RSIS Sri Lanka: a hole lot of work

Posted: 12 December 2018

Work on the project site

Both teams have been hard at work over the past few days and have been making exceptional progress on the project site.

Under the guidance of a local farmer The Environmental team – Team Orange – have been clearing ground and digging 2 x 2 x 2 holes. These holes are then being refilled with loose soil, and then a young citrus sapling planted in the turned over soil. By growing a tall barrier of citrus trees around the rice and vegetable crops, the students are helping to create a safe and sustainable elephant deterrent, to protect the crops and the farmers livelihood.

The Big Build team have been busy preparing the ground for construction of a new classroom.

Student update by: Joyce and Hannah

We all come from different backgrounds and met people from all over the world- Germany, Colombia, India, Australia, U.K., Africa and Canada. For all of us, Sri Lanka was culturally new. Although we came from different places, we all had the same expectations: enjoying the cultural difference, trying new food, music, working with each other, and knowing each other.

We first met at the hotel in Negombo at different times of the day, so we had a lot of time to get to know each other and socialize, after waiting for our rooms for such a long time. At around 4 P.M. we got the chance to go for a swim in the hotel pool, which was refreshing. However, the last people who arrived just got the time to have dinner and go to bed. We were all tired after the long and boring plane rides that we just went to rest. All in all the first day was packed with mixed emotions.

Student update by: Lucy, Arnav Eliza, Clara and Caleb

Sunday: travelling to the project site

Ayubowan! (welcome)!

For some, the food was a taste of home. For others, white rice became a dietary staple. However, happy and with full bellies, we left the hotel to begin the journey to Wasgamuwa. The landscape was all green outside, which contrasted with the colourful people inside the bus. We passed an elephant on the way, who looked as surprised to see us as we were to see it. Monkeys also climbed the chunks of rock that lined the side of the roads, threatening to fall on us. Once we reached the project site, the view mesmerized all of us with its pristine beauty. We learned a little bit about what the project was, and what it was doing. Our purpose here was to plant orange trees to prevent damage by elephants to life and property, and to provide an additional form of income for the farmers.

The views of the lake are breathtaking and we are so excited to watch the sunrise. You can see fisherman, birds, cows, peacocks, cats, and many stray dogs. We have our eyes peeled for an elephant, in which we have been lucky to have seen one so far on our bus journey to get here. On the bus we learnt about Sri Lanka’s heritage sites and their culture from our tour guide and learnt some common Sinhala phrases such as ‘stutti’ which translates to ‘thank-you!’ It was a bit chaotic to find the sleeping arrangements but finally we are all settled in our pink and blue mosquito nets. We are sleeping in bunks beds, its basically a big slumber party with 16 people!

It is about a 20 minute walk to the worksite from our accommodation. It is a beautiful walk through the community with a lot of waving kids and families. They’re sooo cute with pretty big eyes and smiles. At the worksite, we got to see their end-of-year ceremony with dancing and singing as we worked. Caleb, being Caleb, taught them how to fist bump as the very first thing he did. So far, we have began clearing a platform to build a classroom and a playground. We work through rotations with groups, some stations involving digging soil, stomping and levelling ground, and slashing tall grass to clear for a playground for the kids. After many hours of work we can come back and enjoy yummy (but spicy) curries and a nice cup of tea, while avoiding the heat. We like to test each other’s strength with spice by feeding them chili peppers. We start work at 8 am and have a 3 hour break for lunch. From the beginning we all worked smart and efficiently together, always getting the job done well.  Everyone is loving getting to know each other despite some competitiveness that comes from playing ‘Spot it’ and ‘UNO’.

We can’t speak for the 60 people here, but everyone seems to be in good health and enjoying their time in Sri Lanka. Can’t wait to update you further on our progress of the classroom!!

Monday: project work

After a good night’s sleep for most of us (jet lag!), we had a jam-packed breakfast and headed off to see the project site for the first time. We started by clearing the land so that it was ready for planting. We uprooted and cleared away the vegetation by hoeing, raking and carrying away all of the detritus. This took all morning, stopping for a short masala orange juice concoction that surprised us all with its dynamic flavouring. Finally, we took a well-deserved break for lunch. After a hearty meal, we headed out for Round Two. We cleared another section of the foliage, this time carrying a lot more logs than before. After two hours, a broken shovel and a few cuts and bruises, we were done! The boys headed out early, so some of the girls got to try some cassava root roasted over the fire. After a long, sweaty day, we got back to the base camp and enjoyed the thrill of freezing cold showers, which were a little different to what we are used to. We got to dinner and heard the collective cheer from the “rice eaters” when they saw the delicious mild noodles on the table. So, after a long day, the writers, along with the rest of the group, were more than happy to tumble straight into bed for a well-deserved rest.

Student update by: Anna-Lucia and Natalie

Tuesday: project work

Monday night concluded with an insightful presentation on the coexistence between elephants and human, and the dangers we they are faced with in Sri Lanka. This left us informed but also motivated to work hard in the next couple of weeks. The images and information was confronting, but most of us found that it was essential information to know while staying in Wasgamuwa.

Although many planned to embark on the daily 6 am run, most preferred to stay in bed. Fuelled on tiny bananas, pancakes and bread we set out to work, what we did not expect was the extent of it; digging 28 two-by-two feet holes. An abundance of singing of nursery rhymes and the playful mocking of each other’s accents, brought us back to our accommodation which was followed by the joyous cheers when fresh poppadoms were brought out for lunch. An hour and a half of free time and we were back to our growing worksite. Next was the planting, 30 young saplings were passes along a human conveyor-belt to their fresh home: their transition from us to a new guardian (as Nat and Lucia called it). We were rewarded with sweet tea and once again nurtured our endless chatter on the way home.

Student update by: Kira , Reet and Laura.

Wednesday: project work 

After lunch yesterday we returned to the worksite, we leveled dirt, cut grass, dug and some hoeing. Then, we came back to our accommodation straight to heaven, aka –  the shower. Certainly, the line was long as always, but well worth the wait. Eventually, we met at the dinning area where we socialized within our groups and some of our team mates shared some snacks they’ve brought from their country. Some of us played cards, others taught and learned new magic tricks, meanwhile bantering took place.

We ate and afterwards we met in our work groups to reflect upon the day and chose our next day’s leaders. We also talked about the work that still has to be done by tomorrow. In the evening, we got to watch a documentary about elephant-human relationship in Sri Lanka and how the environment has been affected by this and existing or suggested prevention methods.

After a solid night sleep, some people went for a run at early hours, when the rest of us remained asleep or enjoying the gorgeous sunrise. Haven eaten breakfast, we walked downhill towards the worksite, where the leaders discussed the tasks to be done and sectioned off the jobs to each of the team members, which included brick moving and cement mixing. Then the whole group talked about those tasks and figured out the most convenient strategy for moving the bricks, hence after over 300 brick been shifted and some High School Musical tunes, the groups worked on their assigned jobs, like hoeing, digging, levelling off the dirt, cement and brick arrangement.

After short water break in which we enjoyed some Sri Lankan chocolate and lemon biscuits, the teams switched jobs, and for those who were interested, grass cutting was also an option.

A couple of us played along with the kids at the worksite and making paper planes.

And then we walked back to the accommodation for a tasty vegan meal.

Fun Facts:

There’s a current game going on involving ironic puns called “I have a new job”, which consists one one person calling out “Hey, I have a new job”, which the rest respond “what is it”, it can be answered with any job (like “geology”). Then, the rest will ask “how is it?”, and the person will respond with an irony (like “it rocks”). It really brings up the spirits of the team!

Little kids at the worksite are loving high fiving us at all times, and keep on asking our names now that we have taught them how to ask in English. Also, we taught them how to fist pump.

Water has been the most debated word with accents of this trip so far, the Australians say– ‘wadah’ and think they’re right…

Today we sang the Birthday song for Raskirt turning 16 at breakfast.

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