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Bridging Lanka Monthly Report
Pressing Ahead - June 2022
Wasted Time Wasted Livelihoods by A.P.F. Rojan, Manager

The hardship continues month after month. To refill the empty kerosene lamp or the kerosene stove I must join a queue at the local petrol station – when kerosene is available – at 4:00 am! Otherwise I will be late for work at 9:00 am. My village is Pallimunai, a fishing village. No fishermen can go out in their boats because there is not enough kerosene and it is so expensive. Imagine what that does to the price of fish! In the past this was a poor family’s food. Not any longer.
Ahead: A Hard Year’s Fight by Terence Jeyaretnam, Bridging Lanka Ambassador

Thank you supporters for your overwhelmingly generous and heartfelt support for the previous campaign, Stop Them Going Under. The country situation has now become so dire that Bridging Lanka has been pressed to run another ‘food security’ crowdfunder. This time we are moving beyond distributing dry food rations to families desperate to feed their children, to include more sustainable strategies:
  • Provide knowhow, materials, plants & seeds to establish organic vegetable gardens in the homes of vulnerable families with some land to spare
  • Run a food security awareness facility that offers (a) hands-on training in organic vegetable cultivation; (b) organic fertiliser production using locally available items; (c) staff who support and monitor home garden development, and (d) a food van that both sells simple, seasonal and nutritious food at an affordable cost along with free cooking classes on preparing healthy fare to survive the impending famine
  • Offer a subsidised nutritious lunch service through our widow-run Cafe Arokkiya in Adampan, a war-affected region of Mannar with high numbers of widows and vulnerable women.
The Bridging Lanka team works tirelessly to ensure that the funds procure the supplies and reach the community at a time of critical need. 
The Key - Understanding Students by Hindhujan Sinnaiyah, Project Officer

Our Home-Street-School Project Is going well. Mainly we are focusing on Grade 4 children. In the class there are three girls who we’ve observed are so shy in engaging with their classmates. They seem scared to even participate in our fun activities. As part of the project we are visiting their parents to get better acquainted with their home situation.

So, that’s how we met one of the girl’s aunties. We found that she was living with the aunt because her mother had left one year before to work overseas. The student misses her mother badly and doesn’t want to talk to anyone anymore. Thankfully through our care and engaging activities, these three girls are coming out of their shells.
Smart Tech in Santhipuram

Although Santhipuram Primary School is in one of the poorest areas of Mannar, it is currently attracting good support. Through Seema Omar, the M.H. Omar Foundation has made a generous donation of a Smart Board to the school to enhance students’ educational experience. Sanchitha, our volunteer, stitched up the deal for us.

A Brandix officer led a training session in the Smart Board’s use and program, Right to Read. In the easy to use program words are highlighted, as they are read, at a speed best suited for students. The sub program, ReadToMe offers tools to help with reading and comprehension. Its features include word-by-word reading of the text, English dictionary, picture dictionary, pronunciation, and spelling aids. The principal is overjoyed!
Intimate Dinner for Wide Benefit

Imagine Sri Lankan fare for 12 people costing $5,000 (plus GST)! Minoli de Silva, chef extraordinaire who kicked off our online Bridging Lanka Conversations series last year raised $4,000 through an intimate dinner at her restaurant, splitting the proceeds between two organisations. Bridging Lanka was blessed to be one of the recipients. The other was Purple House, an Indigenous owned and run non-profit health service based in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. Thank you Minoli for your unique mix of heart, generosity and being a serious foodie! … Supporters, if you find yourself in Darwin, please make a booking to dine at Ella by Minoli and tantalise your taste buds!
Our Preschool Dream

A famous proverb goes, “Train up children in the way they should go, and when old, they will not depart from it.” So in order to lay a positive foundation for children’s lives in troubled Mannar, early intervention is crucial. The brain develops an amazing 90% during the first five years of life so we’re starting there - by creating a preschool with a difference to safeguard Mannar’s next generation against a life shaped by angst and an escape into a range of addictive behaviours. 

The preschool, Little Trees Nurtury, aims to nurture children’s minds, bodies, and souls, instilling self-confidence, cultivating ethics, feeding their curiosity and above all, encouraging a love of learning. We want to ensure children embrace 'dopamine reward pathways' based on altruism, self-esteem, civic mindedness and creative learning. Our expectation is that children will develop coping strategies and resilience that safeguard them from societal ills.
A Generous Benefactor
Through the MH Omar Foundation, Mr. M. H. Omar himself blew us away by donating very generously toward our proposed preschool build. Now in his nineties, Mr. Omar is as sharp as ever. He started his life in humble settings, working as a textile broker and then as an announcer at Radio Ceylon. He established his ¬first textile shop, Firoz Ltd, in the main trading hub of Colombo.

Well known in the community for his appetite for risk and long term vision, he expanded from textiles to plastics and then apparels manufacturing. Today, he along with his 3 sons, have built a vast business empire. We are so grateful to the OH Omar Foundation for this significant kick-start to our building fund.
Small Stature Large Heart

Seema Omar, our Bridging Lanka guardian angel, has taken two of our young men under her wing. Senthuran from Santhipuram and Hindhujan from Paaviluppattankattikutiyiruppu, Mannar, are well on the road to becoming possibly Sri Lanka’s first male preschool teachers.

Seema organised a tight schedule – two intensive days at the La Petite Fleur (LPF) Schools, took them to see a motivational Tamil film, introduced them to a dance studio where Hindhujan earned himself many admirers through his super dance moves and organised a Playback Theatre session which focused on reflecting back pertinent youth issues the guys were facing. The immersion into Colombo life was totally inspiring for the guys who returned keen to learn and develop themselves even more. 
Deeply Committed 

Senior and ethically-driven engineer, Vimal Soosaipillai (2nd from left), has kindly taken on – bro bono – the project management of the preschool building. He has engaged two contractors, one to do the foundational stage and the other to complete the building. Wathmi Fernando, the inspiring architect, also contributed her design talents on a pro bono basis. Sincere thanks for your commitment, Vimal and Wathmi!
One Woman’s Legacy

Hindhujan and Senthuran visited two of La Petite Fleur (LFP) schools in Dehiwala and Ratmalana and were blown away by the maturity, manners and morals of even 4 year olds! Founder and Director of LPF, Mrs. Bernadine Anderson, affectionately known as 'Aunty Bernie', began her journey as an educator in Sri Lanka in 1993. She saw a need for preschool education outside the Colombo city limits. The Bridging Lanka staff were joined by Chavez Selvaratnam and partner, Johanna, in an inspection of the schools. All left convinced of the worth of this model of education.
At Their Level

‘Aunty Bernie’ focuses on specially prepared environments, designed specifically to integrate the cognitive, physical, emotional, spiritual and physiological developmental needs of children. Lessons at LPF are given in small groups, or even individually, to draw upon each child’s personal best. The ‘classrooms’ consist of child-sized furniture and other materials that are carefully chosen to meet the developmental needs of children at this age.  There are ample opportunities for both indoor and outdoor learning, socializing and language development. After the visit we were convinced even more to adopt LPF’s philosophy and practises for our proposed preschool back in Mannar.
Levels of Student Care

The day doesn’t end when school concludes. Extra-curricular activities continue. We joined an after-school discussion of older students and teachers led by Seema that explored how they could better support struggling students. 
Ear-marked for Bridging Lanka

Aunty Bernie in her desire to support our preschool has assigned three amazingly gifted teachers – Mathusi, Liesl and Vasuki – to support and train our own preschool teachers in LPF’s educational philosophy which is based on Maria Montessori’s and John Dewey’s work. After seeing the philosophy in practice we are convinced of its appropriateness for Mannar.
Cooking Up a Storm

Hindhujan and Senthuran got lessons from Seema on how to make easy kurakkan roti and fish curry. We’re looking forward to tasting and testing their new gained knowledge. Our many opportunities to share such delicious fare at the Omar home were highlights of the trip.
In Demand by Kumanan Mailvaganam

There are now many requests for our Better Parenting program so I am developing additional workshop sessions. This month I’m working on giving parents an awareness of the stages of child development. Unknowingly, children are copying the behaviours of their parents, relatives and society. If parents were more aware of these different stages, they would be more equipped to nurture their children in positive ways. 

The presentation is based on psychologist, Erik Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development. I will focus on the first four as the early stages have a fundamental impact on the child’s self-esteem, ability to communicate and the formation of their world view. I trialled the session with our staff and have made some changes, ready for Mannar’s parents. 
Hendro Home Heralds a Major Transition

Work continues on a simple two bedroom accommodation unit on the Hendro property. Due to the current economic crisis and the hardship faced in any travel, Bridging Lanka has been compelled to reduce its geographic footprint. Three years of intense reconciliation work in Kandy District, centred on the conflict hotspot of Digana where intense communal violence against Muslim residents broke out, came to an end. First, the incessant Covid lockdowns and then the cost of travel proved prohibitive. 

Even travel within Mannar, a far flung district, had to be rationalised. As a result Bridging Lanka revised its focus areas. Our primary area is now situated 12 km from Mannar town amidst ten struggling villages. The three acre Hendro property in Catholic Olaithoduwai, the Donkey Clinic & Education Centre in Hindu Thailankudiyiruppu and the proposed Little Trees Nurtury preschool in Muslim Puthukkudiyiruppu, all about 300 metres from each other, form a trinity of interrelated endeavours at the centre of these ten villages on Mannar Island.

Secondary areas include Café Arokkiya and gym in Adampan, the Donkey Assisted Therapy centre in Murunkan and the Guesthouse, RO water filtration plant and gym in Kunchukulam. all on the mainland.
Keep Your Friends Close

…and government officials even closer! Organic fruit and vegetable cultivation has already commenced on the Hendro property. To keep the government informed of our activities, we invited staff from the Agriculture Department to visit the site and advise us on relevant matters. They provided helpful hints and also guided us in our plans to establish an aquaculture pond on the property. As the price of fish, a staple in Mannar, has shot up by 300% it will be important to explore alternative ways to breed and harvest this protein.
A Breath of Fresh Air by A.P.F. Rojan, Manager

The new Grama Sevaka (village head) to Santhipuram continues to play an active role in the redevelopment of the children’s park. Previously he worked with rural villagers to develop their community, and is employing the same tactics for the playground. To show the villagers that he was serious about the renovations, he wanted to move his office to the building located inside the park to closely monitor its use and ensure that the space was not used in untoward ways.

Next, he organised the community to carry out small projects to beautify the surrounding areas. The new project was welcomed with open arms, and the community even collected money to pay off the old water and electricity bills. The positive response from the village has been truly phenomenal. 
Adampan Gym Catch-up by Seenu Thanapala, Fitness Trainer

Although chaos abounds and an ordered life is at threat because of unpredictable politics, skyrocketing prices and lack of fuel, our gym continues to serve its purpose. This month we had six new admissions taking the total membership to 82 members. An average of seven gym enthusiasts exercise daily and their sessions last for one and a half hours.

Sometimes the number jumps to fifteen which more than fills the gym space. As it is expensive to travel to the gym every day, I come three times a week to instruct the members on correct workout techniques and to make personal connections with them. Currently we are in negotiations with a small group of women who want to join the gym.
Treacherous Dealings by Australian Sand Mining Company

Australian mining company, Titanium Sands Ltd (TSL), is taking advantage of the current economic, food, fuel and medicine crisis in Sri Lanka. Through their local partners, TSL is tricking locals into the future signing away of their land and livelihood for a mere Rs 5,000 (AU$ 20). With no proper ‘ informed consent' approach apart from, "We just want to take a small sample of sand from your property to test for water quality and we'll give you Rs 5,000 for it," desperately poor people are falling for the scam. 

It is alleged that the Ministry of the Environment has already given the go ahead for TSL to submit a mining licence for a proposed 50+ year project to mine the hell out of historical and environmentally fragile Mannar Island. Wide scale sea water intrusion will spell the death-knell of the Island, its people and their fishing and agricultural livelihoods.

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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