14th April 2017 – “The Monkeys Have Stolen My Strepsils”

The Kandy Man Can’t – The more observant of you may have noticed the change of location from Mutur to Kandy – And it really is a change altogether. Mutur is part of the Eastern Province and gets humid as well as hot. Kandy is the old Imperial capital, not just of the Raj but of the ancient and venerable civilisations that preceded it. It is actually, quite cool in the morning! Well, probably not – I think the overnight temperature was 22°C – but I’ve been used to 33°C. Rather like walking through a hot bath when you go outside. And of course, ideal for our friends the mosquitoes, ever eager to shadow us on our journey whatever the destination. Kandy General Hospital, as you ask.

Kandy Office View

Tics all the boxes – As you would probably expect there are plenty of…lesser fleas, and so, ad infinitum….in the insect world. Only to be expected in this climate, and all are willing to extend to you a joyous personal greeting. For me, the diversionary tactic of bringing my wife as a comestible decoy works well, but this time she’s at home. Probably at the stables, waiting for the horsefly season.

I’ve gotten away with very few bites and have mostly stopped using the chemical warfare agent laughingly referred to as mosquito repellent. So, of course, you can imagine my delight when the news of Dengue Fever reached us at the Mutur Peace Centre. Imagine also the compounding of this joy when we found that the very epicentre of Dengue was in the next town of Kinnia, a mere four miles away. A town to which I had just cycled to collect an English-language Sri Lankan newspaper, for my students to read out loud. So, sweating and panting I arrive back to find the other four volunteers wondering what to do. I had received an email from Raju, the Director of SCI Sri Lanka, asking if we wished to leave Mutur and go to Kandy; we agreed to meet after the weekend to discuss our collective decision.

Missed the film, caught the trailer – Of course, cycling is a popular way of getting around in Mutur – not so in Kandy with its famous hills. But, in the flat flood plain landscape of Mutur, you can get up a good speed on your Flying Pigeon – one of the famous million bicycles of Beijing. Personally, I would settle for one less tractor, specifically the one that overtook me too closely and then clipped me with his trailer, sending me spinning into the dust. I don’t know if he even noticed. Or if he did, he decided that the bloodied figure in shorts and a rugby shirt hurling invective at him about the legitimacy of his parentage, probably wasn’t the sort of person that any self-respecting tractor driver cared to engage in a debate with about road safety. Luckily, I was only a few hundred yards from the Peace Centre and I managed to wheel my bike back there. On examination, I had nothing worse than a badly scratched shin and a bruised ankle – not to mention a dented bike and a collection of bruises.

It was decided that a move to Kandy, in view of the epidemic and my asthma, was probably a good idea. We drove overnight to Kandy and I must admit I felt pretty bad; in fact, the morning after I arrived it was decided that I should be driven to the local hospital, where I was tested and admitted with suspected Dengue Fever. I tested positive for fever – high temperature and lowered blood platelets – and was kept in A & E for observation. The next day I was moved to the fever ward. Actually, as the day wore on I felt a lot better but no one allows you out of the Fever Ward without a blood test and the say-so of the ward consultant. Luckily, my temperature and blood profiles dropped and I only had to stay another night. Dengue was brought under control fairly quickly by the government and is now a receding threat. Phew!

So – back to work – but this time at Blue Rose School in Kandy.

Blue Rose Kandy

Blue Rose was established in 1981 to provide education and training for people with learning difficulties. Since then it has created a unique campus – filling a need for specialist education in Sri Lanka. However, there is another identified need in Sri Lanka; There is an obvious contrast between Blue Rose’s provision and that of the mainstream. However, there is a stark similarity of futures once school age is past. For most differently abled adolescents the reality is horrendous; the caregivers age and either die or become physically weak. It is quite common for the differently-abled adult to become destitute.” (Extract from The Vision from The Blue Rose Village)

To address the need a steering group has been established, the Blue Rose Welfare Society. It is composed of experienced supporters of Blue Rose School including parents and teachers and myself. After meeting we agreed on what is needed:

  1. The provision of clean, secure and spacious residential facilities with complete physical infrastructure for twenty people with learning difficulties in order that they may live in an extended family environment.
  2. Develop Blue Rose Village into a ‘Special Education Centre’ fully equipped with occupational therapy, speech therapy, physiotherapy and special education facilities that will continue to sustain the physical and intellectual well-being of the residents.
  3. Develop Blue Rose Village into an eco-friendly environment which will include sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry which will contribute towards sustainable development and self-sufficiency.
  4. Establish a Vocational Training Facility to enhance vocational skills among the residents and generate income for the Village.
  5. Most staff will be volunteers and on a case-by-case basis may be paid a small allowance. All volunteers and staff will have previous experience in working with the differently abled and possess a genuine commitment toward the aims of Blue Rose Village.
  6. Blue Rose Village will be managed by a Management Committee of parents and teachers as well as members of the Blue Rose Welfare Society and at least one representative of Service Civil International.
  7. The Village will initially be funded through donor funding. However, it is intended that the Village will be able to generate some supplementary income once fully established.

With this in mind, we have been looking for suitable land and have been to see two potential sites. One was close to Kandy and located on an expanse of hillside, the other was about 60 kilometres away but was ideal. 100 acres of cashew fruit; orange trees; teak and coconuts, it also had wild boar and an electric fence for elephants. I have never seen an elephant fence, (or a house fly for that matter) but I have accidently touched a horse fence and it gives you a belt – I would think this one would blow me all the way to Colombo.

Blue Rose Staff & Children

The only problem is we now need to look at raising the cash – if anyone has a spare £500,000 it would come in handy. We are looking at ways to raise the money, including a cooperative share issue or a potential partnership with a business partner wishing to use the land for an eco-tourist base. Possibly a mixture of both.

Meanwhile back at the office – We are constantly reminded to close the windows when we are out of the office (it’s 38°C today so an open window is usual) because of the monkeys living in the trees opposite. Unfortunately, my mobile signal is quite poor so I had to go out of the office – and yes, you guessed – I left the window open. Only to come back in to find one of the monkey tribe disappearing across the roof just outside the window, clutched in their hand was a packet of Strepsils throat lozenges. Yesterday, I found the empty packet on the road. Somewhere in Sri Lanka, there is a monkey whose sore throat has gone completely.

Monkey in Kandy

Ok -this is my last blog – hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them. Today is Buddhist New Year, so Happy New Year and I hope that I have encouraged you to volunteer in 2017. Here are a few more pictures for you.

 Wild Deer in Trincomalee

Botanical Garden Fruit bats in Kandy

Open Wide

Thank you for reading,