in '83 and was about power with the north and south divide so many people lost their lives because of this war and even on the last day of the war over 15000 people died. We met with a man called Nishantha, who had a passionate for organic farming and following on from the kidney pandemic, the Methodist Church funded for him study Organic farming, agriculture and serving leadership skills at the Asian rural institute in Japan. Following on from this, he was sent to Navajeevanem to build an organic farm with the help of the locals (some of the widows who lost their husbands during the war work here) and help repair what the devastation of the war inflicted. During my interview of the work that is going on here, my eyes are strained on the widows in the distance, they are performing back breaking work in the field trying to rid the crops of weeds in the blazing heat and carrying heavy bags of rice on their backs, it is in this moment that it makes me appreciate how lucky I truly am, these people are superwomen! Later on during the day we also speak with some of the farmers who explain that they work so hard for so little, they explain that they cultivate their crops in March and they only get £10 for 75 kilos of rice and then they start the process again in June.  These people are truly inspirational to me as if this was me personally going through this I would be unable to cope but they just take this within their stride knowing that they have a family and mouths to feed at home.


Later on we Visited the church of the compassionate Christ formerly known as St Andrews which is an Anglican church in Anuradhapura and it is where the interfaith meeting is held, they met together to help the kidney problems because of the infested water as the farmers who earn so little try to multiply their stock by using chemicals to create more crop which is why organic farming is so crucial in this area.

The group speak of the make shift clinics that they have facilitated where locals to see if their kidneys’ have been affected. The foundation of kidney failure and the NDP bank are going to donate some money to the cause, the foundation built the place for the kidney patients to get treated and the interfaith group collected money from the local people to create six storey building where the people who have Kidney failure can have their dialysis and after this they handed this building to government. Although the group have made a difference in the community it is not enough as they need more space and doctors/nurses when people come for dialysis they can't stay there because of the limited space, they only have 22 dialysis machines which takes 5 hours to cleanse the kidney’s the machines are active from nine and finish at 11pm, some people aren't able to get back home if they finish late. With some of the patients which are fortunate to receive a transplant in some cases they may need medicine and if they haven't got it the foundation try to pay for it for them which are not always possible.

The interfaith group has been integral in raising awareness of this problem and providing a solution, they have created clinic in villages where they liaise with the hospital and have a doctor to review the symptoms of the person, if concerned they go on to take a blood and urine sample and from this if they are still concerned they refer the patient to the hospital. With this kidney problem it is typically men that are affected more than women with 99% of very poor farmers affected. It is clearly a regional issue as it is thought that 80% north central province have some kidney problems which may or may not be linked to the water. 
the schools in the area of Anuradhapura now water filters for the children and young people to help them with the problem, for just one of these filters it costs at 1 Lakh which is £1351.35. The group spoke of how farmers 40 years ago they could drink water from the paddle fields but now if they did they could be dead within 5 weeks if this stayed untreated. Although Farmers know that its the chemicals are the problem but they aren't doing anything to prevent it as they know that if they don't use the chemicals their yield will go down that is why the group are promoting organic farming
It is a problem in the North Central province because its place of agriculture and it is main area doing agriculture. The group spoke of how this could be a problem for future generations if this problem is not rectified as Children and young people are going to die and there won’t be enough people when a doctor goes to villages to treat. As a religious groups they go to villages and try to fill their request of water but money constraints they can’t always do that. The group are genuinely sympathetic to the fact that this is a farmer’s livelihood because of their work they have to do this. They highlight that as the price is very low they have to provide a big harvest and to get a big harvest they have to more chemicals Farmers are using chemicals for everything to make livestock bigger but the quality goes down because the farmers are poor they have to do many things to live.

 

The interfaith group has been an active presence within the local community; they also go into each village with 5 of its members educating housewives of the risks.

 

This group has stemmed from the Methodist Headquarter’s peace and reconciliation department and facilitated by Laxkhman who works in this department.

 

The meeting ends with the statement by one of the elder members of the group still ringing in my ears: “ If you eliminate poverty then there wouldn't be a problem” and I can’t help but think that If this happened back home there would be an uproar against the farmers but here people are compassionate as they are all facing the same situation – poverty.

 

 
 












































Day 5


Today went to a hospital which has a separate kidney section, it here that we are told that is thought that there is 14,000 cases of Kidney problems in Anuradhapura, although after speaking to one of the Nurse’s at the hospital the cause of this cannot be identified as it could be a number of things such as Diabetes, dehydration and because of there are workshops available to the community to educate people on how important it is to have a balanced diet as in Sri Lanka they eat a lot of rice (some days I had rice for every meal) and this in fact can lead to diabetes. The nurse we spoke with mentioned that the facilities are limited at the hospital and even with its staff as she estimates that the hospital needs 18 doctors when they only have seven, this could also be down to the fact In medical universities there are 900 students and they need to ‘distributed’ across the country. With the machines, they could do 66 dialysis per day but they need 1 nurse per machine so can do only 12-16. This is the only hospital for the whole Northern Province and is supported by the interfaith group who refers the process (which was mentioned on Day 4).

The nurse also explained the Stages of Kidney disease to us:

Stage 1-3: You can lead a normal life but need medication (which some of the patients can’t afford)

Stage 4: In need of Dialysis

Stage 5: In need of a Kidney transplant

 

After visiting the hospital we visit a Buddhist village where the interfaith group arranged to have a first stage screening process with the assistance of one of the doctors at the hospital. After this we head back to Colombo and this is where I say goodbye to Steve and Luke.

This is only the first five days! Keep posted for what happened for the rest of my stay :) Stay tuned...





























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