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Bridging Lanka Monthly Report
A ‘Merry’ Go Round – August 2021

Continuing to Touch Hearts by A.P.F. Rojan, Manager 

Carmel from the Kunchukulam cluster of villages is one of the six young people Bridging Lanka supports to further their education. Every day Carmel needs to travel a round trip of 12 km on forest roads to her school and tuition classes. She asked us for a new bicycle to relieve her of the long walks in the blazing sun. I priced a new bicycle. I was shocked as the cost had jumped up to Rs 26,000. I discussed this with Carmel’s parents and found out that there was an old bike in the garage in fairly good condition but needing repairs. So we funded the cost of those repairs. Now Carmel is attending her classes with ease, helps her mother with grocery shopping and also takes her friends for bicycle rides. This project, Touching Hearts-Lending Hands is backed strongly by many Aussies to whom we are very grateful.

Gym at the Heart of Culture Change by Luman Thanapala, Fitness Trainer

The newly opened gym at Kunchukulam was attracting large numbers of youth from the area just before another lockdown kicked in. The focus among local lads was already starting to shift towards a healthy body through hard exercise. After their gym sessions these youngsters would get together at our Youth Empowerment Hub to eat, talk and sleep over camp-style – without the presence of alcohol.

Gym Manager, Ramesh and Administrator, Dilaxan, were doing a mighty job ensuring the gym ran in a proper way. Each week Seenu and I stay over in Kunchukulam to monitor their progress and correct any fitness training errors. Our professional fitness training in Colombo earlier this year was being put to good use. Our ultimate aim, to stop harmful drugs entering these three remote villages, are once more on hold as lockdowns invade our lives.

Window of Opportunity Closes - Again

The ‘on again off again’ lockdowns have played havoc with our gym opening schedule. The Adampan gym recommenced business for a few weeks before another lockdown was announced. During that time we were flooded with guys wanting to work out. Sharujan the Manager called in support from Luman and Seenu during this busy period. A new service – personalised sessions for busy professionals – was introduced only to be thwarted by another ten day lockdown. It’s hard for us at Bridging Lanka to simply halt wages for our workers due to the unpredictable nature of lockdowns. The government’s oversight of not giving any advance notice of this debilitating lockdown tactic doesn’t help either! 

Breaking Out

A few of the local Adampan women said they are not going to stand by while only the males get to use the gym. Some of the Café Arokkiya’s female workers and others decided to invade the gym and ‘try out’ for themselves. They had a ball! After their uplifting experience they have now requested Kumanan, the Powerhouse Gym Coordinator, to arrange special times for women-only gym junkies. Kumanan had little choice but to comply (enthusiastically)! We are really pleased that a conservative and gendered culture in these parts is slowly relaxing.

Peer Counselling on the Way by Kumanan Mailvaganam, Fighting Fit Coordinator

We have successfully completed the nine counselling sessions in which 17 young people actively participated. Now they are practising the skills they have learnt from the course. Many of them are using the technique to understand their own emotions and how to deal with their own problems. 

Part of the expectation we have of our budding peer counsellors is that they start to develop the discipline of case notes. We have distributed a reporting template covering the essentials. These include: any change since last session (no change, some change, encouraging change); presenting ‘mood’ (angry, depressed, fearful, normal, other); any signs of substance use; poses a danger (to noone, self, others, property); issue/s raised by the client; counsellor’s assessment, client’s thoughts on progress; suggested client follow up action. I am currently following up with each participant to see that this important task is on track.

Growing Curse of Online Games

If alcohol, drugs and social media are not sufficient to trap and destroy young people’s lives in Mannar, online business schemers have come up with yet more addictive offerings. Online, violent and competitive games like Free Fire and PubG (now banned in India) consume 7 or more hours of productive time daily. Local teachers asked Kumanan to develop a presentation to create awareness about its dangers. He enlisted the help of Meron, an 18 year old veteran of Free Fire.

Meron also told us that to increase one’s gaming score, one had to pay a fee. This money was collected by offering sexual favours to adults at Rs 500 a pop. We were horrified and are currently investigating this. Youngsters addicted to online games have been found to have more aggressive thoughts, emotions and behaviours. The WHO in 2018 declared gaming addiction a mental health disorder, increasing depression and social isolation and sleep deprivation, with less time spent on studies, careers, sports and social interaction.
A Dream Becoming a Reality by Kavivarman, Fighting Fit Project Officer
I miss not doing our Eats & Beats live music gigs at Café Arokkiya (due to Covid) and miss not singing and playing guitar with our band, Monaki. I have been separated from music for too long now but recently Music found me again! At our new Bridging Lanka office, I am setting up a music studio. What is really absorbing me at present is learning music software to produce our own songs. The software is called FL-Studio and it is challenging me right out of my brain! So complex and multilayered but I am determined to master it.

Setting up the music studio is really restoring my passion for music. We’ve written and recorded one reconciliation song for Bridging Lanka and more are planned. So, I hope I will use this lockdown period of ten days effectively. And I am beginning to understand one thing – if we put our heart into anything it will happen and will give us loads of meaning. 

Fear of Covid of Fear of Covid Mandates? by Mowleesan Santhiyoguthasan, Admin & Finance Officer

Covid already started in 2019 but still going on. Thousands are lining up in Mannar to get the Covid vaccines. The vehicles parked outside Sithivinayakar High School represent many who are lining up inside for their shots – not because they believe the vaccine is going to save them. Without the vaccine card the fishermen cannot go out to sea (because the authorities say the Delta variant will fly across from India and catch them). Also without the card you will not be allowed to cross the causeway from Mannar Island to the mainland, or travel to other parts. I am unable to believe how many peoples are dying after the vaccine and also every person is badly affected because the economy down. Now the Covid situation in Mannar - 28 dead and more than 3,000 people Covid +. But why when 75% Mannar people took the Covid vaccine?

Ground-breaking Changes by Jerad Anton, Agriculture Officer

From big resistance to organic farming to now embracing it, our organic project in Kunchukulam is moving forward successfully. The best thing this month is that many more farmers are changing to organic cultivation as a result of our instruction, the support of another NGO and some recent government rules about stopping the use of chemical agro-products. Many farmers now they are having compost pits in their homes and they are doing organic cultivations on their land. A total 65 families they are doing compost pits and 10 families have introduced honey boxes. Bridging Lanka is supporting 45 of those farming families to doing organic cultivation. We are happy that we didn’t give up after we got so much resistance at the start. 

Still in the Race

As a cement shortage hits Sri Lanka and sourcing sand becomes a ‘cat and mouse’ affair in Mannar, our construction work at the Hendro Animal Rescue Centre (HARC) is constantly being delayed. Add to that the enduring lockdowns and most construction work grinds to a halt. Alhathir, our tactical genius usually finds a way through our woes. He even did a deal with a welding firm to permanently locate two staff on-site to carry out the significant and laborious work of building and welding the 28 cages in spite of the lockdown!

For almost two weeks the work continued unabated, even through regular power cuts, until completion. Poor workers - they could not even see their family members during this time. So we are still in the race to have the facility fully completed by the end of the year – provided sufficient funds are received.

No End to Graphic Demands by Eric Fernando, Graphic Designer

Every day a new graphics job hits my desk. This month I designed ID cards for all the Donkey Clinic staff. This was quick work. The next and the most exciting for me was starting to design and film a video that showcased Bridging Lanka projects. This was for a big fundraiser – a golfing day – the Australian directors were doing in Brisbane to raise badly needed funds for Bridging Lanka’s work. Literally I don’t have any idea about making videos but I am quick to learn. Mainly I learned lot about using a DSLR camera about the aperture, depth of field even more and also about lighting and colour grading. I also starting learning video making softwares e.g. After Effects, Premier Pro & Adobe Audition. Café Arokkiya’s business card designing was another loved work this month because that designing is my personal favourite. It is the first time I used modern QR code detailing on a business card.

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 and Maldives through a Direct Aid Program Grant.
Bridging Lanka contact details:

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

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