Mike in Sri Lanka

It rained last night – when I say it rained it rained like you think it is never going to stop. January and February should have been the rainy season, but it didn’t, – rain that is. I was showing someone in my English Conversation class a picture I’d taken that day of the Hindu god Shiva, when there was a clap of thunder and the heavens opened like a tap had been turned on. I have never seen rain like it; certainly, we get some heavy thunderstorms in the UK but they are usually over in a couple of minutes. This lasted several hours, banging and crashing like an angry deity having a major strop, eventually turning into a low rumble which lasted all night, finally dying out just as I set out for the project office at 6.15 the next morning.  

Mutur was an island when the Tsunami hit on 26th December 2004. It was also on the periphery of the civil war between the Sri Lankan military and the separatist Tamil Tigers. This conflict only ended in 2009 with an almighty and bloody thrust into the Jaffna Peninsula, heart of the Tamil Tiger’s resistance movement.

Since then the island has been joined to the mainland by several modern bridges which make the journey into Trincomalee – or Trinco as locals call it – one of just over an hour, rather than the previous one of eight hours by boat. Quicker and more comfortable, even in the 40-year-old Leyland buses which roar up and down the Sri Lankan roads, packed to the rafters and playing Bollywood over a personalised sound system. Meanwhile, the lights around the mini-altars over the front windscreen flash over Lord Buddha or Shiva, Ganesh and Hanuman, depending on the bus crew’s religious proclivity.

For 60 Rupees – about 30 pence – you can travel into Trinco on what I can promise you is the ultimate white-knuckle ride. Only yesterday we slammed to a halt two miles outside Mutur as a herd of water buffalo decided to charge across the road. I’ve seen families of monkeys, herds of elephants and the birdlife is an ornithologist’s dream; but I’m here for two months to teach English at 3CD.  Standing for Coordinating Centre for Community Development Mutur, 3CD is a self-help group set up in the wake of the natural and man-made disasters which have affected this the poorest part of Sri Lanka.

My first week was spent working alongside two existing volunteers, Anna and Judit from Andorra. They have now just left for Thailand after working here for a month through SCI Catalonia. We worked in local schools and I had fun teaching basic English to 11 to 16 year olds, all of whom enjoyed it as a break from their routine and a chance to practice what is officially one of the languages of Sri Lanka, along with Sinhalese and Tamil.

I also have some evening classes, and now that three volunteers will soon be arriving from Denmark I shall be concentrating on the adult classes. Most Sri Lankans speak English with varying degrees of expertise; many just need the confidence to practice their conversation skills with a group of their peers, mentored by either a native English speaker or someone with excellent second language skills.

Accommodation at the Mutur Peace Centre is basic, very basic. Yet still, you are probably better off – or at least not worse off – than those living in the Tsunami survivor’s village in which it sits.

This dirt road, tin-roofed town – suburb of the real town – replaces the buildings destroyed by the tsunami. But, people are resilient; as well as the Mutur Peace Centre there is an orphanage, schools are full and people nod and wave cheerfully as you pass. Resilience is evident in the attitude of the school children and the adults, I have just taught one young man who invented a low-cost projector for community groups and is going on to study mechanical engineering at Jaffna University College in May. He wants to work for Microsoft. He probably will.

It’s not all hard work – I attended a Hindu festival in the old fort at Trinco, some of our adult pupils took us for a picnic to Foul Point lighthouse. Nothing foul about it, but it is a rocky cost where many sailing ships came to grief or fouled on the reefs.

If you look carefully, at the image above, you can see the shell and bullet marks from 2006 where the Sri Lankan navy returned fire on a Tamil Tiger detachment based in the lighthouse. The beach has only just been reopened to civilians and it is now a beautiful and peaceful part of this island. The next day I went swimming at Marble Beach, the clear warm water was incredible, and made better by the news of snow and storms in the UK.

Must go now, I’m meeting Nawahir at the Muslim Aid office in Mutur, so we can arrange some English classes at the local mosque.

Story written by Mike Crawshaw, IVS GB Chairman, who is currently away on a workcamp in Sri Lanka, for three months, where he is teaching English. Original article published on IVS GB web site.

Want to have your own workcamp experience? There are plenty of long term voluntary projects you can still join, just check our database!

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