Project Co Chairs: Rtr. Lekangi Perera Rtr. Ravishan Amerasinghe and Rtr. Saroj Dissanayake
The day began for us loading the already packed gift boxes into our vehicle. These boxes were full of writing books and other necessary stationary items much needed by a set of eager students from Athkandura Seevali Madya Maha Vidyalaya who had been waiting for us for a few weeks time now.
Trying with all their effort to override the fashionably late principle at least for once, the crew gathered at the university waiting room by 8.30 in the morning. Four cadet officers, ten day scholar rotaractors and an accompanying staff officer composed our crew and we finally hit the Galle road by 9 o’clock in the morning; of course to literally head towards Galle! We turned to the Galle highway at Panadura.
Well we made an effort to start singing on our way to Galle following the mainstream habit but realized it was too early in the morning for our voices to have warmed up, so spent the entire way admiring the by passing scenaries on either side of the highway. Some areas were entirely plantations, some were swamps with their unique vegetation while some others were entirely rows of boulders, carved in to give space to lead us to our destination. But whatever it was, they were eye catching.
“Sisu Saviya” how worthy was it?
After a journey of nearly an hour, we headed out of the highway at the Ambalangoda exit. By obtaining directions from the school officials we entered into an unpaved, gravel road from the Yakgahapitiya junction, which consisted of rows of overgrown spear grass as mostly identifiable on either side, that had contributed to narrowing the road. We reached the vicinity of the school withing a very short time but once we informed that to the co-ordinaing officer from the school, she asked us to pause for a bit. Wondering what is the reason for the delay, we slowly reached the school entrance only to see that they have arranged an extremely warm welcome for us. Little girls and boys of probably of grades 1 and 2 greeted us by offering us betel leaves. We were then accompanied by the school western band to the hall where they had organized a ceremony to carry out the distribution of books. We were clearly impressed by their overwhelming hospitality. We were accompanied by the college Principal and straight away commenced the proceedings after paying due respect to the national flag and the school flags. We were ushered to the seats placed on top of the stage from where we got a good view of the gathering. We couldn’t help noticing the anticipation and the excitement on the faces of the students who were seated in ascending order of their grades before us. The Madam Principal went on to brief about the school in general..
“This school provides education to so many students who go through extreme financial hardships. Only less than 10% of the total has their parents engaged in governmental occupations. The rest is engaged in ad hoc unskilled labour work to earn a living. Their parents find it difficult to pay a daily bus fare etc on behalf of their sons and daughters to send them to schools in the city and thus are sent to rural schools like ours..”
But whatever the said difficulties were, this had been the Alma Mater of the island fourth at the scholarship examination in the year 2013 and also of several Advanced Level students who had scored 3 A’s and obtained university entrance in the Arts and Commerce streams, which reiterated the fact that our attempt was going to be worth it.
Santa in October
Without any further delay, we started distributing the gift parcels wrapped by our very own club members; the red polka dotted ones for the primary students and the blue ones for the older students up to grade 13. As they received their parcel and went back to their seats, some of the very young students were shaking their parcels to their ears trying to guess whats inside and some others who had surpassed their limits of patience were already tearing into the wrapping to get a glimpse of what was inside. Oh and they didn’t forget to peep into their friend’s parcel in the adjoining seat to see whether they had got the same colour of water bottle as them. Noticing the impatience in the little faces, our club president Rtr. Kalana Jayantha made a quick speech at the podium, especially thanking Ven. Gavaragiriye Premarathana Thero of Royal College Colombo through whom our rotaract club was informed of the chance to do this project. He also expressed his sadness for not being able to fund the entire school but a selected number of 120 students who were the most underprivileged only. But he also expressed our willingness to try to continue this project and also to inform more donours about their needs. We wound up the proceedings after posing for several group photographs with them.
The right level of spices
To add to the already overflowing pot of hospitality, they invited us for a treat at the home science room. Before us was a neatly laid table full of original Sri Lankan delicacies. If I may list them here; they had milk rice cut in perfect squares, the best steamed manioc I have ever tasted my entire life, of course the neatly spicy lunu miris, kurakkan halapa which is obviously very popular in down south wrapped in kanda leaves which I could say had the best original treacle mixed in them. Plantains, Sesame balls ubiquitous in Lanka as thala guli, ribbon cake and to top it a nice, warm cup of gingered plain tea with a share of jaggery. Such a perfect combination it was. Even when I’m writing this, I can still go back and fill my heart with the memory. They made us feel at home that we weren’t shy to go ahead with the craving for second and well, third servings.
We bid farewell to them with our hearts filled with satisfaction and our stomachs with a 5 star rated native Sri Lankan breakfast. It wasn’t even 12 noon yet, so we seemed to have plenty of time to roam around. So, the party began.
Madu Ganga – the richest of them all
We had two of our club mates from down south so through their help we straight away headed off to Madu Ganga River. There is place where boat rides for visitors are offered here so we took one enough to accompany the 17 of us.So we set off – out to the sun -out to the great waters. Let me tell the story about this river. First of all, it is a complex wetland eco system rich with bio diversity owing to its well developed mangrove eco system which is suspected to be the last remaining pristine mangrove eco system in Sri Lanka. It is the home to 300 odd species of plants and 240 odd species of vertebrate animals. Next is its religious significance. The first ever Higher Ordination Ceremony of the Buddhist Amarapura Nikaya is said to have been held on a fleet of boats on this river. In an island somewhere far away to the right side of the estuary is the Kothduwa Raja Maha Viharaya. This temple, I would rate as having one of the best environments to induce the conscience of your mind and to take it to the depths of infinity. The massive and elegantly coloured Buddha statue with standing statues of Sariyuth Mugalan, the Chief Disciples of Lord Buddha on either side and the huge Bo Tree hovering over entire premises silently invite you to kneel down to listen to the soft ripples of the surrounding waters making music with the rustle of them Bo leaves.
Meanwhile we also met a Giant Squirrel on a branch of the Bo Tree busy digging into his brunch. It was not yet lunch time so I don’t think I made a mistake calling it brunch.The entire crew despite their religious beliefs, each got a Pirith String on their hands. Letting the clock tick for selfies, we got back back into our boat, all excited for our next stop. The Fish Therapy.
Fish on the way to a dish
But i need to mention that we witnessed areas of Kraal Fishing on the way at many places. Kraal Fishing is a technique of trapping fish and mostly prawns as they set up a line of sticks (mostly bamboo) and stop their small half moon shaped boats and fish. You could see the fishermen with their fishing rods actively engaged in this activity when you are passing by in your boat. It is pretty amazing to see that people have built huts on bamboos protruding into the waters so that those who are passing by in boats like us could stop by and have something.. like king coconut! It was a wonderful experience.
So the fish. This was the favourite part of our day. For the split second I dipped my very own feet in the small squares of fish, after so much of hesitation of course, knowing that the next minute they are going to make a meal out of my feet, I could say that it was a funny feeling. It feels like small blunt ends are tapping your feet from all directions. Slimy yes. These fish spas are floating on the river on wooden planks placed upon barrels attached to the land end on one side. A school of toothless fresh water gold fish come with their tiny mouths open and nibble against your dipped feet and peel off the dead skin. There is a reason why you call it therapy and that’s that. It’s Rs. 100 per head mostly and a great treat for that price!!
Before I wind up the story about our journey, we also stopped at a cinnamon peeler by the side of the river. This art is pretty popular in this area and once you go to a place, you may find a thatched house with cadjan roofing and the inhabitants will show you how they extract cinnamon. They also make products and sell them at great prices. We picked some cinnamon sticks she happily gifted us and cinnamon oil which she said to be a medication for tooth aches and headaches and left the place.
Got back into our boat again. We swooped past against the breeze, steered the boat, passed the low lying metal bridges (probably because the water level of the river had risen) with our heads bent like ostriches, looked over the estuary, which is also a rich eco system and came to a halt at the boat service. We had a good lunch at a sea side restaurant, had selfies for dessert and after all the hesitation to leave got into the vehicle and set off. Oh before we went home we stopped at the Ambalangoda town to have ice cream.
The day was satisfactory, we went for a good cause and had a better share of joy. Our voices were warmed up enough to sing now. Yup, we will do this again.
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Article by: Rtr. T. Wijekoon