These two AidCamps were held in conjunction with our partner organisation SERVE in the community of Modera in Sri Lanka. SERVE works primarily in the areas of social work and education for the benefit of underprivileged and deprived urban and suburban children.
These two projects financed a resource centre providing a child friendly environment for the children of the shanty town community in Modera, giving them facilities for additional studies, to do their homework, use the library, and play indoor games such as chess and carrom.
The volunteers plastered, painted, decorated and generally finished the building. The first group, a private two-week AidCamp organised for a group from Toronto, Canada, completed part of the building, and the second group, a public AidCamp, completed the rest.
In addition to working on the building the volunteers were also taken to see SERVEís work for the poor in the area, as well as on several local and regional sightseeing trips.
The following report about the first AidCamp, in July, was written by John, one of the volunteers:
"Going to Sri Lanka. Going to help build a resource centre on the other side of the planet. Iím going to do this with 10 women, most of who I know, and an English dude named Cook? (My last name is Dinner, the humour was easy -- 'Dinner Cook breakfast' was going to be heard far too often!) And most of us are teachers! (Which would explain the lame humour) From Canada! (at least weíre good looking!) What are we doing? What am I doing? I havenít even boarded the plane yet, and this already seems surreal.
German philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote, 'Nothing we use or hear or touch can be expressed in words that equal what is given by the senses.' Never before has an experience in my life fitted a quote so well.
In trying to find the words to share with others about my experience in Sri Lanka this summer, I am simply left with the words, 'You just have to go.'
I cannot make the computer screen smell of the wonderful smells hanging in the air. Open air food markets, gardens, exhaust, heat -- all meshed together. I cannot make your mouth water as ours did at the sight of another rambutan being bought off the side of the road or another tasty roti being brought out of the kitchen.
I cannot convey the power of a childís smile when they know that what you are doing is for them. I cannot, no matter how many pictures I show or television programs I watch, explain the gut wrenching experience of seeing pristine white beaches end where destruction and devastation begin. How do you then describe meeting and speaking with the people who live this experience everyday? My words could never open your eyes or your hearts in the way ours were. What I can write is GO!
How can my words get you to understand that what was once searing, almost unbearable heat that had you sweating in places you didnít think produced sweat, was something easily forgotten while at the work site? It was forgotten because we knew we were part of something larger. It was forgotten because we knew we had to do our bit in the brief time we were there. We were part of a project that so many wanted, and the kids needed. The effect of a childís smile and the joy in their eyes despite all of their difficulties serves as a better air conditioner than any western technology.
I cannot express in words what it feels like to be accepted by a community where you are greeted by smiles from everyone, and I mean, everyone. A community that cares for its visitors as guests, and treats them like royalty. There is truly nothing I can write that will ever do this experience justice. What I can write is GO!
How else can you experience the kindness and friendships we felt and developed in our brief time in Sri Lanka. Beginning in our first days, we were introduced to the local staff of SERVE and their families, and we knew we were in for something special. The constant smiles and the willingness to ensure we were comfortable and enjoying ourselves set the stage for a wonderful 16 day experience. Elephants, train and bus rides, relaxing in a beautiful garden after a hot day of work with a Lion beer, walking, driving, honking, dancing, high fives, nods, bubbles -- it all added up to an experience of a lifetime. One that will not be forgotten by me or the people I shared this with. It was humbling. It was invigorating. It was fun. It was an experience.
Unfortunately my words cannot give you the goose bumps I got when I saw the ribbon cut during our opening ceremony, or put the smile on your face like I had when the kids lit up. Nor can they give you the tug at your heart we all felt as we pulled away from the work site (work site, seems like such an inappropriate word now) for the last time, or put the tear in your eye as waved goodbye to the amazing friends (family?) we had made. But hopefully what my words can do, is help you decide to go.
And while I struggle to find words to inspire others to do what we did and enjoy the experience we enjoyed, I am left back where I started, 'You just have to go.' And after you have gone, come back and read these words, maybe, just maybe, they will have more meaning for you, and then it will be your turn to try and tell the story of what it meant to you and what it was like to be a part of something so good."
"Thanks for the great experience!"
"Absolutely amazing! The smiles on the faces of the children and people in the community made it all worthwhile!"
"A wonderful experience. I feel privileged to have been a part of this project"
"An unbelievable experience. I've never truly realised how simple acts of kindness can bring such joy and pleasure to children. I wish that everyone at home could look through my eyes to see what we are experiencing. This has been a life changing experienc"
"To be part of something that provided such a variety of wonderful emotions - laughter, tears, smiles and friendships is something I will keep with me forever! Thank you"
"Language is more than just words. It is silent (deaf children), it is confusing (hand gestures), but most of all it is powerful."
"AidCamps is a life changing experience! From the moment we met the children, my face ached from smiling so much - and the memories will remain in my heart for a lifetime!"
"I am forever changed by this experience that you have provided for me. I could not stop smiling, laughing and at times crying with amazement and joy. The children are outstanding and I recommend everyone partakes in this journey."
"I had an emotional and moving experience in Sri Lanka. Clearly we changed the children's lives and our own!"
"This was a truly unique experience that I will never forget! Thank you AidCamps."
"There is nothing better than helping children. AidCamps allowed us to do that with compassion."
"Seeing the smiles on the children's faces and being told by one that with the resource centre he finally had somewhere to play and learn outside of school, topped an amazing experience with a fantastic team of volunteers"
The following report about the second of the two AidCamps, in August, was written by Barney, one of the volunteers on that project:
"How does one put into words the impact of our Sri Lankan experience? Since returning home to the 'day job', memories, so many of them, so vivid and clear, keep flooding back. Here is just a flavour.
I set off from Dublin, Ireland, with a bulging rucksack and spent the flight to Gatwick examining the mug shots of the other volunteers. I wondered would I recognise the three other volunteers who would be on the same flight to Abu Dhabi. During our four-hour stopover in Abu Dhabi, we spent time getting to know each other before the next leg of the journey.
On our first night out together in Sri Lanka, I got 'attacked' by mosquitoes. One witty volunteer kindly told me that I looked like someone from a Star Trek movie! We quickly settled into our new home and visited the centre for the first time. It was fun getting into the physical aspect of the work over the first two weeks. We had to 'master' the art/rhythm of mixing concrete, plastering, painting, sifting sand, etc. Most volunteers had an expression of either satisfaction or delight (and even puzzlement at first!) at their achievements.
At 10am every day, the sound of Johnís voice shouting 'Come, Come!' would bring us all to a sudden stop for a drink of hot, sweet tea with '1 or 2, 3 or 4, 5 or 6Ö..9 or 10 biscuits'. It was a welcome break. Oh, and there was also a smokersí corner, but I wonít spill any secrets thereÖ!
Traffic on the roads in Sri Lanka is chaotic, but surprisingly, there was never an angry reaction from drivers who seem to have and accept their own 'hooting' system. On our journeys to work, one observed school children and people going to work in the morning, all immaculately dressed. Even though there was abject material poverty locally, the people were extremely happy, gentle and genuine and took pleasure in simple things. They would always acknowledge a stranger passing on the street. They particularly enjoyed having their photos taken with a digital camera and laughed on seeing their faces on the screen afterwards.
Sharing a home and life with other volunteers was really enjoyable. It brought back memories of growing up as part of a big family. Washing up, playing 'spoons' (a hilariously funny, destructive card game), taking a shower 'al fresco', getting squashed in the minibus, being bitten by mosquitoes, taking malaria tablets, guzzling water -- these things all quickly became a way of life.
We were extremely fortunate during our visit to experience some of the culture. We climbed Sigiriya and what a phenomenon that was! We also sampled some fantastic food and, during one memorable meal, I managed twenty-five different foods! The visits to other AidCamp centres were very special, particularly meeting all the serenely happy, smiling children.
Towards the end of our stay, the volunteers meticulously planned and worked on some murals, paying great attention to detail. It was a distinct change of tempo and very cathartic. The finishing touch to the entire project was the formation of a garden. It led us finally on to an extremely touching, tear-jerking closing ceremony. There was an air of happiness, fulfilment and sheer delight that this exceptional group of people had taken part in something very worthwhile. The memory of it will stay with me forever.
Would I consider the Sri Lankan AidCamp experience again? Definitely! Would I recommend it to my friends? I already have!"
"It was a pleasure and an honor to work along side the local people - I hope we didn't get in their way too much!"
"Very rewarding and a real eye opener"
"A fantastic experience and the children were great!"
"It was a fantastic experience seeing a country through local's eyes rather than that of a tourist, it is an amazing insight into the culture."
"I found the project work incredibly satisfying. Such a joy seeing the children's faces on completion of the centre and wonderful to leave something concrete and vital behind. A unique and fantastic opportunity - go for it!"
"A great experience, wonderful country, amazing people."
"A challenging, life enriching experience. What I have seen and experienced has affected my life on many different levels"
"It was a very fulfilling experience. An AidCamp is the best way to discover a country through it's local community"
"It was a great and very rewarding experience. It's so nice to see the smile on the children's faces."
"It was an experience I will never forget and I have taken away with me some very close friends and rich memories."
"Life is full of new experiences - this AidCamp was something really really special and will be cherished forever."