Archive for the 'Sri Lanka Projects' Category

Back from Sri Lanka – April 21, 2010

Jon Ross on Apr 24th 2010

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4-21-10

I am happy to report that I am back from Sri Lanka having completed all the post-disaster recovery projects we set out to do.

As you know, MicroAid built one house from the ground up for the Soodin family, completed two others for the Nagakannis and the Thayas, and funded the scholarships for the two tsunami orphans, Piumi and Anukala.


the wonderful Soodin family
the wonderful Soodin family


Here is a 2 minute slide show recapping the work in Sri Lanka.  It’s also a great way to show your friends and family what we, as a small group, can accomplish when we pool our resources.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ht_h41U0zTw

You can also see a concise list of these success stories in the “Completed Projects” section.

So once again, thank you for your support and good wishes over the last two and a half months while I was working in Sri Lanka–it was quite an adventure and it was great to hear from so many people.

If you can afford it, please make a donation to MicroAid so we can continue to help people in post-disaster circumstances. (See “What We’re Working On Now”)  We are already putting together a Haiti recovery fund.

http://microaidinternational.org/donate.php

Thank you.

Sincerely.

Jon

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Sri Lanka – April 8th, 2010

Jon Ross on Apr 9th 2010

4-8-2010

Can’t remember when it started, but the Soodin kids now call me “Jon-uncle.” So sweet, really, as long as they don’t start calling me, “Jon-uncle Buck.”

you know you've been accepted when they start ignoring your constant presence

you know you’ve been accepted when they start ignoring your constant presence

Laid Up In The Lank

Just got over being really sick. Four days in bed with chills, fever, aches, pains, sore throat, cough, you name it. Ten days later and I am not completely well—I was weak and out of shape to begin with, but this episode sapped the last of my strength. At first I thought it was malaria, but it was not. I must say, that being really ill far from home with no reliable medical help nearby is not all that calming; I was pretty scared, but handled it with as much vipassana/equanimity as I could muster. There were a couple of moments of amusement, though. When a doctor did come to my room and was listening to my chest with her stethoscope, she asked if I had been spending time with the “village people,” because I might have “jungle fever.” I had to laugh as I explained that I don’t know Spike Lee, but I saw Alan Carr in Cherry Grove once. I gave her my best rendition of “Y.M.C.A” to prove it. That might have been the cure, actually, because my fever broke the next day.

wondering if the house or i will be done first

wondering if the house or i will be done first

Existential Angst

Waiting for the windows and doors for the Soodin house is taking it’s toll, too—I am not good at just sitting around, no matter how many hours a day I can meditate. Hambantota is a much smaller town than Batticaloa, hence there are no saw mills that fabricate doors and windows on demand. Our carpenters are making them all by hand. Also, we are far away from the forests where the wood comes from, AND there is no railroad servicing this area, therefore, the cost is much higher, too.

teak and mahogany are the "cheap" woods here

teak and mahogany are the “cheap” woods here

like anywhere, sometimes you got to grease the wheels to get things done

like anywhere, sometimes you got to grease the wheels to get things done

BUT they are almost done and installed. I might not be here for the final photograph, but Roy will forward the “ribbon cutting” image, as it were.

soodin-front-w-frames-cu

remember the old house?

remember the old house and kitchen?

02-soodin-house-kitchen

ready for the Viking stove and the Sub Zero fridge.  is that a pizza oven?

new kitchen ready for the Viking stove and the Sub Zero fridge. is that a pizza oven?

I feel pretty good about all that we accomplished in this trip: one house built from the ground up, two others completed, and two tsunami orphans sponsored. The schedules and budgets, as well as we could have projected, worked out almost perfectly. I have to say, though, that sometimes it felt like it was only by the force of my will that things happened—physically and metaphysically. So I guess anything is possible.

ATM Madness

Is it me, or do you think it’s strange to be able to go to a cash machine and, over the course of a few days, withdraw enough money to build a house? I don’t think this would get you very far back home—you might reach the daily limit be the time you bought a few items at Home Depot—but maybe I just haven’t checked the “quick cash” options in a while: $100 … $200 … $600,000?

Fun Facts About The Lank

Here are some things about Sri Lanka that I have not reported, because they are so familiar to me, but I realize they might be news to you:

They eat with their hands here … or more specifically, their right hand. They say it’s the only way to properly mix and enjoy all the flavors of the different curries. I don’t really buy it; it just seems like a good way to legitimize playing with your food. I’m into it, though, and never ask for a fork or spoon. I think I’ll try it at Spago when I return.

soodin-feast_1

By the way, the left hand is used for “unmentionables.” I don’t know what unmentionables they do with their left hand, I use my right for everything. They’d be horrified if they knew! Speaking of which, they don’t use toilet paper either—hence the unmentionables—just a water spritzer and the aforementioned left hand. There is a lot of hand washing here, though, which is nice.

try to guess which one's the shower

try to guess which one’s the shower

OK, don’t get me started: they haven’t invented shower curtains, either. The showerheads in the bathrooms just stick out of the walls in random places, thus the entire bathroom gets sprayed. One way or another the bathroom floor is constantly wet in some places. I don’t know about you, but I like a dry floor in the bathroom, especially if I am barefoot—which is always, indoors. Also, I haven’t been in a place with a hot-water shower since I arrived; and believe it or not, even in the tropics, a warm shower is often quite welcome. Anyway…

They drive on the left side here—that is when they’re not driving down the middle of the road or swerving into oncoming traffic.

this truck must be broken, because normally the only time you see it is when it's bearing down on you at 80 miles per hour honking its horn

this truck must be broken, because normally the only time you see it is when it’s bearing down on you at 80 miles per hour honking its horn

not that they need it, but some people super charge their tuk-tuk

not that they need it, but some people super charge their tuk-tuk

And they added a half hour to their time zone so they wouldn’t be like India; therefore Sri Lanka is 12.5 hours ahead of California—just for the record.

We’re All The Same

At first, things in a foreign land seem unusual, strange, or scary, but when you think about it, we’re all human and share the same planet, so the variations are only that: slight differences, really. Most cultures have some sort of fried dough with sugar on it: doughnuts, beignets, or churros; here they have rotty. Clothes are basically the same and serve a particular function–shirts, skirts, pants, hats, and sandals.

"rotty" is the general term for all snacks

“rotty” is the general term for all snacks

rotty-shop-cu

And even the animals: Here they have cobras, in the U.S we have rattlesnakes; here they have monitor lizards, in the U.S. we have alligators; here they have blood-sucking leeches, in the U.S. we have blood-sucking tics; here they have elephants… well, we don’t have elephants, that’s true, but you know what I mean.

Regards from Ceylon,

Jon

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Sri Lanka – March 22, 2010

Jon Ross on Mar 23rd 2010

It’s funny how once you fix one thing in your house it can spur a host of other home-improvement projects. When we started to install the doors and windows in the Nagakanni home—the second project in Batticaloa—the family tidied up the inside of the house; mended and straightened the fence surrounding the property, and used one of the old corrugated metal doors as a new gate; cleaned the rubble from the yard; and put potted plants around the perimeter. Pride of home ownership, I guess.

Nagakanni house incomplete since 2005

Nagakanni house incomplete since 2005

MicroAid had to work with expensive arched openings

MicroAid had to work with expensive arched openings

nagakanni-door-going-in

nagakanni-front-complete-a

At both project sites it was nice to see neighbors stopping by to see the work, but also just to hang out in a complete, sunny household.

securing your home often means no light or air

securing your home often means no light or air

nagakanni-int-corner

here's the MicroAid solution

here's the MicroAid solution

nagakanni-int-corner-complete-a

One note about the fence-mending at the Nagakanni’s: he was using barbed wire purloined from the big empty lot next door leading to the beach. He made it clear that during the war, before and after the tsunami, the area was a fortified military zone. Batticaloa was the Tamil Tiger base and gateway to rebel-held territory to the north. “New York Times” articles saying how beautiful the beaches are out here on the east coast and “National Geographic” ranking Sri Lanka as the second most desirable travel destination in the world not withstanding, some people may avoid visiting an area where the paths leading to those spectacular beaches are lined with barbed wire and there are signs warning of the danger of being blown up by land mines if you stray off them. Another thing that just might deter the average tourist from visiting right at this moment is the fact that the government just imprisoned a presidential candidate—because he ran against to the incumbent—and is now charging him with treason, and may eventually put him to death. Not that there is a sense of danger in general, but there is an inkling of instability and portent under the surface.

that may look like a doughnut, but it is dahl and dough and hot peppers.  will ignite a blaze in your mouth.  add some of that sauce and call it a three alarm blaze

that may look like an innocent doughnut, but it' an incendiary bomb made from dal and dough and hot peppers. it will ignite a fire in your mouth. dip it in that sauce and it becomes a three-alarm blaze

I’m back in Hambantota now, where we are fabricating the windows and doors for the Soodin house. On the drive back through the jungle the other evening—which for some reason took twice as long as the drive in the opposite direction—we saw so many elephants grazing by the side of the road, I had to tell the driver to stop pulling over to position the headlights to illuminate them. At some point, I was so tired of being in the car that I just wanted to get back to my room in Hambantota, and no number of baby elephants chewing on leaves, or tusked bulls shredding branches from trees twenty feet from the vehicle, could divert my attention.

before i left we put on the roof timbers, which had to be done on a specific time and day

before i left we put on the roof timbers, which had to be done on a specific day and time

first-roof-timber-tie-down

weather proof now

weather proof

Now that I am back in this town, I realize I haven’t seen another westerner since I left Colombo seven weeks ago—anywhere. A couple of Japanese tourists, the odd Chinese worker from the ports project nearby, but that’s it. No wonder I’m such an oddity to the locals—they don’t see many of us. And certainly not walking around in the heat, up and down the alleys, wearing a broad brimmed hat—always with a smile and a “Hello,” “I am fine,” “I’m from the US.A.” and “This way” in response to people staring at me and saying, “Hello,” “How ah you?” “Whar you from?” and “Whar you going?” You know people are taking a special interest when, the other day, I was walking along the main drag and some guy come out of the shadow of his shop and says, “You shave.” Dude’s been monitoring the length of my stubble!

this is a "chinese" restaurant.  when i asked what they serve, they said, "rice and curry."

this is a "chinese" restaurant. when i asked what they serve, they said, "rice and curry"

with a dozen vendors at the banana market, you'd think you get a price break because of the competition.  no such luck, i think it's some sort of price fixing scheme!

with a dozen vendors at the banana market, you'd think you'd get a price break because of the competition. no such luck, i think it's some sort of price fixing scheme! 60 rupees per kilo is still not bad

banana-market-hambantota-2

The last MicroAid project here: The other day I had a meeting at the Women’s Development Federation to fund the scholarships for the two tsunami orphans.  It was really heartfelt as the girls’ guardians brought them to express gratitude and sign the forms, and everyone applauded as I handed them their passbooks.  This fantastic program sets up a bank account for the girls on which their guardians can draw—for specific educational needs only—and it is closely monitored. You can get details in the new “Completed Projects & Update” section by clicking on that tab in the banner above. In the future, we will have a hot-button from the main MicroAid website to access this area.

anukala is a great dancer and wants to be a teacher

anukala is a great dancer and wants to be a teacher

So we are nearly there, almost all MicroAid project accomplished: two house completions in Batti, two tsunami orphans education funded, and a new house for the Soodins. That should just about do it for this trip, and our budget.  But it’s not over yet—I had to extend for two more weeks ‘til April 12—to oversee the house construction—so stay tuned.

Regards from Sri Lanka,

Jon

Filed in Sri Lanka Projects | Comments Off on Sri Lanka – March 22, 2010

Sri Lanka – March 10, 2010

Jon Ross on Mar 12th 2010

A quick note about traveling: the more you do it, the less different the world seems–slight variations in clothing, architecture, food–and the more similarities become obvious: most people just trying to make a living, feed their families, and get along.

the richest people you meet are often the poorest - soodin family

the richest people you meet are often the poorest - soodin family

In Batticaloa now, the Tamil town on the east coast, which was the LTTE rebel stronghold for many years. The people’s suffering here was compounded by the war before and after the tsunami. On the 6-hour journey from Hambantota, along snaking jungle roads, every few kilometers, abandoned, but some manned, sandbagged bunkers lined the road. I asked my driver if there had been a lot of fighting here during the civil war and he said, “Not fighting, just killing.” The LTTE was famous for having initiated the strategy of suicide bombing twenty years ago. Often, the rebels would force local men and boys into “military” service; if they were captured, the government would, in turn, imprison them. (Part of that fun included being tortured as traitors.) There are horror stories on both sides, and the political situation is hardly clear.

from a distance we're all the same - batticaloa, sri lanka

from a distance we're all the same - batticaloa, sri lanka

On the drive, though, the scenery was lush and tropical. I had asked that the driver to mention anything of interest, so he would occasionally point to the wall of greenery whizzing by and say things like, “tamarind” or “teak.” I guess he could tell the different plants and trees among the dense foliage, but pardon the pun, “it was all ‘teak’ to me.”

the tsunami washed away houses and left clean white sand

Here in Batti, MicroAid is providing windows and doors to two tsunami families who, after their homes were washed away, were just handed money to rebuild. Well, needless to say, most of these simple people did not know how to budget for construction and were targeted by unscrupulous “contractors,” so most were left with half-completed and inadequate homes. The international agencies that gave them the cash (and you would recognize the big names) never did any follow-up to see how the money was spent, or if the people were OK. Until I showed up last year, no one had checked in on them.

just handed money by big aid orgs - most of the simple people never were able to complete their homes

just handed money by big aid orgs - most of the simple people never were able to complete their homes - mrs nagakanni

Mrs. Thaya has three sons and tries to make ends meet by running a “boutique.” When I asked where it was, she pointed to the hut in the corner of the compound. I had missed it when I arrived. Even though the style is not Rodeo Dr. or Madison Ave. (actually, just watch some trendy designer use this as a model) the place does a brisk business with locals stopping by to pick up odd and ends. Mrs. Thaya also supports her husband who was disabled in an accident when he was working at a bakery. He lost an eye and was dismissed because he could no longer do his job. There is no workman’s comp here.

that's mrs. thaya's "boutique" in the corner of the compound

that's mrs. thaya's "boutique" in the corner of the compound

does that look like a back door to you?

does that back door look secure to you?

The other family has a similar story, with a twist. Mrs. Nagakanni’s husband, a fisherman, had been abducted by the LTTE and then imprisoned for seven years. He was away when the tsunami struck and destroyed their home. They have a son and four daughters. Their uncompleted house was designed with expensive, fancy arched openings for the front doors and window—a ridiculous design element given the circumstances and budget. There are no standard sizes here; each opening is a different dimension. Consequently, every frame, window, and door has to be custom made by a mill, then installed by a mason, then finished by another carpenter (in addition to grillwork done by a welder), making this the most expensive part of the house.

mrs. nagakanni & kids

mrs. nagakanni & kids

Both families are helping by providing their own labor, and meals for the workers. MicroAid will provide them with the dignity of a house with some security, privacy, light and ventilation. They will then have a home and not a dark depressing cave!

thaya house - this is the way its been since 2005

thaya house - this is the way its been since 2005

frames are custom made and set by a mason

frames are custom made and set by a mason

windows are custom made and installed by a carpenter

windows are custom made and installed by a carpenter

doors are hand carved

doors are hand carved

now that's curb appeal!

now that's curb appeal!

As it becomes known what we—my guide/interpreter/man-Friday/moral support, Pathmanandan, and I—are doing, many people are approaching us and asking us to help them. Some are tsunami victims, some are victims of the fighting, others are just poor. As Path said to me about our work, and the MicroAid mission, “We cannot wipe every tear from every eye but at least we can wipe some tears off some eyes!”

"do they think i'm made of money?"  "yes, you're an american."

"do they think i'm made of money?" "yes, you're an american."

As for me, I was sad to leave the Soodin family in Hambantota, but I will return in two weeks to help finish the house. I really grew fond of them, and they of me—a classic case where some stranger shows up out of the blue to help with something, everyone is apprehensive, but then the kids and adults start to become real personalities and bonds develop. Anyway, I will always have a special place in my heart for the first MicroAid project and the wonderful, deserving, and grateful people we were able to help.

soodin house - ready for the roof

soodin house - ready for the roof

Batticaloa is much grittier (the jungle actually gets very dry and dusty in between the monsoon seasons) and feels more edgy.

not all jungles are wet - urban jungle of batticaloa

not all jungles are wet - urban jungle of batticaloa

Luckily, I got a room at the only decent guesthouse in town, the Green Garden, which also happens to be a fifteen-minute walk to the work sites, and is my oasis at the end of the day. Also, the good news is there aren’t swarms of ants crawling over everything; the bad news is that Batti’s pest of choice is malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

More later from Ceylon…

Jon

PS:

Approved by the Board

the most serious co-op board

luxury living

You think New York City co-op boards are tough? We’ll they’re nothing compared to this snake-pit in Kallady, Sri Lanka—that’s because the tenants really are snakes! After the termites moved out of their mound, the cobras moved in. Now, to appease them, the neighborhood people place food and flowers on and around the building. Try that with the gang at 740 Park or 820 Fifth and see if it works!

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Sri Lanka – March 1, 2010

Jon Ross on Mar 1st 2010

24 Hours in a Day

In so many ways I am getting used to being here. I don’t feel bedraggled all the time, and a breeze in the shade, even at 90 degrees, feels a little cool. Not understanding what anyone is saying seems normal—maybe that’s because it’s true in America, too. I forgot that it is actually a relief not having to make small talk. Walking down a dark lane that initially felt exotic and scary is now my daily route to and from the work site. Ah, familiarity.

bucolic by day, boo land by night - bungalow road

bucolic by day, boo-colic by night - bungalow road

Construction days unfold as they do back home: we start at eight, at mid-morning the women bring out strong black tea with lots of sugar and ginger for all the men workers. Everyone else gets a small glass; as the honored guest, I get an actual teacup and saucer, albeit with “Finding Nemo” characters on the outside and at the bottom of the cup. When there is a big “concrete pour,” everyone pitches in, like an Amish barn raising. Kids, relatives, and friends show up to form a bucket brigade passing along concrete, which is mixed directly on the ground with a shovel, and ultimately handed to the mason. I wish I had a photo of the kids stoically struggling with the heavy buckets, but I was in the concrete conga line myself. No one is spared when there is cement setting up!

back breaking work - mixing concrete by hand

back breaking work - mixing concrete by hand

center wall going up - osha anyone?

center wall going up - osha anyone?

every single brick in this house was place by Kodi

every single brick in this house was place by Kodi

starting to look like something

starting to look like something

At around noon, young coconuts are felled by the boys and hacked open for thirst quenching and re-energizing. Lunch is usually called at about 1:30pm. I walk to the local restaurant, where I eat rice, spicy dhal, and spicy vegetables, while the family has their “rice & curry.” Back to work at around 3, some more tea at 4 or 5, and quitting time around 6:30pm. A long hot day of mixing concrete, hoisting bricks, etc, and it’s all I can do to get back to my room, take a shower, and read a bit before falling asleep. When I can, I motivate to cross the road to the “fancy” hotel and try my luck getting on their coconut-wireless internet.

peacock hotel "computer center" - my laptop makes it two

peacock hotel "computer center" - my laptop makes it two

Other than walking to and from the site, and the physicality of the work, I am not getting any real exercise, and I am definitely missing it, not sleeping that well, and feeling out of shape—but otherwise healthy. On the occasional day off, I have gone to the beach, early in the morning before the heat, and tried to jog a bit in the steeply sloping soft sand. There is usually a swell dumping head high waves directly onto the beach. Even though it is un-surfable, just being near the ocean’s energy is revitalizing. Sometimes I dive in and take a few strokes past the shore-break before I realize I’m swimming around alone in the powerful Indian Ocean and head back to terra firma.

the fisherman go out before dawn and come back just after sunrise

the fisherman go out before dawn and come back just after sunrise

Since the work days have become somewhat routine, existential questions arise: what else could I be doing with 24 hours. Then I get to the worksite and feel the gratitude of the family and the gusto with which they are helping build themselves a real house, and I have my answer: nothing. For a relatively small sum to us, and a short period of time, we are helping a family realize a dream—something I can only participate in back home, and not even achieve myself. This—MicroAid—is the real deal. Sri Lankans are not generally demonstrative people, but Mrs. Soodin has often, in private moments, cried while thanking me for what I’m doing. And all the relatives, who have come to meet me and see the house going up, have expressed various versions of “this is a miracle.” I have told them about all the people who contributed to make it happen and said it is a gift from our family to theirs. As a humanitarian project, the measure of this one will not be in how we helped “build capacity” or “affected productivity,” it will be in how many nights this family lives under a real roof, surrounded by solid walls, with a modicum of privacy, rather than living in a cramped, corrugated-tin shanty!

ready for roof timbers

ready for roof timbers

the girls and boys will have separate bedrooms

the girls and boys will have separate bedrooms

As this build is going so well, and I am confident in Roy to keep the work moving forward, I am off to Batticaloa, on the east coast, in a few days to initiate the projects there. This was definitely an ambitious workload given the schedule and the distances between sites. Good lessons for future MicroAid projects.

From Serendib,

Jon

the crowded sunday market is where everyone was killed in 2004

the crowded sunday market is where everyone was killed in 2004

Bonus tracks:

WTB? (“what the beep?”)

One thing you have to get used to here, especially if you do a lot of walking like I do, is that everyone honks their horn—which of course adds to the general cacophony, especially in Colombo. There are short honks and long, multiples and singles, but every one, and every combination, has a meaning. “Move over,” “speed up,” “slow down,” “passing,” “I see you,” “turning,” “coming through,” and “my wave” are all communicated with a toot on the blower. As one must learn, coming from our culture where the horn is seldom used, a beep from a passing car, three-wheel tuk-tuk, bus, or truck, as it’s bearing down on you or passing right beside you, requires no acknowledgement, and does not mean “howdy,” “check us out,” or “hubba hubba.” Actually, since 70% of Sri Lankan’s are Buddhists, the honking means, “Because of my faith, I am responsible for you, so now that I have beeped my horn I have fulfilled my obligation… Now get out of the way!”

tuk-tuks: half motorcycle, half pinball machine

tuk-tuks: half motorcycle, half pinball machine

Noisy Neighbors

What do you call a gang of monkeys? A gaggle, a pride, a herd, a barrel-full? Whatever it is there is a family of black-faced simians partying every night on the roof of my bungalow. I don’t know what they’re doing up there: practicing their floor routine for the gymnastic event, shooting craps, or just having a “disco Saturday night” every night, but something’s got to give—probably me. The other day the bunch of them slipped through the bars on the kitchen window over at the Progressive Youth Foundation (a local NGO) and ate all the fruits and vegetables. Of course, they didn’t stick around for clean-up, leaving banana peels and other detritus strewn about the counters and floor. Monkeys here are like squirrels elsewhere—they’re all over, and constantly scavenging. Only these squirrels have opposable thumbs and brains. That’s a potent combination in a squirrel! Sometimes they’ll just swoop down out of the trees and grab your backpack or cell phone just to taunt you. Luckily they have not learned the international area codes… yet.

anti-theft system

anti-theft system

Blood in the Streets

When I first got to Hambantota I was walking along the road and saw a small pool of blood and drops leading into the bushes. I thought, Poor little animal got hit by a careening tuk-tuk and limped off to die. A bit further along, I saw the same thing. Wow, I thought, so many hurt animals. Of course, the “blood” was just so much betel juice spit out by the myriad chewers. The mild narcotic/stimulant-chew is a ritual as much as an addiction—cheaper than cigarettes, but like rolling your own. Years of chewing stains the mouth a bright crimson, ruining teeth and gums, and often running down the chin—but at least it doesn’t cause lung cancer! Anyway, there’s reason to be sad for the animals, but at least they’re not actually being hit by cars.

the poor bunnies

the poor bunnies

the real monkey on your back

the real monkey on your back

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Sri Lanka February 18, 2010

Jon Ross on Feb 18th 2010

A Village in the Jungle

After a few days in hot, smoggy, congested Colombo, the capital city on the edge of the Indian Ocean, I headed south to the first MicroAid project site in Hambantota. (A quick aside: as I write this, in my small bungalow, with it’s lazily twirling ceiling fan, and rippling mosquito net, the smell of cooking fires in the air and the wall of the thick tropical jungle just outside, dozens of tiny ants—my friends, for lack of choice—are meandering on, and in, my keyboard. Apparently they are attracted to the electricity, but I also hope they might be cleaning out all the crumbs of past snacks I have consumed while writing over the years. I am trying not to kill too many of them as I write this blog.)

home office in hambantota

home office in hambantota

A series of productive meetings with helpful contacts and local NGOs in Colombo set up a network for the projects that were to come.

y-gro-jon-chandran

Jon and Y-GRO (local NGO) Chairman, Chandran Williams

On the drive south along the coast, reminders of the tsunami were everywhere, debris and destroyed houses, fishing and tropical tourist towns that have not recovered, but also new construction and successful recovery efforts. It reminds me that there will be a lot of work for MicroAid in Haiti, down the road, when the world’s attention has moved on.

king coconut seller mirissa

drive-through in mirissa

Here in Hambantota, a town which was as hard hit as anywhere—fifty thousand were killed, with hundreds of thousands displaced, and thousands of orphans created—last year on the fact-finding mission, I had met a family who was still in need of a house after theirs was destroyed by the wave. They were very poor to begin with.

Soodin house since the tsunami - 2008

Soodin house since the tsunami - 2009

Soodin house kitchen

Soodin house kitchen

soodin house girls' bedroom

soodin house girls' bedroom

Over the years, many an INGO had promised to help, but never came through. The man, M.R. Soodin, is an industrious brick maker, but is living hand-to-mouth as he supports his wife, three sons, and three daughters. All the kids are going to school, except for one of the sons who works at the salt “factory.” Salt is the biggest industry here, after fishing, and the salt-works makes salt by the age-old method: flooding huge pools with seawater and letting it evaporate. This set-up reveals the flat and low-lying nature of the area and explains why the tsunami so easily swept across the region and penetrated so far inland.

At the budget meeting with the head mason, the interpreter, and Mr. Soodin, and his family, they were surprised when I questioned many of the costs of the individual items–for things such as bricks. The quote: 8.5 rupees per brick. I had done research on construction material costs in the area and knew they were 5 rupees each.

soodin house budget meeting

soodin house budget meeting

And so it went, line by line: truck full of sand, steel rebar, truck load of gravel, bag of cement, 4” roof beams, a kilo of nails, etc. Every item to be procured at the lowest cost. During our meeting, a tropical deluge moved in quickly from the east.

storm a comin

storm a comin

Everyone pitched in to help cover the bricks that were waiting for the kiln—valuable inventory that took all precedence. Finally, an approved budget, and construction begins…

06-soodin-house-mason

head mason, Kodi

Roy, Soodin nephew/interpreter/worker

Roy, Soodin nephew/interpreter/worker

walls up

walls up. old house behind

clearing snack wrappers

clearing soft drink containers for recycling

now the hard part-scaffolding for the roof construction

now the hard part: scaffolding for the roof construction--stick and coir rope

jon and kodi consulting

jon and kodi consulting

still trying to direct

still trying to direct

jon and kodi

jon and kodi

sand delivery for concrete

sand delivery for concrete

concrete forms for roof support

concrete forms for roof support

Kodi, master mason extraordinaire -setting forms, setting sun

Kodi, master mason extraordinaire -setting forms, setting sun

A quick note about the wildlife in the area—Hambantota abuts one of the major Sri Lankan game parks and there doesn’t really seem to be an official boundary between them—at least not for the animals. (Think “Beverly Hills ‘adjacent.”’) I was invited to a special performance of a children’s singing group the other evening by another NGO that runs after-school programs. I usually try to walk everywhere I go, so when I told my hosts I would arrive on foot, that perplexed them, but they were polite and did not mention anything except that I should find a ride home from the event, which was in a hall in a remote marshy area, because at night the elephants might come onto the road and trample me. Yo, taxi! Another quick fun one: In other places you might turn on the light in the bathroom before you enter to check for cockroaches, or spiders, or geckos; here that is all true, but add to that list, cobras! You never know when one of these cute critters might have slithered in and taken up residence behind the toilet.

With such mundane day-to-day concerns, it’s hard to remember that there is also a huge political controversy surrounding the recent presidential election—the losing candidate has been imprisoned for “traitorous acts”: running in opposition to the incumbent. There is much discussion and debate in Hambantota, and more physical and violent response in other places. Here, we will continue to do our work…

Besides the house construction, MicroAid will be supporting the education of two tsunami orphans, for two years of primary school—otherwise it would have been a major struggle for them to attend. We will supply workbooks, transportation, lunch, additional tutoring, some doctoring (if needed), and shoes.

Piumi Indiwinna - 8 year old - 3rd grade

Piumi Indiwinna - 8 year old - 3rd grade

Gi GI Anukala Shashibani - 8 years old - 3rd grade

Gi Gi Anukala Shashibani - 10 years old - 5th grade

Gi Gi's house

Gi Gi's house

Each of these girls has a similar story: Both of their parents were killed at the Sunday market near the harbor, which was jammed packed the morning of the tsunami. Both girls were taken in by their grandparents, and now both want to be teachers when they grow up. They are in different villages, but that story is repeated throughout the coastal regions of this, and other countries. Through our local partner, The Woman’s Development Federation, which runs this smart scholarship program, we will keep track of our girls as they pursue an education and a brighter future. After two years, we can evaluate whether to support their academic efforts for another two.

So that’s it from Serendib, for now.

“Thank You” to everyone for contributing to this meaningful work. We are making a positive and direct impact in people’s lives—and that’s what MicroAid is all about.

I hope everyone is healthy, happy, and secure.

Regards,

Jon

kirinda-temple-cobras

kirinda-temple-cobras

Kinrinda stupa

Kirinda stupa

Filed in Sri Lanka Projects,Sri Lanka Travel Log | Comments Off on Sri Lanka February 18, 2010

Sri Lanka – February 6, 2010

Jon Ross on Feb 6th 2010

I am very happy to report that thanks to our donors and board of directors we have raised enough money to help a few of the remaining victims of the tsunami here in Sri Lanka.  As all eyes have been focused on Haiti in the last few weeks, it is easy to see how people get left behind as one disaster eclipses another. (Recently we had them in Myanmar, Tawain, and Samoa.)  And with the immense amount of media attention and humanitarian aid directed toward the latest crisis, it can seem as though all the previous situations have been resolved.  Of course, we know that is not the case.  Which is the reason I started MicroAid in the first place.

stupa and building fort colombo

stupa and building fort colombo

So here I am in Colombo, having a few meetings with other NGOs and potential partners, then off to Hambantota in the south and to Batticaloa in the east to begin the MicroAid projects–helping a few families rebuild their houses, replacing tools, and sponsoring tsunami orphans’ education.

Thanks again to everyone for their support and vision.

Sincerely,

Jon

Filed in General MicroAid Updates,Sri Lanka Projects,Sri Lanka Travel Log | Comments Off on Sri Lanka – February 6, 2010

Update January 18, 2010

Jon Ross on Jan 18th 2010


jon-habitat-9-08

Hi.  I hope this note finds everyone secure and happy.

Of course, the big news is that there was a terrible disaster in Haiti.  The good news is that the world humanitarian community has responded appropriately: quickly and with huge resources.  The news at MicroAid is that I will be heading back to Sri Lanka at the beginning of February to help the victims of the 2004 disaster who were left behind.  I will be working on the projects there until the end of March.

As the recent earthquake has left a swath of devastation in Haiti, so much of the world’s attention and humanitarian resources are headed in that direction. Of course, we have to react to the disaster at hand, but it is important to remember those who remain in need in other places.

As you know, at MicroAid, we remain focused on victims of past disasters. You may recall that the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean killed over 230,000 people in South and Southeast Asia, displaced millions more, and created tens of thousands of orphans.

In the future, MicroAid will help the people who get left behind in Haiti.

Currently we’re looking to help the victims of the tsunami, the victims of the cyclone in Burma, the victims of the typhoon in Taiwan, and the victims of the recent tsunami in Samoa. When all eyes are focused on the current tragedy, it’s hard to remember that all these major calamities happened just a short while ago, and there are still people in those places who need our help.

Since everyone’s compassion is so high, if you can, please donate to MicroAid so we can continue to help victims of past disasters. There are practically no other organizations doing this work. You can donate through the Microaid website.

Thank you so much.

Sincerely,
Jon

Filed in General MicroAid Updates,Sri Lanka Projects | Comments Off on Update January 18, 2010

Update July 1, 2009

Jon Ross on Jul 1st 2009


I want to thank everyone for the good wishes and support since the launch of the website.  We are doing pretty well with the fundraising thanks to board members Les Winter and Nadia Block, and the generosity of friends, and strangers.  Raising the $52K for the Sri Lanka projects may take a little more time in this economic environment, but we will get there!  I just hope the good people I met in December don’t lose faith that I am coming back to help.  They have heard that too many times since the devastation of the tsunami in 2004.  At any rate, we will get there as fast as we’re able.  So please, ask anyone you know to donate whatever they can.  Every little bit helps.

Also, big shout-out to Marcus Vadas for the redesign of the MicroAid logo!

Here in Los Angeles, the houses I was working on for Habitat for Humanity are complete and the partner families are moving in soon.  Hard to believe that I helped build three houses from the ground up.  The skills I acquired along the way wil prove invaluable in doing the construction projects in Sri Lanka.

I hope everyone is doing well.  Have a great July!

Jon

Filed in General MicroAid Updates,Sri Lanka Projects | Comments Off on Update July 1, 2009