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Bridging Lanka Monthly Report
Finding the Wriggle Room to Keep Going  July 2022
Current Situation in Sri Lanka – July 2022 

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in recent months, calling for the country's leaders to resign over accusations of economic mismanagement. Images from Colombo paint a chaotic scene, with pictures showing demonstrators running from tear gas, and clashing with police in body armour. Schools have been suspended and fuel has been limited to essential services. Patients are unable to travel to hospitals due to the fuel shortage and food prices are soaring. Trains have reduced in frequency. The president and prime minister were forced to resign. Wickremesinghe said the country had entered talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to revive the country's economy. But talks have been difficult because Sri Lanka has entered the discussion as a "bankrupt" country, rather than a developing one.
Enough is Enough

Mannar’s tuk tuk drivers take to the streets in protest against lengthy queues at petrol stations, the sporadic and ad hoc nature of its supply and its soaring price.
Finding Ways to Respond

The food, fuel and everything else crisis marches on in Sri Lanka, decimating families are threatening their survival. In response Bridging Lanka launched its second emergency crowdfunding campaign for the year, ‘Ahead: A Hard Year’s Fight’. Instead of a broad geographical coverage as previously done, we have limited it to helping two needy areas - a cluster of ten adjoining villages on Mannar Island - Catholic, Muslim and Hindhu - of very poor families, most without jobs or working as day-labourers; as well as needy families in war-ravaged Adampan on the Mannar mainland. Our strategy involved:
  • Supplying dry food rations for the most vulnerable
  • Providing materials, seeds and support to establish organic vegetable gardens 
  • Offering a subsidised nutritious lunch service through our Café Arokkiya
  • Running a 'food security' facility that offers cheap and nutritious food.
Changed Plans

Our original idea for a ‘food security’ facility was a refurbished container that would act as a food outlet. Some time ago we priced it at Rs 50,000 (approx AU$200). This month the price tag was a whopping Rs 2.5 million (over AU$10,000), the quotation was valid for only 3 days and it would still cost more to be fitted out! We realised it was now much cheaper to build a ‘fit for purpose’ facility on our Hendro site.
Quick work by Nafees and his crew saw the shell of the building go up in no time. Allowing for unpredictable contingencies we hope to open the food outlet in September or at the latest, October.
Closing Shop

After almost four years of intensive work in Kandy District centred on Digana, we’ve been beaten. Weeks after the ‘Digana’ communal meltdown which saw Muslim businesses, homes and mosques torched across 14 towns in Kandy District, we were on the ground speaking to victims and perpetrators, officials and academics, religious leaders and prison hierarchy. Our quest to undertake civic repair between Sinhala Buddhists and Muslims attracted support from mainly Muslim young people who were joined from time to time by their Sinhala counterparts. The Towards Religious Harmony project was funded by the Australian government. 

A number of reconciliation initiatives got off the ground and others failed due to the impact of Covid. However it was the Central Intelligence Division’s (CID) surveillance and intimidation of our youth members on several occasions and the incessant Covid lockdowns that stymied our longer term intentions. This month many members of the Youth Nation Digana group met to dismantle our office and partake in a final lunch. The close relationships developed will continue in spite of the official closure of our Digana program.
Treading Water

Unusual flooding delayed the completion of the Hendro Animal Rescue Centre (HARC) buildings. Now the buildings are ready to go but the economic crisis has impacted our ability to buy the necessary medical supplies and rabies vaccinations and to bring vets and dog catchers from Colombo to train us up. We’re currently treading water waiting for blue skies!
The Hendro Vision Expands
Two accommodation units on the Hendro property were originally intended for a resident vet and international vet students. However the Covid years and the current crisis have meant that no vet students have come to fulfil their university requirement for practical fieldwork experience. The unique open space units designed by our beloved architect, Wathmi Fernando, has now been commandeered for another purpose – our intensive nurturing program for young people wanting to overcome harmful habits. 

Six guys aged between 19 and 22 years of age are cared for and guided by Bridging Lanka director, Jeremy. The great advantage of this accommodation site is its rural setting and distance from the addictive temptations of urban life in Mannar Town. At Hendro we are planning activities conducive to developing young people’s skills in the agriculture, aquaculture, animal husbandry, veteranian services, hospitality and fitness sectors.
Preparing the Ground

Massive mounds of moringa trees destroyed in the floods together with coconut palm debris are shredded to introduce the art of mulching to our region. In hot and dry conditions as in the arid zone of Mannar the introduction of mulching will reduce the scorching heat of the sand, better retain moisture for plants and restore worm and bug life to depleted soils.
Busy Days at Hendro by Jerad Anton, Project Officer

I am lucky to have picked up many different skills along the way. This month at the Hendro site I did many physical works such as wiring (electrical) and plumbing works for all the buildings. Together with Komahan I also installed two sprinkler systems for organic vegetable growing. These are all foundational works to get Hendro up and running.
Into the Fray

Once more the Director of Education of the Mannar Zone invited Bridging Lanka staff to discuss what could be done to address the burgeoning drug issue among high school students. Previous efforts by the Education Department to stem the tide of drug use had failed. Although our recent Australian Government-funded Fighting Fit project had well and truly ended and we had no cash to dive into yet another complex area, we agreed to take up the assignment. 

As is our modus operandi to increase our contextual intelligence, we proposed starting with a research phase of deep listening to students, teachers, parents and community leaders to identify and analyse the factors contributing to this situation. We would start with one of the most effected and largest high schools in Mannar – in ‘drug drenched’ Pesalai, a fishing community infamous for its drug smuggling activities.
Who Needs Education?

The Zonal Director arranged an initial meeting with the Pesalai school principal, deputy and guidance officer to discuss our project and our first research-based intervention. Every place is unique and we needed to understand the who, what, how and why of increased drug usage. The principal spelt out the situation. He explained that the drug operation is well planned locally and regretted that schools were not so prepared, that parents were scared of local drug dealers and their thugs and were moving their children to other schools, and that at night the drug dealers would rule this large township. 

Worst of all, Ordinary and Advanced Level students were being recruited to do sentry duty for drug runs and for a mere half an hour were earning Rs 5,000 – a handsome sum, and all the more attractive to families in these economically challenged times. Many students now question the need for education when the drug trade could offer them a lucrative present and future!
Tradies Outlet Secured

Finally the premises for the tradies One-Stop-Shop was secured through the Madhu Divisional Secretariat and the Pradeshiya Sabha (local council). It is in a strategic location at the junction of Madhu Road, entrance to the famed Madhu Catholic Church. The young men from Kunchukulam, led by Jerad, met with Rojan, Bridging Lanka manager to develop a task list for the refurbishment of the shop and its planned operation. Along with offering expertise in many areas of trade including welding, electrical work, masonry, etc, the shop would also sell hardware items as there were no such local outlets. A week of tasks was arranged and Rojan would return to ensure the works were on track.
What Makes Mannar Men Tick?

Bridging Lanka was successful in obtaining a small grant from the Australian Volunteers Program Impact Fund for their Home-Street-School project, again with a focus on developing resilience in young children in Santhipuram to resist drugs. After interviewing mothers of the students we soon discovered that the men of the family – fathers and elder brothers – were often the role model for addictive behaviours. The wives agonised that most of their husbands were alcoholics and spent hard to come by cash on booze which led to violence against them and their children. 

Instead of judgement, our deeper question was to understand what was causing so many men and husbands to find solace in harmful substances. Usually it is extremely difficult to coax husbands to participate in workshops or focus group discussions centred on family issues but we decided to start with a group of men – recently married for between one and seven years – to gauge at what point and for what reason so many marital relationships go awry. 

At our Hendro site, a long way away from their families, we invited ten young men to participate in a focus group discussion on family life. The group wanted to stay overnight so they could be with their batchmates beyond the hearing of their wives! Their answers must remain confidential but we gained many valuable insights into both how relationships develop and were maintained and also what would contribute towards their disintegration.
Female Gym Recruits by Hindhujan Sinnaiyah, Fitness Trainer

This month three new female customers joined our Powerhouse Gym at Adampan. It was great that more females wished to come to a gym as here in the north, gyms mainly attract males. Seenu and I have been training the women to get back into shape and develop more flexibility – very different goals to our male customers who want to bulk up and show off their muscles. One of the women had previously gone to a gym but for the other two it was their first time. They are now our regular customers.
We Are Determined! by Hindhujan Sinnaiyah, Project Officer

We continue to renovate the Santhipuram children’s park which had been commandeered by drug and alcohol users who had trashed the place. Together with the local boys we are undertaking landscaping, grounds cleaning, carpentry, wiring, plumbing and fence restoration work. When we were doing the fence work some village people and the friends of our staff officer, Seenu, came to help.

After completing some distance of the fencing, some drug addicted people would come at night and cut the barbed wire. This happened three times! This senseless destruction got frustrating and made us angry. But we didn’t give up. Our persistence won out and they eventually stopped their vandalism. Finally, the job was done and we were very happy.  
The Salute of a Winner

Jaslin is our Logistics Officer at Bridging Lanka who has now worked for us for two years. After joining us he became serious about changing his unhealthy lifestyle of aimless ‘rounding’ with friends, doing drugs and drinking. Through the Fighting Fit project, funded through a Direct Aid Program of the Australian Government, we gave him the opportunity along with nine others, to be professionally trained as a gym instructor.

Jaslin excelled at this and took fitness training seriously. He learned discipline and sacrifice. He entered into his first  body building competition in the Northern Province and came second! Next month he will enter the official government sponsored competition for the Northern Province. If he wins that prestigeous award, we will be looking for personal sponsors for his body building career. Since joining Bridging Lanka he has not touched any harmful substances. 
Our Preschool Plans are Materialising

With the help of highly civic-minded engineer, Vimal Soosaipillai, work on the Little Trees Nurtury is in full swing. Vimal helped us to engage two building contractors and is supervising the ongoing construction. On the ground we have Alhathir who is our ‘eagle eyes’ for the project. He monitors the work meticulously and is assertive in raising any developments that are not according to the plan. In this way, many potential disasters are averted.
They are Determined – So Are We!

Titanium Sands Limited, the Australian mining company, through their Sri Lanka-based subsidiaries is hell bent on completing the exploratory stage of their proposed 50+ year ilmenite sandmining operation. If mining goes ahead, it will spell the destruction of Mannar Island, its plant life, wildlife, coastal environment and fishing and agricultural livelihoods. In addition it will force the relocation of two-thirds of the district’s population. Mining will cause irreversible damage due to significant sea water intrusion.  Members of the Mannar Citizens’ Committee, local mosques and Bridging Lanka put up fierce resistance to the final holes being dug for exploration.
Resorting to Legal Action

A meeting of the leadership of Mannar Citizens Committee and Bridging Lanka was held at Hendro to decide a future course of resistance including legal action.
Spreading the Message

Olaithoduwai, the village where the Hendro site is located, is of prime interest to Titanium Sands as it is in their priority area for mining.  Bridging Lanka manager, Rojan, spoke to members of the Catholic congregation of the longer term intentions of this mining company and the impacts on environment, livelihoods and place of residence. Many people had given permission to the exploration company to drill holes on their property based on lies -  that they were checking for water quality and even if the ground had ‘petrol’ reserves! Obviously they take locals to be fools. The fight continues.
Donkey Cheese Dreaming

For so long we had the dream of safeguarding our Mannar donkeys’ future survival by integrating them into the economic fabric of the district - through the commercial production of donkey milk and cheese. However, other priorities and macro issues stymied our best intentions. Then comes along our former volunteer, Sanchitha, who tracked down a passionate cheese maker hidden in the hills of Matale! Meet Maia Donadze from Madipola. Alhathir and Jeremy met up with the passionate and delightful Maia who expressed a keenness in making a donkey-goat cheese combo. Let’s see if this little project gets off the ground.

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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