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Bridging Lanka Monthly Report
Bridging People & Geographies:
October, 2021
Endurance Wins Out!

Another ‘partner project’ between our Bridging Lanka supporters in Australia and the Mannar community came to fruition this month. The arduous second leg of a lengthy journey to address chronic kidney disease of multi-factorial origin (CKD-mfo) – the supply of safe drinking water - is now complete. A reliable and non-toxic water source was essential to curb the spread of CKD-mfo caused by agro chemicals reacting with the heavy metal soils of Kunchukulam and thus poisoning the ground water. The first task was to introduce organic paddy and vegetable cultivation – which still flourishes here.
The goal was to establish a Reverse Osmosis (RO) water filtration plant that would remove the toxic elements from the local water supply. A project that should have taken a mere six months to complete took a staggering 33 months of roller-coaster activity! It started with the research phase conducted in Kunchukulam by David Singleton from Australia. Soon after David’s partner in crime, Jan Gillies, organised an enchanting “Evening of Jazz’ fundraiser in Brisbane which raised a staggering $7,000.
Then, the usual months of ‘run around’ meetings with community groups and layers of government department officers commenced. Concurrently, several funding applications were written up to supplement Jan’s funds but bore no fruit. Then we were thwarted first by the Easter Bombings and then stopped in our tracks by the Covid phenomenon. All unpredictable!
To design a RO plant suited to Kunchukulam’s hard water, Jerad, our BL officer, arranged for water tests from five local and frequently used sources. All the reports from the government lab came back with a negative analysis. The water was indeed unsafe to drink.  
A round of meetings with reps from Kunchukulam’s community societies was held to bring awareness of chronic kidney disease, the local causes and the danger of agro-chemicals and the local water. Building after building was promised to house the RO plant and negotiated. Unfortunately all these offers came to naught.  
Finally an abandoned building in the local sports grounds was nominated. The usual rigmarole of community and government approvals was required but this time negotiations were eventually successful. But endurance won out in the end! Our reverse Osmosis water filtration plant has finally been installed and is operational!
RO Water Finally Flows by Jerad Anton, Development & Agricultural Officer

This month we are having a very success story about our water filtration work because it took more than two years to finish this project. We have finally fixed our RO water filter at the Sports Club building and have started providing safe drinking water to the people of three villages for a reasonable price. Customers have started to get water from us every day. On the first day and without any advertising we sold 300 litres at Rs 2.5 per litre. Water sales will only increase and will provide badly needed youth employment. I am so happy because now we have started our second project to address chronic kidney disease due to agro-chemicals poisoning all our ground water supplies. The first was our organic cultivation project and this one is delivering safe drinking water to Kunchukulam for the first time.
Broadcasting Live from Melbourne

Not only does Dr Jeyaretnam have a heart of gold but in addition has an impressive array of skills and experiences which he is sharing with us in Mannar. Domiciled in Melbourne, for two days each week he conducts English classes from almost 9,000 kms away! Since August without fail, Dr Jeyaretnam has been developing in our staff and some young people an aptitude for the English language, its grammar and expression. The surprising thing is that the level of commitment to and attendance at the good doctor’s classes has been unprecedented. 

How do Dr Jeyaretnam’s students describe their learning experience? In their words, “super”!  But the ‘proof of the pudding’ has been that now the students speak English with a new found confidence. Even Seenu who knew no English, is talking with Jeremy, the director, often and quite fluently. Among the students are Nancy (Café Arokkiya manager), Luman (Gym Instructor), Seenu, Komakan, Shanjhai, Dilu and on occasion, Meron. Much gratitude goes to Dr Jeyaretnam, another member of Sri Lanka’s diaspora, playing an essential role in the lives of young people in Sri Lanka.
The Naissance of the ‘AusLanka Yarning Circle’

Picture a group of AusLankans gathering to explore one’s traditions, history, heritage and healing through story telling.  The genesis of this idea emerged when Nivanka Fernando, psychiatric registrar approached Jeremy with a burning question – Does Bridging Lanka facilitate forums that offer a safe space to build stronger and coherent community relationships amongst AusLankans?  This eventuated in the involvement of Jeswyn Yogaratnam, Nabeelah Raji, Mehdi Taheri, Thahani Shafeek and Shyama Fuad to consider what shape this would take – and the ‘AusLanka Yarning Circle’ was born!  Lockdowns were circumvented via Zoom connection each Sunday evening propelled a 2022 digital event being planned that will feature artistic talent in the form of poetry, prose, art and robust channeling of discourse around inter-ethnic conflict and healing.  A leaf from the Galle Literary festival will frame Bridging Lanka’s inaugural AusLanka Yarning Circle in 2022. 
Backing the Right Horse by A.P.F. Rojan, Manager

One of the guys we supported through our diaspora initiative, Touching Hearts Lending Hands, wasn’t doing the right thing by us so we decided to find a more deserving student to support. Paviharan, a 17 year old studying towards his Advanced Level exams was recommended by the local Grama Sevaka (village head). Paviharan loves maths and his dream is to become a mechanical engineer. 

His mother is a widow of nine years and he has three elder siblings. When his father died, he left nothing behind for the family as he was a serious alcoholic. His mother was forced into labour work which just covered the food bill. When there was no work the family lived simply on boiled rice and fried chillies. Neither his brother nor sisters followed their studies due to grinding poverty. Their meager earnings went towards Paviharan’s studies because they could see his earnestness and his ambition to go to university. We will be covering his monthly tutoring fees of Rs 5,500.
Bridging Lanka Conversations – Simply Mouth-watering!

What promises to be an ongoing treat, Bridging Lanka Conversations (BLC), debuted on the last day of the month. The topics will be wide-ranging but to kick things off, Minoli de Silva, a former Master Chef contestant and a passionate foodie guided us through a fusion dish, Dumplings a la Sri Lanka! Over 70 people cooked along with Minoli resulting in some top class efforts. The warm, delightful Minoli talked openly about her love of cooking, generational trauma, her mother’s influence on her as a chef. Lots of questions from the audience added to the lively zoom chat. BL Conversations, the brainchild of Terence and Lara Jeyaretnam, was a hit! The couple’s hard work paid off and raised $2,980 for the important work of Bridging Lanka in Mannar. In two weeks’ time another sizzling episode is planned with chef, Shaun Christie-David at his fab Darling Harbour restaurant in Sydney.
Certified, Armed & Extremely Capable by Kumanan Mailvaganam 
 
It was touch and go to the finish line. As one of the Fighting Fit programs, the nine session Peer Counselling training course is now complete with the training only just fitting between two lengthy lockdowns. At the ceremony the Mannar Zonal Director of Education, our chief guest, presented certificates to eight females and ten males who successfully graduated. In her speech, the director waxed lyrical about Bridging Lanka saying there were many organisations that advertise themselves a lot but do very little on the ground. In contrast Bridging Lanka does much ground-breaking work without any self-promotion. 
The young counsellors will now play an important role within their family and friendship circles and also in becoming more conscious themselves. They are going to be the healers. They will help other people go through hard times, and if the case is too complex, they know to refer the person to a professional. They have also learnt how to write up case notes and keep reporting their progress to Bridging Lanka. We will continue to support them as they develop their counselling skills. Much gratitude goes to the Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka for making this essential project possible.
Best Way to Learn Something is to Teach it by Kavivarman, Project Officer

To make an Analog Forest (AF) at the Hendro Animal Rescue Centre (HARC), Luman and I have done lots of studies and research. Because many of our BL workers don’t know about analog forestry, I have put together a presentation about what I learnt at our AF training at Belipola. The PowerPoint presentation explains what is Analog Forestry, its principles and processes. While developing this presentation, I learned a lot more about AF. As Luman and I are doing this project together I’m also helping him to get a clearer understanding of the subject. It’s challenging because the AF info and guides are all in English and Luman’s English is limited so I’m translating everything into Tamil. Three months later we can already see growth in our analog forest at the HARC site.
We’re Being Followed by A.P.F. Rojan, Manager

I got a call from Ikram, our former worker from Digana. He said the boys in our Youth Nation Digana group are fearful about continuing with us because the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) of the Police and Army are coming to their villages searching out those involved with Bridging Lanka’s youth work. But I have good relations with the Police CID and alert him before we come to Digana. So why is the CID searching for these boys? Know I know why our boys are not connecting with us. They give us excuses. The family is also pushing them not to be involved. 

I rang my Police CID contact in Kandy and said, “You guys are separating this society. Slowly we are losing the people.” I told him I am the in charge person and that if he needs any information to contact me. The CID officer replied that he knew the good things Bridging Lanka was doing but the Army CID doesn’t. For example, they were suspicious about our visit to the Buddhist temple. In their eyes why would an Islamic organisation (we’re not but many Muslim youth are members) want to go to a Buddhist Temple to meet a Buddhist monk? Even our landlords have a fear because they are being pestered. I clearly told the CID officer, “Don’t come behind us. Come to me directly and I can answer your questions.”
Reopened for Business by Nancy, Café Manager

Café Arokkiya reopened this month after the long weeks of another Covid 19 lockdown. Customer numbers were very low for the first two weeks but then improved. We have made small changes to the menu in our café. One is the introduction of the vallarai (gotu kola in Sinhalese) cocktail (sans alcohol, of course) attractively presented to customers. Vallarai, a superfood, is known to re-vitalize the brain and nervous system, increase attention span and concentration, combat aging and improves blood circulation. We received positive feedback! A few cleaning tasks have also been done to beautify the café’s environment. Soon we are planning to invite a chef from Jaffna to conduct a one day cooking class for our staff. The Café Arokkiya social enterprise would not be possible without the moral and financial backing of the Sri Lankan diaspora and their Australian friends.
Women Flexing their Muscles by Jaslin Thanapala, Gym Fitness Instructor

It’s been ten months since we opened the Adampan gym for males. It is hard to judge whether this has been a successful venture or not as for many months the gym was closed due to lockdowns. Our Powerhouse gym customers are slowly returning once more and numbers are creeping up again. But why just for guys? We have now dedicated a daily morning time slot for the women and two females who have braved conservative community views to flex their muscles and increase in fitness. While Seenu, Sharujan and I are taking turns to train them at present, our intention is to offer fitness training for women so that then we can offer a truly gender inclusive service.
Bring It On! By Eric Fernando, Graphics Designer

Each month I never know what work assignment I will be given. First was a design for a jam bottle label for Lindy, a Bridging Lanka director in Australia. Through selling jams Lindy ma’am is raising money for our work! Designing the stickers for her Mellor House products was fun but many changes were needed because both Lindy and I didn’t know what information should go on a jam jar! However, the most challenging task was making a video for the Bridging Lanka Conversations series that went to air on 31st October. I did the impossible in three days – capturing all the Bridging Lanka projects efficiently in a 2 min video! I worked throughout the days and nights to meet the strict deadline. It was lots of hard work - video shooting, editing, VFX sound engineering and graphics work but I loved it!


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 Secretariat of Non-Governmental Organisations.
Donate Now
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 that the Fighting Fit project is supported by the Australian High Commission to Sri Lanka through a Direct Aid Program Grant.
Bridging Lanka contact details:

28 Mellor Street
Kedron, QLD 4031
Australia
 
86 Esplanade Road
Mannar 41000
Sri Lanka
 
info@bridginglanka.org
https://bridginglanka.org/

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