Project visit at humedica Lanka

by Heinke Rauscher,  2018/05/07

Our colleague Heinke Rauscher is visiting humedica Lanka. Next to our Sri Lankan colleagues she also gets to know the different projects on the island. What she is experiencing there, Heinke is telling us in her blog.

Part 8: Farewell from Sri Lanka

Somebody is knocking at my door and I receive a sweet tea. Today the board meeting is taking place for humedica Lanka and a new board is supposed to be elected.

While the board is in session, Klaus and I are strolling down the main street of Dehiwala, a place southern from Colombo, where we are accommodated. We observe the going-ons in the shops along both sides on the street. It is cloudy and luckily not that hot as it could be. On our way back we stop by a little bakery. Here we find delicious cupcakes, cakes and a pastry that is mostly eaten in celebration of the upcoming Sri Lankan New Year.

Neuer Vorstand von humedica Lanka

The newly elected board of humedica Lanka (from left to right): Johannes Peter, Emmanuel Gunaratnam (chairman) and Wolfgang Groß. Photo: humedica

Together with Prithi and his wife Delrine we visit an international school that was built and financed independently by a local Free Church with the support of parents and a board. The work is impressive and for the students a valuable institution.

Subsequently we are going to have lunch and get teas and a few souvenirs at a local mall. Around 19 o’clock our flight to Bangalore in India is taking off and we depart in time, because we have to drive through the whole city to get to the airport, which is located northern of Colombo. Luckily the traffic is not too tough on a Sunday as during the week. The check-in and the baggage drop-off prove itself as a puzzle. We are delighted and grateful as we finally sit on the airplane.

Next stop: humedica India

The flight takes a bit more than an hour. At the airport in Bangalore we get picked up by Willson from the humedica India team, who drops us two hours later at the humedica compound “Peniel Garden”, around 20 minutes far from Kolar Gold Fields. We are warmly welcomed by Benjamin Kern, the country manager for humedica India and in a short time I tiredly, but happy to be at our destination collapse into my bed.

Our assignment in India is to execute the second deployment training for medical professionals and coordinators. But that is a whole different story…

Part 7: Great work by the humedica Lanka team in Manipay

Today I finally find time to get to know the humedica Lanka team in Manipay a little bit better and to learn more about the superb work from the colleagues here.

Technical skills empower women

The sewing course has begun. Twice a week a free sewing and embroidery course for women and girls is taking place in the afternoon. Within half a year they learn the basics of sewing and stitching. humedica supports the women with the purchase of an own sewing machine and enables them thereby to increase their household income with their own needlework. Proudly they present us their workpieces. These are neatly stitched, colourful pillowcases, clothes for babies and school uniforms for children.

Frauen aus dem Nähkurs von humedica Lanka

The participants of the sewing course in Manipay with Klaus Ruhrmann and Heinke Rauscher. Photo: humedica

All over the humedica property lots of activities are going on. Roughly 40 to 50 children and teenagers spend their afternoon here at the GROW centre Manipay on the humedica campus.

At our tour around the compound we also pass the classrooms. While some strengthen their computer skills in the seminar rooms, the science and technology teacher explains his students the elements of a cell. Also English classes are part of the program.

Outside a group plays with a ball and is very amused as Klaus snaps the ball, busily interferes and confuses the game a bit. Immediately he wins the children’s and teenagers’ hearts. Next to us some children play badminton and behind the house cricket exercises for the popular sport in Sri Lanka are taking place.

During the holidays the GROW centre team offers holiday camps in all centres. Here also the values of the GROW program are interfered playfully in different activities. The point is to support the children entirely within their growth. The team wishes to make skills for life and everyday life available to them. Thereby belong handcrafting and cooking.

Kinder in der Schule in Sri Lanka

Back to school: In the GROW centre Manipay Heinke participates in a nature study and science lesson with the children. Photo: humedica

Dedication and passion within the team

Theopan, also called by the nickname Teepan, is part of the humedica Lanka team in Manipay, too.

Since two years he is with them and responsible for safety issues, caretaking and supervision of the children. Together with his colleagues he visits all the GROW centres regularly.

Ragu works for humedica Lanka since 2005, currently as a Field Officer. This means, together with Nallasingam he is supervising the project work on the Jaffna Peninsula. He is the contact person for the teachers and other employees of the GROW program. Moreover he is responsible for the humedica warehouse in Manipay, all vehicles and the stocktaking.

As well he is taking care of a tree project that humedica Lanka initiated as a part of the national Tree Planting Day 2017: scarce 70 trees have been planted the prior year that now are watered and cared for by villagers, because planting trees is important to shelter people from natural disasters.

What to do when there is fire?

From Colombo we brought fire alarms and extinguishers. Our experienced volunteer Klaus Ruhrmann informs the team in which rooms on the compound they have to be installed. He has the assignment to undertake a fire drill with the children, teachers and the humedica team.

Feuerübung auf dem humedica-Campus in Sri Lanka

Our emergency helper Klaus Ruhrmann explains, what has to be attended and to be done in case of fire on the campus. Photo: humedica

At first he explains all present the necessity for the drill and how everyone has to behave in case of a fire. An assembly point is declared and the children and teachers are allocated to the seminar rooms. The classes continue until Klaus triggers the fire alarm. The children are running out of the house and gather quickly at the assembly point. Klaus is pleased and the children proud.

Part 6: The long trip to the doctor

Today’s midmorning we are driving into a region that up to nine years ago was completely occupied by the military because of the civil war. At that time numerous people flew from the region. Many were looking for temporary shelter abroad – like our project leader Nallasingam.

Since the peace treaty the people were returning to their villages and new families found their home here. From the 40 families that were residing here before the war, the population grew up to 180 families in the past years. A positive sign that gives hope for the future in this region.

Mobile clinic

On the terrace of the little village office in Palaly every Friday from ten to roughly 13 o’clock a mobile consultation-hour is taking place. From the terrace, you can see a small streak of the ocean. To the left there still is the militarily restricted area.

Die mobile Kliniksprechstunde von humedica Lanka

Everything is prepared, the first patients are waiting already: the mobile consultation-hour in Palaly. Photo: humedica

Our driver Francis Nixon pulls out the huge humedica poster that announces the free consultation-hour. Tharshika, a young, but very experienced nurse prepares with support from Karthika the little pharmacy. Since two years Dr. Puvaneswaran is treating the patients that are visiting. The mobile clinic gets attended briskly: up to 70 patients Mrs. Puvaneswaran and her team are serving here on one midmorning.

 “Most of the people we take care of come to us with symptoms like fever, cough, or whole-body pain”, the doctor kindly explains to me. “We deal with eczemas and worm infections. From time to time we detect dengue-fever. Luckily, Malaria does not exist in this region anymore”, Dr. Puyaneswaran tells. Back in the days the doctor worked in a big hospital.

Mrs. Puvaneswaran dedicates her first patient. Friendly she asks the mother about symptoms of the little daughter. With the issued prescription they are going to the table with the small pharmacy from Tharshika und Karthika. The two assemble all the medication needed and note exactly, whose patient obtained which medicine in what amount. “I really do like taking care of the patients. The best part of my job for me is to support our Mental Health Program”, tells Tharshika highly motivated.

Mutter mit ihrem Kind in der Sprechstunde in Sri Lanka

After the treatment the mother obtains the right medicine for her ill child. Photo: humedica

Program for mental health

In cooperation with the regional health authorities and a specialist Tharshika works in an exceptional program, especially for this region: home visits for people with mental illnesses. Mental diseases are stigmatised in Sri Lanka. The relatives are ashamed for their affected family members, hide them, sometimes a life-long.

With visits of doctors at more than 70 patients, the team little by little builds up trust to the people concerned and their families. Within this unique program they provide patients with important medicine, take their time for them and their relatives, advice and suggest therapeutical activities.

Tharshika is in her element when she is referring about her patients. I feel her heart pounds for her work. “When I first met mentally ill people during a special training, my heart just opened up to them. I had to cry and just really wanted to be with them and support them“, tells the young woman passionately.

Sustainable help from Germany

humedica-Fischerboot in Sri Lanka

Thanks to numerous donations humedica was able to provide boats and nets for fishermen in northern Sri Lanka after the tsunami in 2005. Even today they still provide faithful service to their owners. Photo: humedica

Before saying goodbye to the mobile clinic in Palaly and make our way back to Manipay, we do not let slip a view on the ocean. On the beach fishing boats are lying and waiting for their fishermen. Most people here are living on fishing. After the tsunami in 2004 the survivors of the disaster lost everything. In 2005 humedica provided, thanks to numerous donations from Germany, 1.340 new boats for the fishermen with outboard engines and nets, so that they were able to be in employment rapidly back again. 14 years later, the boats are still on the beach and ensure income for their owners.

Part 5: GROW – Growing in diverse ways

During our way to the north end of the country we pass banana plants, coconut and sugar palms, tobacco and cabbage fields, mango trees and papaya bushes. Our destination is a small primary school in Thunnalai, a very rural area that most widely had been destroyed by the severe tsunami in 2004. Nowadays mainly day-labourers are living here. The educational level is low. The remote location diminishes their developmental possibilities and thereby the chance to a self-determined life additionally.

We are on our way with Nallasingam, the project leader for our work in the north of Sri Lanka. He flew to Germany during the civil war and learnt German there.

Nallasingam explains to me that the parents in this region can only offer very little to their children. As wealthier families from bigger villages can finance their children private lessons, the pupils in rural areas have no chance for any deeper understanding of the subject materials. Moreover the teachers from the countryside often are not qualified quite well: the apprenticeship of primary school teachers only takes half a year, the following teacher training one year.

Give + Receive + Observe + Work = GROW

To give students in the countryside a better chance, humedica Lanka established with regional authorities such called GROW centres. Behind the word GROW – coming from idea of growing – four values are contained, which are practically lived in the centres:

G for GIVE – The employees as well as the children and teenagers are supposed to learn how to give: time, dedication, courtesy towards the others, appreciation, thanks and much more.

R for RECEIVE – The point is to accept compliments, but also critics and allowing (self-)reflection.

O for OBSERVE – Behind O everyone is encouraged to observe situations to recognise challenges and then taking the chance to grow personally within and as a group.

W for WORK – Students and teachers are supposed to get active for themselves, but also for others. So that everybody has a chance to progress.

Im Grow Center von humedica Lanka

Group photo in the GROW centre of humedica Lanka. Based on the four values Give, Receive, Observe and Work, the children receive support and perspectives. Photo: humedica

On two days during the week the humedica Lanka team drives to selected schools in the countryside. There, they offer free private lessons in the subjects Maths, English and Sciences. At schools with respective equipment, IT teachers deepen computer knowledge with the children. Playing and crafting of course may not come up short and therefore many different activities are part of the program during the afternoon as well as a healthy meal.

Little opportunities for children from the rural areas

At goodbye the primary school pupils in Thunnalai tell us full of confidence of their future plans. We learn that we are standing in front of future policemen, doctors, teachers, soldiers and an engineer.

Back on the road, I talk to Nallasingam about it and ask him, which perspectives these boys and girls have. He tells me that the public secondary school indeed is free of charge, but is located far away. If the parents cannot afford the bus ride, the children will have to already early stop going to school and lead a life similar to their parents’.

Kinder auf dem Schulweg

Get accompanied on their way by dedicated employees of humedica Lanka - the children in the north of Sri Lanka. Photo: humedica

Motivated to help

The way out of this cycle is barely to overcome alone. The team of humedica Lanka supports the specialist teachers with the GROW-program just where they can. Also some affordable, English speaking private schools were already built for the rural population in this region. You feel how much the employees from humedica Lanka burn for their tasks. I am really very impressed.

Part 4: Education as a key for independence

Silently the music of my alarm clock awakes me. For a moment I have to orientate myself, but then I know where I am. Today we are going to learn about humedica Lanka’s work on the Jaffna Peninsula.

Twelve years of Angel Schools

Thanks to the help of humedica donators, the build-up of two schools was financed: the Angel School Jaffna and the Angel School Manipay. Right now both schools are situated in the process to become autonomous.

First we visit the Angel School in Jaffna, which was founded in 2006. 900 pupils attend school here at this time. They are coming from a circuit of 20 kilometres. 70 teachers and further staff are taking care of them. Children starting from the age of three years old may attend the kindergarten.

Der Kindergarten der Angel School in Manipay, Sri Lanka

The kindergarten by the Angel School in Manipay is arranged lovingly and child-oriented. Photo: humedica

The students obtain after twelve years an English A levels degree and learn five languages: English, Tamil, Singhalese, French and German. This vocabulary opens up doors for the high school graduates, especially within tourism and the hotel industry. Who can afford it, works and studies abroad and supports their families at home from there.

At the moment, two autistic pupils attend the Angel School in Jaffna. They are educated and intensively looked after by special qualified teachers. “We would like to welcome more autistic children at our school. Most other schools don’t take them as students or don’t have qualified teachers for them”, tells us Vicar Sam, the founder of the school and former country manager of humedica Lanka.

Number 1 in the North

The school was extended through another building a few years ago. In the centre a spacious playground is located. On the left of the entrance we visit the small canteen, the bookstore, which sells the necessary books from England and writing materials, a sewing room, where employed sewers tailor the school uniforms, as well as a small work shop for repairs of all kinds. The sports arena next to the new building is equipped with a basketball field – the school’s most important sport.

Only a few years ago the successes were limited regarding the playing ability at the Sri Lankan school competitions. Today the Angel School Jaffna is celebrated as the second best school team in whole Sri Lanka. In the north of the country they are the number 1, refers the school’s headmaster proudly.

Der Schuldirektor mit der Schülermannschaft auf dem Sportplatz in Sri Lanka

The school management and the school's basketball team are delighted by the visit of our colleagues Klaus Ruhrmann and Heinke Rauscher. Photo: humedica

Altogether the school makes a good impression – also when here and there new colour at the walls is desperately needed. The chemistry room is furnished very basic. Two computer rooms are available for the students. By solar panels electricity is generated.

Education for the very little ones

Back at the humedica campus in Manipay we are allowed to visit the small kindergarten on the compound. The roughly 20 children from the age of three are already waiting for us with their three teachers and parents. We listen to a song in English, speak a few words of welcome and then Klaus and I are allowed to hand the children their reports of development. We feel honoured. A few of the little ones take their reports full of pride and curiosity. Others are shy and a little bit irritated about the foreign visitors. It is not different as in every other kindergarten back home in Germany.

humedica-Kollegin Heinke Rauscher überreicht Bericht an Kind in Sri Lanka

Heinke Rauscher hands over the report of development to a proud student of the humedica campus. Photo: humedica

On the occasion of our visit Mahana, the housekeeper, has prepared a big meal. She is an excellent cook. Unfortunately I find no opportunity to look over her shoulder while cooking. Way too likely I would bring one or another recipe back home. We indulge in the joint meal as colleagues and in the very cordial hospitality.

Part 3: “If you want to travel far, go as a team“

At the moment, the humedica Lanka team consists of 27 employees. They are both Tamil and Singhalese. Both ethnic groups fought 30 years in a relentless civil war. “We have to leave our past behind”, Prithi explains his strategy. “Team building is our priority. We want to integrate ourselves as one humedica Lanka family, including Tamils and Singhalese, and spread this to the communities we work with.”

One important method is team building. “We have to overcome prejudices after all those years of civil war. Therefore, we have to grow together. I always recite an advertisement saying:“

‘If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go as a team.’

In the beginning, humedica Lanka was mainly active in the north of the country. Nowadays, the medical assignments in the south, east, west and centre of the country are coordinated from Colombo. Among others the colleagues conduct numerous educational workshops about the topics Health, Hygiene and Drug Abuse. They care for people with mental diseases that are strongly stigmatised in Sri Lanka.

“Our values comprise to not discriminate against anybody”, Prithi explains. “We are providing assistance to everybody who needs our help. We support and empower the communities in need. In the next five years we are going to strengthen our projects in those five regions, as all of them are disaster-prone areas.”

First Fundraising experiences

The participants of my yesterday’s workshop are going with us by car to the centre of Colombo. We have an appointment with two representatives of the foundation of a great company here in Sri Lanka. The aim is to practically apply the yesterday acquired theory from the workshop.

Zwei Männer im Gespräch in Sri Lanka

Workshop participants by humedica Lanka apply the learnt within in practical exercises. Photo: humedica

Within an open conversation we get to know the backgrounds of the foundation and my colleagues from Sri Lanka are invited to present their work. The foundation has very clear funding priorities and established partnerships. Together with the foundation’s management we discover parallels and topics in which a collaboration is possibly conceivable. I am delighted about the positive result of the conversation. Encouraged and with useful suggestions, we drive back to the humedica Lanka office.

The long road into the north

After a late lunch we drive up north, to the Jaffna Peninsula. Roughly 400 kilometres are ahead of us. But first: rush hour in Colombo. We are stuck in the tight traffic jam. Sometimes the car moves one metre forward, then just a few centimetres. Thus we take nearly two hours until we finally leave the city behind.

The ever narrower street leads us through big and smaller villages. The tracks are surrounded by tiny shops, where there governs active trading. From plastic ware like buckets, tubes and brooms, about fruits, vegetables, clothes, shoes, SIM cards, books, but also exploited automotive parts – you name it, you find it.

Viel befahrene Straße im Norden von Sri Lanka

Many little shops and busy streets on the way to the north of Sri Lanka. Photo: humedica

We also drive along illuminated churches, numerous temples and occasionally mosques. Little shrines are standing everywhere, sometimes with catholic saints, sometimes with a Buddha. The further we get up north, the more Hindu influences are recognizable.

After round about nine hours we finally arrive tired and jarred in Manipay, close to Jaffna. humedica holds an own campus with a kindergarten, guest rooms, an office as well as training and seminar rooms here. After the tsunami in 2004 our organisation could provide very great assistance in this part of the country – thanks to our numerous donations. Therefrom long-term projects were aroused that we are going to get to know during the next days.

Part 2: String Hoppers with curry for breakfast

A loud knock at my door awakes me. Time to get up! Shortly afterwards I try my first String Hoppers: wafer-thin, to a nest twisted wheaten noodles that are subdued cooked and served with various runny sauces. The piquancy just meets my taste. A cup of coffee cheers me up, in a short while I will hold my workshop.

Motivated and dedicated employees

One of my tasks on this project visit is to train our Sri Lankan colleagues in Fundraising, so that the dedicated team can implement even more projects in the future. That is where my workshop comes in.

The twelve colleagues from Sri Lanka are taking part enthusiastically. But first the linguistic situation has to be clarified. Predominantly three languages are spoken in Sri Lanka: Singhalese, Tamil and English. The Singhalese, who rather live in the South of the country, do not speak Tamil and the Tamils from the North do not speak Singhalese. Hence the two groups speak English among each other, but not everybody in Sri Lanka has the chance to learn the linking language.

Heinke Rauscher von humedica beim Workshop in Sri Lanka

As part of her project visit, our colleague Heinke Rauscher delivered a workshop for the employees of humedica Lanka. Photo: humedica

In role plays we practice the presentation of humedica Lanka and its project focuses: Medical Aid, Education as well as Emergency Aid. The team is eager involved.

The colleagues in Sri Lanka are motivated, very dedicated and convinced of their work. The projects are long-term scheduled. Tomorrow we have an important first meeting with one of the biggest supermarket chains in Sri Lanka. The foundation of the company was open to welcome us for a first conversation, which we declared as a practical exercise for our workshop. Excited about the next day we finish our class for today.

humedica Lanka

Just in front of the humedica building coconuts are sold. The street vendor opens the upper part of the nut neatly with a huge knife, so that we finally can – with a bit of a practice – pour the coconut water straight from the whole into our mouth. The liquid is brisk and stimulating, and has become a trendy drink also at ours by this time.

Mann öffnet Kokosnuss

Meanwhile also a trend beverage at ours: In front of the humedica building coconuts are sold on the road in Sri Lanka. Photo: humedica

I have the opportunity to chat in more detail with Prithi, who is the country manager of humedica Lanka since 2016. Born in Sri Lanka as a Tamil in the North, Prithi lived with his wife Delrine and their two children for 22 years in South Africa and Lesotho.

“We tourned back to Sri Lanka with a lot of passion but also fear, because of the post-war effects”, Prithi tells me. “We came back with the real desire to be part of the nation building process, to be part of the solution in a country which is still recovering from a civil war.”

Since 25 years humedica Lanka is already registered as a non-governmental organisation. The main help tough, already takes place since way longer. “Our core business is disaster relief and response and always will be. But at the same time we want to prepare the vulnerable communities to possible disasters though disaster preparedness programs. We also promote post disaster programs with the focus on health and education. Our goal is to empower the communities with knowledge and skills so the people here do not have to remain victims of the circumstances”, Prithi goes on.

For dinner we have rice with different vegetable sauces. Like the locals I eat with my right hand that I washed and disinfected very well before. With the sauce I shape rice and vegetables to small balls and put these into my mouth. The food tastes delicious!

Part 1: Curiosity to an unknown country

It is my first journey to Sri Lanka and therefore I am very curious and keen on what is expecting me. After a long, but very pleasant flight from Munich with a stopover in Doha, we are finally arriving at the airport in Colombo.

The director of humedica Lanka Dr. Prithiviraj Thamotharampillai – by everyone called Prithi– welcomes us with his thrilling kindness. Excitedly he is telling us about the full schedule that awaits us the next days. At the airport in Colombo we also meet Klaus Ruhrmann, who arrived from Frankfurt, not like us from Munich. Klaus is a precious companion of humedica. Since his first deployment with humedica after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, he had joined in many disaster relief interventions as a volunteer.

humedica-Mitarbeiter mit Kindern in Sri Lanka

Our colleague Heinke Rauscher (2nd from right) is on a visit to humedica Lanka. Photo: humedica

First impressions

We need more than an hour from the airport to our destination. The traffic in Colombo packs a punch: during rush hours walking by foot is way faster than going by car. The British left their left-hand traffic to Sri Lanka. Next to the many cars, there are hundreds of tuk-tuks, small motorized rickshaws that seem to make the traffic even more unpredictable. Vehicles coming from the left and the right, overtaking on both sides, turning, braking, speeding. Now and then a pedestrian jumps onto the street and seems to risk his life. Driving here is certainly requiring getting used to. I barely see any cyclist. Probably it is too dangerous.

I am accommodated in the room of the humedica Lanka administrator’s daughter, who studies medicine in China – in Chinese! That really impresses me. Before going to bed a well-sugared cup of tea is offered to me that I take gratefully.

My hosts are very kind. They already got up for the next day again, while I tiredly collapse into bed where I fall asleep right away. The fan rotates his circles above me and brings a bit of a movement into the hot air.

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