Monday, July 2, 2018

Vanni Yathra 2018 – A journey of reconciliation through environmental sustainability.



The month of June was so busy, tired but was very productive. It was the month that many people in the world talk about Mother Nature. For us at ECO-V last June was important just because of environmental month but also we completed our 7th Yathra. 

Today I feel very proud and happy. The second generational leadership of ECO-V has emerged!!! When I started ECO-V in 2001 I never had a dream of driving it this far. Its 17 years now and I was the leader in all activities we did though I had very good supportive team and situational leaders. I was so tired and wanting to stay behind….Since I left Sri Lanka in January to join with my family in New Delhi, thanks to Waruni, Chapa and Jayani, ECO-V office and some of its activities had a second generational leadership. Then I gave the challenge to Chapa organizing our 7th Yathra without my leadership. She took the challenge and organized it, conducted it and completed it with a great success. This 7th Yathra was dedicated to Newton our member from North as he had a dream of conducting a Yathra in North since he had the record of participating all past 6 yathras.

So  7th Yathra named as vanni Yathra – a journey of reconciliation through Environmental Sustainability is over now. My dream came true as my participation for the Yathra was only 3 days and that’s only for training component at the beginning and at the end. Rest was completely done by Chapa and Newton of course with the support of Waruni and Jayani from ECO-V office and alumni of Yathras Dhanushka and Gayani. A very big thank you goes to my young team which is our future for a better Mother Nature!!



Newton and Chapa
Newton and Chapa with Waruni and Gayani who were main responsible team members for Vanni Yathra 2018

Conducting a Yathra in North was a challenge. Language barriers, less contribution from local communities, distance from Colombo, less concern for Nature conservation (as they have their own social issues) and lack of awareness on environmental issues. Newton was struggling a lot to find Tamil speaking youth as participants for the Yathra as many were not interested in committing themselves for 10 day ride. It may be due to lack of understanding and not seeing the importance of getting such training. On the other hand, Chapa had a challenge of selecting youth as we got so many applications and had to select only 15 of them allowing Newton to have another 15 from North. The yathra was designed to have a Tamil, Sinhala and of course Muslim youth in equal numbers. Chapa and ECO-V had the main challenge in getting funds (just because my involvement was minimal and Chapa was not having enough experience in fund raising and Newton could not do it at all from Northern province). Thanks to Journeys for Climate Justice and Diakonia majority of funds came in. However, Chapa got her team and Newton got his team and made 30 membered team. All of them met in Kilinochchi on the 2nd of June 2018. I joined with them on 3rd June and started the pre-journey. I felt very happy as by the time I joined, ECO-V team had done a many activities to break ice and build up the team spirit and I had to the theory part related to Climate Change and sustainability.
Newton conducting training 




Gayani recording the training session


Early morning meditation session conducted by me
showing how to connect with trees

Meeting Selva (Newton and Selva were the first ever Tamil youth we had for Yathras)

On 4th of June, all joined with District Secretariat where Newton works, to meet the government agent and planted trees. He also joined to ride with our Yathra team for a short distance to celebrate the World Bicycle day (3rd of June) declared by UN for the first time. I also had an opportunity to ride for a short distance which made me very happy too.  
Newton and me cycling together in Kilinochchi 

It was really funny as I had to rush to the Kilinochchci base hospital early in the morning with Madhushan the youngest youth participant as he got a minor allergic reaction. Instead of riding a two wheel bicycle he had to sit on wheel chair and get admitted to hospital. He was very upset but luckily he got discharged by afternoon.

Instead of a bicycle he was having a ride on a Wheel Chair


Meeting with Col. Shantha Kahagalle and other officers of Sri Lanka Army  in Kilinochchi

After visiting Iranamadu Tank and having met Col. Shantha Kahagalle who was a great support for getting food and making logistic arrangements for next few days along the yathra route, I left North and came back to Colombo.

From the next day onwards I was not with them physically so they had to take their own decisions matching with the situation. I got updates via phone in the evening and I guess Chapa wanted to make sure that she was correct. 

The next few paragraphs are written by Chapa as I was not there, 

Vanni Yathra team celebrated World Environmental Day (5th June) with Sri Lanka Army and school children in Kilinochchi, and world Ocean Day on 8th of June at Mullativu with District Secretariat by conducting many awareness programmes, tree planting activities and spending more time to connect with Mother Nature.
 
This is the route of Vanni Yathra 2018

On 6th of June the yathra team were riding bicycles towards Puththukudiyippu form Visuvamadu where they lodged in previous night. During the journey they were invited to conduct an awareness session on food safety and impacts on polythene and plastics at Puththukudiyirippu Central College that suddenly organized by Col. Anil Perera (23SLNG) with the support of few school staff members.
youth conducting the training session for students 
Nadia distributing leaflets to school children

On 7th of June the team celebrated the World Ocean Day occurred on 8th of June in every year since they were passing Mulativu coastal area on that day. They got an opportunity to conduct a session on “Ocean pollution and World Ocean Day” for staff members of Mulativu District Secretariat. In addition they presented a street drama and created awareness at main bus stand in Mulativu town. In the evening the yathra team got a great opportunity to learn on birds nearby Nanthikadal lagoon.
During street drama

The team waked up too early in 8th morning since their accommodation of  previous night; the lake view park nearby Madawalasingha lake which owned by 592 brigade of Sri Lanka Army, was a very charming and environmental friendly venue. The team did few nature activities on the bank of Lake such as “Surya Namaskaraya”, few Yoga postures, Wirlies Musical therapy and talking with trees.

Soorya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) 


connecting with Trees 


youth playing an drelaxing through the Wirlies the music instrument 

After that they started their journey towards Nedunkeni along Kulamurippu forest reserve and Naagachcholeii forest reserve. During the journey they rested few hours near by a lake and did few group activities which helped to enhance their personality.
connecting with Nature like a caterpillar.....
Butterflies mud puddling 

Team watching butterflies

On 9th of June the yathra team were riding bicycles towards Pulliyankulam form Nedunkeni. They learnt and discussed on 10 R Process which explained how to minimize domestic waste generating. In addition the team did few activities to develop their communication skills.

Wow...I was so happy to get to know all about these activities they have done without me. Thank you Chapa for adding above words. 

I was eagerly waiting for the 10th of June as it was my time to join with the team again in Vavuniya. I met them on the way and joined with the lunch and an awareness programme at Central Bus stand Vavuniya. That was their last riding day and we all went together to Sevarest center run by Sevalanka foundation. 
youth creating awareness on food labels for chemicals. 

Awareness creating inside a public bus 

Talking about roadside biodiversity 

local people who joined and listen to us
Together as a team in Vavuniya Bus Stand getting ready for a street drama

Last day was full of post journey training and day was started by another environmental meditation conducted by me. All what we did was making sure all these trained 30 youth are going to continue their sustainable life style they experienced and pass the knowledge to next generation and be a Green Leader forever. So everybody knew it was end of a memorable journey and a life time experience. Finally, during the closing ceremony while giving certificates, we announced that they are getting a present. The bike!!! They were so thrilled to know that they were getting their bike as a present which was a friend for last 10 days.

According to the feedback we have received, all Yathrees were very happy about the experience they got while spending nights with minimal facilities, riding longer hours in hot sun and rough wind, with less time to rest and mainly no time with their hand phones (the main rules were no phones other than just before bedtime and no selfies during journey).


Newton Gayani Me Chapa and Dhanushka 
Dhanushka who is one of great resources ECO-V has from Udawalawa,  played a very important role as a mature leader by riding at the end of the line, repairing bikes and giving the moral support to youth who were tired and riding slowly. He was nicknamed as Bicycle Doctor and youth have commented that they learnt lot from Dhanushka too. Gayani added her experience in making changes in government sector (many positive stories since she completed Kelani nadee Yathra - 2011 our first Journey) where she is working at and her knowledge on Paleo biodiversity and archaeology.
My brother Ajith join again for the 7th time as the videographer and is is such a gift we have as he always comes as a volunteer and help us making the video film on Yathras. 
Ajith filming yathra
All past Yathrees who added teh experience (Newton, Gayani, Me, Chapa, Dhanushka and Ajith) 

I was just watching them with a smile and slightly guiding them whenever needed but mainly it was them who did it!!!!! So the vanni yathra 2018 is over with many positive change makers produced and let’s wait for ripple effects.
 I personally want to thank my friends, well wishers and followers and members of Journeys for Climate Justice who donated money for us to raise the required amount for buying bikes and helmets. So all bikes are gifted to youth and you will be getting more information via this blog about the ripple effects in near future about the change that they will make as Green leaders. Thank you all!!!! 



Saturday, June 9, 2018

Vanni Yathra 2018 update from field.....




Our 7th Yathra which is named as Vanni Yathra is on its way. Today is it’s 8th  day and 2 more days to go. I could not update you all as internet connection is very slow in the remote areas of journey route so I did not get pictures on time. 

The name for this yathra is just because it’s taking place in Vanni District at the Northern province of Sri Lanka (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanni_(Sri_Lanka). The journey will cover officially 3 administrative districts named Kilinochchi, Mullativ and Vavuniya.  The majority of people are Tamil speaking and there are some Sinhala speaking communities in Vavuniya mainly.

Vanni area is home town for Isaiyalan Newton a yathree since 2011 (a youth who participated in a yathra is called a yathree). He is the one who requested for a yathra to be organized in his area. Then we at ECO-V decided to give him the responsibility of taking it forward. However, it was always challenging him to do it alone due to many reasons including lack of support from his own community. His own community was the victims of 30 years of war we had in North and not many people are willing to take the leadership for any positive activity even nearly 10 years have passed after finishing war. Lack of financial support or community support or even political support for any environmental activities was challenging and frustrating. Therefore, we at ECO-V decided to give him support with another alumnus of our Ruhunu Yathra in 2016. Chapa Erandi was very keen on taking the lead with Newton and took the responsibility of organizing whole Yathra from ECO-V side. 
Newton and Chapa planting a tree during yathra while a child from local community watch it.

This is the first time that two young leaders are taking the lead as all other 6 Yathras were mainly my responsibility and I took the lead. Therefore, I feel very happy now as we have produced second generation leadership in environmental campaigning and Green leadership through yathras. I was with them within first two days and really wanted to be with them more, but was determined to give them their freedom to conduct it and learn and experience through it without my leadership. I conducted few training session and had a short ride and came back to Colombo. 
During my training session before journey started 

At Iranamadu Tank describing a tree 

While I was conducting my favorite activity the Environmental meditation 



Like all other past Yathras Journeys for Climate Justice from Melbourne – JCJ (http://www.journeysforclimatejustice.org.au/)  is with us and supported to buy 30 bikes and helmets while raising funds encouraging donors to offset their travel carbon. The Diakonia Sri Lanka (https://www.diakonia.se/en/Where-we-work/Asia/Sri-Lanka/) is our main funder for all other activities of yathra this time. We managed to get support from some other cooperate and NGO partners and also through individual donors too. 
Logos of all supporters 

team with Vanni Yathra banner 

However, Sri Lanka Army and Police were very supportive too. Without Sri Lanka Army getting food in North of Sri Lanka would have been a nightmare as not like any other Yathra the civil society support was very weak in North Province. Today is the 8th day of yathra and everything was very successful so far and team is spending night at a army camp today. 

30 youth who are riding at the moment are in high spirit. Our videographer who is my own brother Ajith Weerakoon joined with us for the 7th time and filming every bit of it. Without him having documentary films on Yathra would not be a possible as it’s very expensive to get somebody hired but Ajith is doing this voluntarily. 
Nadia is being interviewed by Ajith

Dhanushka is being interviewed by Ajith

Praneeth taking pictures

Also we have Praneeth our volunteer to still photography who is the husband of ECO-V’s Waruni. Chapa’s Husband, Ishan is also a great supporter in IT side who designed Yathra logo

Thank you Ishan for designing this logo. 
and technically helping us in all IT related work. Our past yathree Dhanuka from Ruhunu Yathra is also working on Face book posts as he could not join with Yathra this time. Dhanushka who is with us this time as past Yathree is the bicycle doctor as he has good experience from Paapedi 2013. Gayani too is joining with Yathra as a trainer and I am so blessed to have these Green leaders around ECO-V as they all are products of previous Yathras. 
Ishan and Gayani during selection of youth for Vanni Yathra

Gayani, Waruni, Dhanushka and Chapa at ECO-V office just before they went to North

As we always wished youth are showing so many ripple effects. When we started JCJ in 2010 it was our objective. Instead of planting trees with offset money we wanted to "plant Green leaders" who will show more ripple effects in  combating Climate Change! Today we see the results, all green leaders we planted (trained) through journeys are showing so many ripple effects in many fields in the country and they are already involved in planting (training) more new green leaders by themselves. So what else should we do???

8 days of Vanni yathra are gone and 2 more days are there…I am waiting to join them again soon and will hear their stories, share their happiness and changes took place within yathra…then I will share them with you too.



Monday, May 21, 2018

Youth Journey on its way - Vanni Yathra 2018



Newton 

This is Isaiyalan Newton -  we got to know in August 2011. Since then he became "Our Newton". He was involved with LTTE Tamil tigers so many year during the war we had in Sri Lanka. He was appointed to join with us in our first ever journey – Kelani Nadee yathra (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfcefmB9OkI) when he was under rehabilitation process. Since then he got involved with all the Journeys we conducted to create “Green leaders”

Newton during Kolamba Yathra 2015

He slowly got established as true Green leader. he changed his lifestyle, became vegetarian, stopped drinking fizzy drinks, fight against environmental pollution and unhealthy life style. Participated in many training programmes, campaigned and became an environmental activist and a champion in Northern Province. He learnt Sinhalese very fast and became the Sinhala- Tamil translator for our programmes. Whenever we said we have a prgramme he always traveled from Kilinochchi and early morning 6am he at our office door step. Today he is going to drive his own Journey - "Vanni Yathra" with the support of Chapa Erandi another young yathree (participant of previous journey) who emerged through Ruhunu Yathra 2016. After that she became permanent staff member of ECO-V after volunteering with us for few months. Today she is the coordinator to Climate change and sustainability projects of ECO-V.  

Chapa Erandi the Vanni Yathra Southern Leader
She will take the lead of 15 youth from South of Sri Lanka and will join with Newton who has his own team of 15 youth from North on 3rd of June to ride their common bicycle journey together towards sustainability and reconciliation through Mother Earth!  

This is what they are going to do...They will ride bicycles starting on World Bicycle day (3rd June 2018) for 10 days covering 3 main districts in Northern Province with 30 youth. During the journey they will learn about Climate Change, Biodiversity, Sustainability, connections with Nature, Food Security and food safety and of course they will enjoy Nature by watching birds, connecting with trees while planting more trees etc. They will also create awareness on above topics to general public, security forces and school children. Once they finish the journey, they will go home with their bikes and start empowering their local communities and will become messengers for sustainable living. 

So as president of ECO-V and president of Journeys for Climate Justice, I am trying to lead these youth by helping them to raise funds and guiding them in coordination the journey. They are trying to raise some more funds to cover expenses for buying bikes. Thanks to many who supported us so far we have collected enough funds to purchase 15 bikes. So we have to buy 15 more bikes and its only 1200 Australian Dollars. Our Australian organization; Journeys for climate justice came on board again and set up online system to raise funds for this journey. So I really wish that our blog readers will give their blessings and contribute even small portions of money to raise some funds for this yathra. The link for donations is at www.jcj.org.au and you can use Paypal and pay to JCJ bank account. Aus Dollar 80 will be enough to buy a bike and a helmet. You can contribute even with a small amount which means that even one dollar will help us to achieve our target.

So Vanni Yathra is about to start with youth leadership immerged through ECO-V. This time I will be just the retired driver of the journey as I really wanted these two to lead the journey without my active participation. So I am watching them but will be with them physically and spiritually to be the strength to them.

I know our friends, supporters and well wishes will be with them too. Thank you for trusting ECO-V and admiring our work!

When I lead journey - Paapedi in 2013.