10 Jan 2011
Thanks to some very generous sponsors, donations, a tremendous amount of hard with and a pinch of faith; the 10th January 2011 saw the opening of our second pre-school in south west Sri Lanka.On a standard humid day in June, approximately 10km jungle-side of the coastal town of Galle, I found myself standing in a coconut grove wondering if 7 months to clear the land and build a fully functioning pre-school was a little ambitious - even for me. But always up for a challenge, and encouraged by the lovely people of this region, we set to clearing the site.
From that first day, there was unwavering support from everyone involved in the project. B2SL volunteers came to site to help Damith (The Build Contractor) and his team dig trenches and lay foundations.Chaini the future school's headmistress swung into action planning the logistics. How many staff would we need, how many children could we teach, how and when we will enrol them, what will they wear, what will they learn, what toys will we need etc. etc. She immediately enrolled herself and Monik and Lasita on a Teacher Training Course and very seriously committed herself to the future of the school and the children.
Having left the builders firmly in the swing of things, with a set of goals and targets and a few key players such as Chaini and her husband Indika to keep a watchful eye on them, I returned home to focus on the fundraising for the wall, playground equipment and pathways - we already had the funding for the school its self. The wonderful supporters of B2SL all played their part too and donations large and small were all gratefully received. With a few fund-raising events, some much appreciated PR in the local paper and on the radio and good old-fashioned word of mouth, the donations started flowing in from the ever generous Guernsey community, and from elsewhere too. It's very exciting when you realise news of your project has reached several corners of the globe!I returned to Sri Lanka in October, and was thrilled with progress that had been made.
Everyone had worked so hard and the school was looking fantastic. I knew there was a lot more to do but was very confident that we would do it just as we had last time! We set the official opening date for 10th January 2011. So we cracked on and went to see Nalin the carpenter, who was going to make all our chairs and desks for the children, as well as the teachers and very importantly all the playground furniture too.
We had many meetings with Chaini (Headmistress), Monika (Deputy Headmistress) and Lasika (Assistant Teacher and planned everything we would need to get the project finished. I then returned home again to continue fundraising for the school wall and gate, as we knew in this jungle location the snakes could be a big threat to the children and with a large perimeter wall, not only could we keep the children in, but hopefully the snakes out too.In the meantime, Damith and his team continued their work, with the assistance of the staff from 'Bags of Appeal' and many of the local villagers who wanted to help.I returned to Sri Lanka on Christmas Eve, knowing all too well that the deadlines were looming and wondering whether crossing my fingers really, really tight would be enough to get the school finished on time. Like most building projects, the incredible speed of construction at the start of the job seemed to have gone down a gear as motivation started to wear thin. 'Time to start stamping my feet', I decided! I did everything I could to motivate not only the contractors, but the volunteers too. Before my very eyes it started to happen; like a sky full of random birds whom suddenly formed a highly synchronised flock.
The finishing touches were soon put into place. We chose paint for the internal sides of the boundary walls - the colours of the rainbow of course. Nalin's team came to deliver all the furniture and started building the playground furniture on site. The Bags of Appeal staff and the Guernsey volunteers got stuck into the painting and landscaping. It was all coming together, but the countdown was on...There was shopping, oh so much shopping to do. Now usually this would be a job I would thoroughly enjoy, but with deadlines looming and the pressure on, the list was overwhelmingly long; blackboards, books, toys, light bulbs, a bed for the sick room, bowls, cups, a fridge, coat pegs, maps, paper, crayons, shelves and cabinets just to name a few...!
Then we were down to the last two days. We were almost there. We rounded up the team, including the villagers, volunteers, builders, Bags of Appeal staff, Nalin's team, it was all hands, or rather knees on deck. The grass was the last thing to be laid. Unlike the orderly strips that we have in the east, the turf came in lumps and had to be laid over the whole playground like an immense jigsaw puzzle. Everyone got stuck in and worked into the dark. Asanka, my very own 'Sri Lankan Mr Fix-It', arranged floodlights (albeit precariously perched on wooden tree ladders or anything else he could find) so we could work through into the night time. He also brought a load of bricks so we could outline the pathway. Even Prasad got his hands dirty!
When I left the site at around 9pm that evening, I knew we needed another load of grass, and just hoped it would be delivered and laid, as promised, before the Grand Opening just twelve hours later. When I woke up at 6am on the 10th of January, many things were going through my head. Would the school look ready to greet it's pupils and parents officially for the first time? Would the monk remember to turn up for the blessing? Would Chaini and he team feel fully prepared for the start of their new career? Would it rain during the ceremony? But before all that, how on earth and I going to get myself into a Sari?!Well there wasn't much I could do now. The lovely Surangi came to help me and Georgie with our sari's, to fold it intricately and try to make us feel secure in what was essentially some beautiful fabric held together with a lot of safety pins. We headed to the ceremony, collecting a few friends along the way.On arrival at Walahanduwa we could feel the tension in the air. We all congregated at the top of the road and waited for the monks to lead us and the procession down to the school. It was incredible. Chaini and her team must have been working even harder that we were aware of. They had organised everything for the grandest opening I could have ever imagined. There were dancers, drummers, flags, oil lamps and a traditional milk boiling ceremony just to name a few of the surprises she had up her sleeve.It was too overwhelming for words, and they say a picture tells a thousand words...
Well I hope those photos gave you a flavour of the day. It was so special and did I mention?... the best Birthday pressie I could have ever wished for.I am totally and utterly delighted that we managed to open this wonderful school on the 10th January 2011 as intended. This would have never been possible without the help of all the wonderful people mentioned in this blog. Today there are 60 children receiving the best education we can possibly provide them. I hope that this school will not only help give those children a solid educational base in their lives, but that it will also become the hub of a wonderful community where education, sociability, music, performances and a whole range of other options are available to everyone who wants to take advantage of what's on offer at Frangipani.And that's the story of how the Frangipani pre-school came about. I wonder what's next on the agenda?... a farm with allotments for the locals to grow their own food perhaps!... we'll see.
For more information, to donate or sponsor any of these projects, please do get in touch.
I will leave you with our school motto: 'Together we are strong'