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18 November

Page history last edited by PBworks 18 years, 4 months ago

Friday 18 November

More Frustrations and Worries




We all meet up at breakfast and have a quick talk wtih Eshan, who is just off to the Docks with his cousin to liberate the Playbus and get it through Customs. We have a planning meeting and then head into town to buy various things we need such as kerosene, ribbon, dowel sticks, etc. We manage to change money, buy top-up cards for the phone, super glue and a few more bits and pieces, but suddenly the shops all shut and we can’t get the rest of the things we need. Oh well, we can get them this evening or tomorrow morning before we set out to the camp.


Bad news


We walk back via the beach, stopping for a quick sandwich and salad lunch on the way. When we get back to the hotel, there is more bad news - not only can Eshan not get the Playbus through Customs till at least Monday, but he also can’t bring any of the equipment off the Playbus without Customs clearance. So we don’t have the equipment for the different workshops - we don’t even have the parachutes for the large-scale games or a PA! We spend most of the afternoon going through the small amount of equipment that we brought in our luggage (rather than put on the bus), and through the equpment that John and Natalie have sourced out here already. It’s an odd assortment - we have spinning plates, bubble aeroplanes, paper, crayons and some balloons. We make up about 60 beanbags (filling plastic bank bags with sand from the beach and then covering them with balloons) so that we can play catching and throwing games and rudimentary juggling workshops, we practise face painting and plate spinning, sort out a box of paper and crayons, plan a Talent Show, and then start performance rehearsals.


Our first visit to a camp tomorrow won’t be ideal, wtihout the Playbus and without most of the equipment, but we will just have to be adaptable and flexible, an we should be able to run a good 3 hours of performance, workshops and fun activities for the children - and anything is better than nothing! We will just do the very best we can!


We meet Gerry


Gerry, who runs Impakt Aid arrives, so we have another meeting. Impakt are the NGO (non-Government Organisation) that are setting up the Teardrop Relief Playbus Tour here on the ground in Sri Lanka, and Aruni, one of their workers, has been in constant contact with me over the last few weeks and has set up the venues and and arranged the accommodation for most of the Tour. I’m looking forward to meeting her tomorrow.


We had been told that the future Playbus Team would have been hired prior to our arrival, so that we could train them up on our 18-day Tour, and they would then continue touring the Playbus regularly when we left. Our main purpose for coming to Sri Lanka is obviously to work directly with as many tsunami-affected children as possible, but our secondary purpose is to train up the future Playbus Team. Children’s World (the mother-Charity of Children’s World International) will be 25 years old in May 2006, and we have huge experience of working in schools and special schools and at out-of-schools events with children of all ages and abilities in the South-West of England. We run 2 major children’s festivals each year and masses of playdays and other events. In the 80’s and 90’s we ran a Playbus around special schools for several years. Charlie and Paddy have worked for Children’s World for 18 years and 15 years respectively, and are incredibly experienced and well qualified to train up the future Teardrop Playbus team.


Weekends only


However, it seems that the 7 Montessori-trained Sri Lankan personnel that we thought had been taken on full-time, will only be available at weekends as they have other jobs during the week. This could be a very wasted opportunity, and we are somewhat disturbed - not only are Teardrop missing out on an excellent training opportunity, but also we are going to be very short-handed working in the camps. Thank goodness we have John and Natalie to help now and to pass the training onwards when we leave. Apparently a few Impakt volunteers will be coming along to help each day, but this is not the same as having the future full-time Playbus team on board. Eshan really wants the Playbus to go on touring straight away when we leave, so hopefully this situation will be remedied pretty soon.


Not at weekends


Government bodies do not work at weekends, so there is now no chance that Eshan will be able to get the Playbus or equipment out of Customs till Monday afternoon. Then the Playbus has to be registered, so it will not get to us till Tuesday morning at the earliest. Hopefully we will be able to unload, reload and organise the bus on Tuesday morning, and by Tuesday afternoon (5 days late!) we hope to be touring fully as planned. In the interim we will do what sessions we can each day in camps, with what little equipment is available. Hopefully the moment the bus is through Customs on Monday, most of the equipment can be got to us in time for the sessions on Monday afternoon.


No bus, no team - November


We had been warned (and I saw during my March visit) that, with the best will in the world, things do not always go as planned in Sri Lanka - but we really do feel very frustrated! No playbus, no team to train and next to no equipment. There are also problems with space for performance and workshops in the camps - because there is apparently so much rivalry between the camps in many places, children from all camps in one village are being invited to sessions. This makes sense, but it does mean that we may be working with up to 350 children at a time instead of the approximately 200 we were expecting. In places where there is enough space and there are enough volunteers to help, this will be fine - but on weekdays we are clearly going to be short of helpers, at least at the start of the Tour, and in camps where there is very little space and there are very large numbers of children, it could be very difficult to provide performances and workshops of the quality we would like, but we will just have to be flexible and adapt - there’s going to be a lot of “thinking on our feet” - but we are pretty good at that, so hopefully all will be well, and the children will still have a wonderful time.


The situation has worsened


(It seems, from what we hear, that the situation has got far worse in the camps since I was here in March. I visited the camps less than 3 months after the Tsunami - and I was incredibly impressed with how wonderfully the Sri Lankans were dealing with everything. Almost 40,000 - including those “missing” - died in Sri Lanka during the Tsunami, thousands of fishing boats and other means of livelihood were destroyed, and thousands upon thousands of families were having to live in sometimes very basic, tented camps. Despite all these terrible traumas, the people were bearing their misfortunes with incredible grace. During the 2 weeks that I was there, I only saw one man who was either drunk or mad - I remember thinking that had a disaster of a similar size occured in England or America, then the situation would be very different.


Permanent housing is being built very slowly, and while few are still having to live in tents, the “temporary shelters” (very small wooden shaks, with corrugated metal roofs) that have been built are positioned incredibly close to each other and many thousands of families are still living in very cramped, crowded and difficult conditions – and morale, is, not unnaturally, pretty low


Our part - tiny but morale-raising


Apparently there is also tremendous rivalry between camps. If one camp feels they are not getting as good a deal as another camp is getting, there are sometimes threats and violence. This all seems so very unlike what I saw in March, but I fear that, unfortunately, beautiful characters can be coarsened by having to live in such difficult conditions for so long. We really want to see the situation for ourselves and see what we can do to help. Morale is so important when living in difficult conditions. We found in March (and in May when we sent Peat, a CWI performer out to the East coast) that just very simple things like a bit of performance and an hour of parachute games really did help. Such things are tiny in the large scale of things, when compared to the need for rehousing for instance, but Children’s World really believes that performance, participation and fun are very effective ways of helping to raise morale. In Kosovo after the war in 1999 and in Sri Lanka earlier this year, we really saw this in action. Not only the children benefit - seeing children smile again helped the morale of whole families. So many parents and grandparents came up to us and said, “Thank you, I never thought I would see my child smile again!”, and we have wonderful photographs of the children playing the parachute games in a circle, and then an outer circle of adults smiling with joy at seeing their children having fun again.


The whole situation here is terribly sad, and we really hope that in a small way CWI can bring the smiles back to the children’s faces and cheer their parents hearts and give hope for the future. We are so glad that the Teardrop Relief Playbus will continue touring with Impakt Aid when we leave, and hope to send additional performers and workshop leaders out to help when we can. God, funders and Tamil troubles willing, we would hope to send another performer and workshop leader to work with the Playbus for some weeks on the East Coast by April at the latest, and I intend to return with my performer husband in July..... but first..... this current trip along the South of the West Coast and along the South Coast as far as Tissa....hopefully starting tomorrow in Moratuwa!)


Gerry seems pessimistic about the post-Election situation, and warns us that if there is any trouble because of the election result (the current Prime Minister now looks as though he has won, though by only a very small margin) then we will not be able to visit Moratuwa tomorrow. We keep checking BBC World news during our rehearsals, and though the Sri Lankan election results are constantly mentioned and discussed, there is not one word about any “trouble”, so fingers crossed that we will be able to run sessions tomorrow.


Ready to go


Rehearsals go really well - Jo, Paddy and Charlie are being very creative. In places where there is not enough room for us to run all the different activities and games we would like to, we will be able to extend the performances and large-group activities.


Dinner at the hotel, and a last check on the World News after typing up this diary, which I hope to get up on our website tomorrow - no violence is reported, so I really hope we can start the Tour (albeit without a bus or equipment!) tomorrow. In principle the volunteers will be arriving at the hotel at 11.00 am for us to brief them, then we will load the van with what little equipment we have and leave at 1.00 to drive to Moratuwa. Good night - hopefully we are at the end of the frustrations and the proper work can begin tomorrow!

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19 November

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