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Bridging Lanka Monthly Report
Two Steps Forward – August 2022
The Brain Drain is On!

Over 200,000 Sri Lankans have left for overseas employment this year until the end of August, the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) reported. A total of 208,772 Sri Lankans have left for foreign employment to date. 

Sri Lanka has undergone mass migrations in the past – the Burgher community fled during the ‘50s and ‘60s; the austerity of the ‘70s saw economic migrants; the 1983 violence resulted in hundreds of thousands from the Tamil community leaving; the resumption of war in 1990 saw many more Tamils and Sinhalese migrating; and the economic slowdown just after the new millennium resulted in another wave outward. 

Immigration counts in Canada, the US, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, France, Germany, and India bear a sorry tale of Sri Lankans moving to those countries. But today, we see a growing brain drain due to lack of economic opportunity and social stagnation with over 300 a day departing for good. Can things get worse for Sri Lanka?
What’s Your Love Language?

As a follow up to last month’s focus group of young married men, Rojan, Bridging Lanka’s manager, ran a session on the five love languages developed by author, Gary Chapman. It describes five ways that people receive and express love in a relationship. Knowing your partner's love language and letting them know yours, is a way to help each other feel more loved and appreciated. 

Rojan’s ‘theory-practice combo’ proved enlightening and practical for the Arippu couples who wished to improve their relationship with their spouse. Participants started to identify theirs and their partner’s love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service and receiving gifts.  More follow-up sessions are planned. A light bulb had been switched on!
Hendro Takes Shape

Our intention of creating a safe space for young people and vulnerable families is taking shape on the Hendro site at Olaithoduwai. Bridging Lanka is gradually making ten surrounding and struggling villages the primary focus of its work. The food outlet that offers cheap nutritious food is nearing completion. Most of the local eateries have closed due to the exorbitant price increase in supplies. The Hendro Animal Rescue Centre is complete but waiting for equipment and medicinal supplies. Organic produce is also being grown and harvested. So things are really taking shape at Hendro.
From Concept to Reality

Wathmi Fernando, our talented and inspiring architect who is driven by her heart in all she does, visited the sites of her building designs, including the Hendro Animal Rescue Centre and the accommodation units. Accompanying her were her three adorable scallywags. For Wathmi it was satisfying to see her concepts on paper take physical shape.
Faithful Teacher

Dr Jeyaretnam from Melbourne has been English master to a number of local youngsters eager to learn functional English. Each week the good doctor prepares two lessons which he delivers using very practical and grounded approaches. Alas at times the students’ attendance is a bit ad hoc. These lads are also Bridging Lanka workers so at times duty calls and so they have to miss some classes. We are so grateful for Dr Jeyaretnam’s faithful commitment to seeing our boys develop their English language skills and ask for his forgiveness and understanding when attendance is sporadic at times.
King Coconut
An acre of coconut trees proves to be a great boon for Bridging Lanka. A number of our supporters pooled their funds and bought this productive land a year ago. Twenty-two year old Senthuran, one of our residents struggling to forge a positive life path sans drugs, is the coconut raja. Regular watering, clearing debris and harvesting coconuts for our use or for sale are teaching him responsibility and reliability.
Coming Into His Own

Komahan or better known as ‘Coma’ has developed leaps and bounds since coming to Hendro. We are witnessing an opening up of this generally closed and silent guy, perhaps a reflection of the open spaces at Hendro. We are grooming him as an agriculturalist and administrator. He is learning organic cultivation and things financial as he moves to managing the finances of the Hendro enterprises. Here he is planting green chilli seedlings.
Little Trees Pressed for Funds

The first contractor established the columns for the three buildings. The second contractor has the more challenging task of constructing a concrete plate that bridges the three structures. It will act as the base for the first floor that will adopt a more open air design. A mere two years ago the generous Rs 10 million donation by the M.H. Omar Foundation would have been ample to complete the construction of the preschool. Alas with galloping inflation, the amount will only contribute a third of the overall cost. For an idea of the price hikes, a steel pipe that would have cost just under Rs 2,000 is now Rs 25,000! However we are determined to see this important project continue and are seeking some generous benefactors to help us reach our goal.
Checking on Us

Wathmi our architect also designed the preschool so she paid a visit in person to see its progress. Usually Wathmi is in daily contact with us on WhatsApp to clarify design questions and ensure the construction sticks closely to her plans.
Winning Them Over

The Bridging Lanka team who conducts their weekly school-based program at Santhipuram Primary, continue to be a hit with the kids. Under Hindhujan’s leadership the team provides an engaging educational program for the eight year olds that keep them coming back for more. The program continues to meet its goals. School attendance is now consistently high and the students’ marks in various subjects have also improved. The challenge now is to extend this success across the whole school.
Diving Deep

To better comprehend the causal factors of the rapid increase in drug use among high school students in Mannar, we chose to start with the most ‘at risk’ school in Pesalai, about six kilometres from Hendro and the Donkey Clinic. At the invitation of the Zonal Director of Education, Mannar, we met with the principal and teed up a series of focus group discussions, the first with Ordinary Level students aged 17 years. When asked a general question about the pressure points being experienced by them, the top three contributors were drugs, smart phones and teachers – in that order.

Views on drugs:
  • “In Pesalai drug smuggling is normal behaviour. Selling drugs is like selling rice – so normal.”
  • “Students are recruited by the drug dealers after school and at night. They are paid big money to do sentry duty for drug runs. Struggling parents don’t like it but welcome the money in these hard times.”
  • “Because of what happened during Covid - like no school for months and exams getting postponed and postponed - and now the economic crisis, many students are questioning the value of education. They think selling drugs will take care of them.”

Views on smart phones:
  • “After Covid more kids are addicted to mobiles.”
  • Significant hours are spent playing online games (males), social media (all) and online chatting (all) – to midnight, even 3:00am. “The next morning at school we are tired, cranky and quick to get angry. Not a good start to the day”
  • “Zoom classes are boring. They are killing us!”

Views of teachers:
  • “Some teachers teach well; others are only interested in completing the curriculum and getting their salary.”
  • “Teachers quickly judge us and don’t understand us or listen to us.”
  • “Many teachers get angry, shout and humiliate us in front of our peers and parents, and this creates so much hatred in us.”
Some Good Fortune at Last by Jerad Anton, Village Development Officer

For a long time because of Covid and Sri Lanka’s economic problems we don’t have any guests or tourists to our guesthouse and youth empowerment hub at Kunchukulam. Unexpectedly the Agriculture Department called to book the guesthouse for long term use. I fixed a monthly fee. Now nearly a month has finished. The department is providing many benefits to our youth and Kunchukulam people because they are going to develop all the ponds in Kunchukulam for agriculture. As a result about 30 young people and some others will get work opportunities. One person is already getting construction site training. Many will get long term work, ensuring that our guesthouse and empowerment hub is kept open and give us a good financial return.
Score Card: 2 Points to Us; 8 Points to Them

The local subsidiary companies of Titanium Sands Ltd (TSL) completed all ilmenite exploration activities this month with more mineral sand samples being shipped to South Africa for testing. Apart from a few hiccups caused by our efforts, the company has had smooth sailing toward their goal. Imagine the Ministry of the Environment inviting TSL to submit a mining application for heavy mineral sands in a fragile and richly biodiverse ecosystem like Mannar Island! If existing Sri Lankan legislation is adhered to, there is no way that this destructive project could proceed. But unfortunately there’s always ways around Sri Lanka’s laws. We have heard rumours alleging that a senior minister of the government granted approval for the reinstatement of cancelled exploration licences to the local TSL companies because the price was right. 
Spreading the Message

Slowly local are starting to wake up to what is at stake if the proposed mining proceeds – sea water intrusion which will salinate all ground water supplies, plunder livelihoods in the fishing, agriculture and palmyrah sectors, destroy the habitats of migratory birds especially the famed flamingos, decimate a growing tourist industry and displace more than a hundred thousand people. After church Rojan, Bridging Lanka manager, talks to residents from Olaithoduwai which is within Titanium Sands’ Priority Area No 1 for mining. 
Getting the Message

The third public anti-mining protest was held this month. The first attracted about 30 people; the next was attended by over a hundred. At the August protest more than a thousand people gathered to show their disdain for what was unfolding. People of all ages voiced their protest for hours. There was some media coverage, especially Tamil, but to gain national attention, we need the Colombo-based Sinhala media to join the fray. That’s next on the agenda.

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.
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Bridging Lanka contact details:

28 Mellor Street
Kedron, QLD 4031
86 Esplanade Road
Mannar 41000
Sri Lanka

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