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We're still catching up! Here's January's edition ☀️
All Systems Go … Well Almost
January, 2020

Happy Pongal 2020

The Pongal festival is a popular cultural festival amongst Tamil people. It is a family affair celebrated every year, giving thanks to the gods for a successful harvest. As the legend goes, Lord Shiva asked Nandi, his bull, to inform humans that they should take an oil bath every day and eat only once a month. By mistake, the bull wrongly conveyed that they must eat everyday and have an oil bath only once a month. This made Lord Shiva furious and as a result banished Nandi to live on earth forever to help farmers plough the fields and grow and harvest more food. Inspired by the story, the Café Arokkiya women celebrated Pongal in style and with much happiness. The tasty pongal dish was enjoyed by our two special guests the police in charge of the Adampan station – a homely celebration with heart.

Cuisine Kings

Following on from the success of last month’s huge order, another even larger order was given by our landlords, the Multi Purpose Cooperative Society (MPCS). This time it was dinner for 200 people – not any people – but the guests of Mr Rishad Bathiudeen, Member of Parliament, for a special party meeting he was holding. Once more the adrenalin pumped and, as last time, the Bridging Lanka staff pitched in to help the café women deliver this gigantic stringhopper dinner order on time and to the complete satisfaction of our customers. The purpose and unity with which the combined team worked their butts off could only be described as a labour of love straight from the heart. MP Rishad spoke glowingly about the meal and even took time to write highly complementary remarks in our café guest book.

Laundering for Money

Sasi lives next door to the café and is one of our kitchen staff. She is a widow and lives alone with her young son in a very basic dwelling. Last year her son of 22 years met with a fatal accident while returning from work – a double trauma of the loss of the only adult male in the family and a loss of income. It soon became obvious that the kitchen, cafe and accommodation rooms given out for rent were generating much washing so we came up with a business proposition for her. Sasi now augments her salary at Café Arokkiya with a laundry micro-business. From the Australian Government’s Friendship grant we purchased a washing machine, ironing board and iron and off she went! Sasi is now earning a good salary from both the café and the laundry business.

Fixing Leaks

There's always something going awry at the café. This time somebody had closed all the valves for the cafe's water lines and turned on the tube well water pump. The internal pressure caused a burst in one of the pipes. Mayuran, our groundsman, quickly attacked the problem. He carefully removed the turf, dug the hardened dirt and exposed the leak before sealing it up again. But as per usual in Mannar, the fix didn't last. It took about three attempts before the leak was fully fixed and the hole could be covered over. For now aquatic equilibrium reigns once more at Café Arokkiya.

Case Study 1: Sasipavan’s Paddy Cultivation

In October 2019 we met with six farmers from Adampan who expressed an interest in converting to organic paddy cultivation. Of the six, four decided to give it a go, including Sasipavan. Although we issued other farmers with traditional and resilient paddy seed varieties, Sasipavan had already purchased a more recent rice variety, BG 360 (keeri samba) but was otherwise open to adopting organic methods including only using organic fertiliser (combination of 66 herbs) and pesticide (96 herbs) developed and manufactured by our organics expert, Vipula Bandara.  Sasipavan’s trial site would be a ½ acre plot in Thaenudayan. Jerad, Bridging Lanka’s Agricultural Officer made several visits - when the land was being prepared, after the seed was sown, the first signs of growth, to address the arising issue of ‘rice sheath blight’ and weekly after that.  The rice blight was easily overcome with some additional organic pesticide. So far the paddy seems to be growing amazingly well.

Organic Warrior

For some years Sithy Faiza has been a local leading-light in the campaign to go organic in the Adampan area. Previously Bridging Lanka had supported Sithy Faiza and four other families to properly establish organic veggie gardens by providing a tube well at the height of the recent debilitating drought. Last year Vipula Bandara instructed her and other locals to make high quality compost from locally available items. We also provided her with organic fertiliser and pesticide. Now Sithy Faiza is growing green chillies, birds eye chillies, onions, potatoes, snake gourd, long beans, broad beans and okra. We at Café Arokkiya miss out on buying her organic fare for our kitchen as she already has a well-established market, selling to her neighbours.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

After a month of holidays, the first Donkey Assisted Therapy (DAT) session commenced for 2020. Meet Diron who has been a regular for two years. Diron has an intellectual disability. He is well liked and an incessant talker. But his special gift is his ever-present humour. He turns everything into a comedy, making everyone laugh and the DAT sessions more lively. However there is another side to Diron. He is supremely stubborn, disobedient to teachers and does whatever he wants. His past interaction with donkeys was also not genuine. This year we noticed a marked difference. Independently he came to the session, went to the arena, chose a donkey and started playing with it. His face was beaming as he touched and hugged the donkey. When asked why the change, Diron shot back, “I have really missed the donkey for so long”. We are very happy to see the changing Diron and hope he will apply this newly developed kindness and bonding to others in his life.

Getting Results

The new year started with another batch of ICT students eager to get job-ready. We offer three certificates that is well regarded in the market place: (1) Computer Application Assistant (Microsoft Package: Word – I month of 20 sessions, Excel – 10 sessions, Powerpoint – 15 sessions, Access – 5 sessions); (2) Hardware Technician (networking and instillations: – computer technician essentials, computer anatomy, motherboards, processors and adapter cards, BIOS, CMOS and frameware, Power supplies & system cooling, RAM, I/O ports & devices; and (3) Computer Graphic Designer (Photoshop 2019). The provision of nationally recognised certification has now been negotiated with the International Academy of Professional Studies in Vavuniya. The director, Mr Nazeem, has prepared three sets of certificates for the 17 students (13 female, 4 male) who successfully completed their studies last year. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s vision for a technologically driven and knowledge-centric economy and society has thrown the gauntlet to all communities – including ours in Kunchukulam, Adampan and Thailankudiyiruppu

Expanding Horizons

Currently most of the students who attend our Donkey Clinic & Education Centre are Muslim and rarely venture beyond their village. To broaden their horizons, Raseefa and Vijitha organised a tour which would take them to see the projects of Bridging Lanka as well as famous places in Mannar. Usually the students fear going anywhere unless they go together as a group so this trip was both sensitive to their ‘comfort zone’ wishes yet took them beyond. The students visited the holy Hindu site of Thiruketheeswaram, the internationally renowned Madhu Catholic Church, Kunchukulam’s Hanging Bridge and Jerad’s guesthouse, the Dutch Fort, the 15th century baobab tree and Keeri Beach. Of course they stopped for lunch at Café Arokkiya! It certainly was an adventurous and rich educational experience which was enjoyed thoroughly by all.

OPEnE-ing our Minds

Most English teachers in Mannar kill any love of the English language due to a combination of factors including their own low proficiencyin the language, boring teaching methods and overzealous disciplinary measures. The local NGO, Organisation of People for Engagement ‘n Enterprise (OPEnE) has painstakingly assembled an online English teaching resource. All Bridging Lanka staff associated with English teaching and learning were introduced to digital versions of the school curriculum from grades 1 to 11, complete with additional videos. The workshop material and methods were enlightening. Some of our teachers have already adopted this multimedia approach which is inspiring students to be more active learners.

Losing Traction

We are scrambling to change tack in the implementation of our Towards Religious Harmony project funded by the Australian High Commission’s Direct Aid Program. Last year started so well with significant headway being made in Kandy district. Then with the Easter bombings the project commenced its derailing. Soon we hit resistance from the Kandy Kachcheri (Government Agent). We had now been working in Kandy district for almost two years in response to the Digana communal conflict of March 2018. Although we had letters from Police Headquarters and the Foreign Ministry attesting to our work in Digana, we were also required to register Bridging Lanka formally with the Kandy Kachcheri. Painstakingly we worked through compiling the relevant documentation. Rojan, Bridging Lanka manager and Jeremy, director, met frequently with the Kandy NGO Coordinator Mr. Chandana who advised us to reframe our projects not as reconciliation-focused but as youth development and women’s livelihood, which we were happy to do. However the approval process is now stuck somewhere between the offices of the Mannar GA, the Kandy GA and the NGO Secretariat.  In spite of this we continue to support our fledgling groups in Digana, especially our Youth Nation group.

Progress in Spite of Obstacles

In spite of the blocks, members of Youth Nation continue to meet in Digana. Under the wise guidance of Ikram, Nasmy and Rasheed continue to lead regular meetings. They await the decision from the Kandy Kachcheri to know how to progress. Their plan to establish a youth drop in centre in a neutral part of the town, convenient to all ethnic and religious groups, has been put on hold until a decision by the Kachcheri is made. Either way, the project will go ahead. If approval is not forthcoming, Bridging Lanka will work more remotely to support this group of enthusiastic Muslim youth. At the January meeting the group decided to register Youth Nation with the Divisional Secretariat. They also met Prabath from Sri Lanka National Youth Services Council to discuss improving relations between Muslim and Sinhala youth. A future action was to meet Nusry and Aswer, social activists who run the village social service club, for advice on developing community campaigns such as for youth drug prevention.

Go Donkey Pongal!

This year’s Kaluthai (Donkey) Pongal Festival was huge! We’ve muscled into the traditional four-day celebration to highjack the third day, “Mattu Pongal” to celebrate our donkeys instead of the usual bulls and cattle that play a vital role helping farmers grow their crops. The Mattu festival day is also a special occasion when the landlord and the peasant, rich and poor, old and young all dine together in a spirit of solidarity without any restraint of caste and creed. Isn’t that what Bridging Lanka is committed to with a passion? This year the Kaluthai Pongal event attracted even great local support – from the surrounding Hindu, Muslim and Catholic villages. They turned up in large numbers. Ethnic and religious demarcations were relaxed and animal-human divides bridged through this event that highlighted the worth of donkeys. Activities included traditional games such as ‘break the pot’, hurdle events, musical chairs and other musical entertainment. Prizes were given to all children who attended. It was an unforgettable day! 

Focused on the Future

Our Eats & Beats Coordinator, Kavi, is taking a sabbatical of a few months to study towards his Advanced Level exams in August. Thus far Kavi is demonstrating high levels of commitment to his studies – a lonely pursuit for several hours each day but what a comfortable position in which to study!
In Australia, Bridging Lanka Ltd is a public benevolent institution (PBI) with charity status with the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission, deductible gift recipient status and charity tax concession status with the Australian Taxation Office. All donations are tax deductible.

In Sri Lanka, Bridging Lanka (Guarantee) Limited is a registered not-for-profit company with the Registrar of Companies and as a Voluntary Social Service Organisation with the Non-Governmental Organisations Secretariat.
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We are most grateful to Animal Aid Abroad, a major partner and a proud financial supporter of our Donkey Clinic and the Donkey Rescue Service.
We are also very appreciative of the Australian Government’s support of our Towards Religious Harmony project through its Direct Aid Program from the Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka.
Bridging Lanka contact details:

28 Mellor Street
Kedron, QLD 4031
48 New Moor Street
Mannar 41000
Sri Lanka

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