Monday, August 29, 2011

Farewell to our Yathrees and the Journey of a Lifetime…

Yesterday was our last day of this Journey for Climate Justice. We didn’t stop smiling and laughing for a second,  but in the back of our minds there was also great sadness that this experience of our lifetime was about to come to an end.
We made our way to the stunning International Training Centre of Vishua Niketan, where we were to complete our final day of training. Jim Crosthwaite kicked off the session leading us in an informative discussion of Climate Change. I then took the chance to give a presentation of the results of our water quality study of the Kelani River, and discuss some key issues and potential solutions. We then gave the Yathrees the chance to formally evaluate their trip, which they have described as “life-changing”, and “the best experience of our lives”! We interviewed each of the Yathrees separately, asking them to reflect on their Journey.
After a presentation by Kanchana on Sustainable Development we split the group up to discuss conservation projects that they are interested in implementing after the Journey, and any challenges or uncertainties that they expecting to face. We were very impressed at the ambitious but achievable projects that were proposed, including a nation-wide plastic-free campaign (including introducing home-made reusable cloth shopping bags), construction of an eco-friendly village, introduction of eco-friendly education programs in rehabilitation programs and in Universities, and many more.

After a final workshop on the Eco-Handprint concept, and many tips for ‘greening’ one’s lifestyle, we begun creating our ‘mural of healing hands’. The idea is that by using our handprint (as opposed to our footprint) we can compensate for the damage that we are doing for the environment, and make the world a better place for all Living Beings. The Yathrees made a pledge to protect Mother Nature, before planting a personalised painted handprint on the mural. This was a beautiful way to end our training session.
We returned back to Savodaya for an evening of celebration, singing, speeches and dramas. This cultural celebration was truly a night to remember, and was a great lighthearted note to end the trip on.

We said many sad goodbyes to our great friends and companions this morning, who will be travelling back to their homes, but will be joining us again for the final ceremony on the 15th, which should be an incredible event, look forward to keeping you posted!

Thank you so much to all who have sponsored and supported us on this Journey, we will never forget your kindness. You have helped us to run a program not only to change the lives of these Yathrees, but one that will have ripple effects throughout Sri Lankan and International communities.

For a better environment – Pat

P.S. there will be much more to come! Keep watching this blog for updates on the final ceremony, the much anticipated documentary, and updates on the Yathrees activities in their own conservation projects

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Our final destination – where the river meets the sea!

Our good friend Jim Crosthwaite arrived yesterday, and will be travelling with us for the remainder of the Journey. Jim is the president and co-founder of Journeys for Climate Justice, and we thank him kindly for his generosity, support and determination to help this  Journey come to fruition.
We begun our last day in the field with a fascinating tour of the ancient Hanwella Fort, a strategic militiary post which has fallen into the hands of many nations over its prolonged history.
We returned to our base at the Education Centre to hear that the Minister of Environment and several other provincial MPs would be joining us to discuss the outcome of the Journey! The Minister has been a great supporter of the Journey from the start, and he was particularly impressed with the success this innovative project has achieved, including its strong partnership with the Australian charity organisation Journeys for Climate Justice, of which Jim and I were present. National media groups also came along to capture our story and report the success of the Journey!
We then took a step outside, and the Minister and his fellow MPs donned a Kelani Nadee Yatra cap and got straight into some tree planting (see photo below)!
We stopped off for another awareness campaign through the town of Hanwella, before travelling onwards to the banks of the Kelani river in the heart of Colombo. We crossed the river by a hand-pulled barge, before testing the water quality and getting our hands dirty cleaning up rubbish on the banks of this beautiful river.
We then paid a visit to the beautiful Kelani temple, a site visited by the Buddha thousands of years ago. The Kelani temple is a very sacred site for buddhists, with thousands of people coming daily to pray, give offerings and marvel at the sheer beauty of the complex.
Sadly, the time had come to move along to our last stop in the field, where the Kelani River meets the ocean. It has been a magical experience to follow this mighty river from its source in the mountains, to its end-point hundreds of kilometres away in the urban coastal environment of Colombo.
Tonight we are staying at the headquarters of Sarvodaya (the largest social NGO in Sri Lanka) just south of Colombo. We are all reminiscing on this experience of a lifetime, and are looking forward to our final training day tommorow.

Teaming up with SCOUTS for an Eco-adventure!

We woke at the beautiful riverside Salawa Scout Camp to meet our friends and supporters from the Colombo-district Scout Association. After singing the national anthem we jumped into our challenge for the morning: an Eco-Adventure course, comprising commando-style physical challenges, nature-based adventure courses and intellectually-stimulating environmental quizzes.
After several fun-filled hours on the course, we took the chance to catch our breath and clean ourselves of mud before planting more trees around the Scout Camp. Tree-planting is just one of the techniques we have used along the Journey to improve our Eco-Handprint!
We said goodbye to our good friends at the Scout Camp (who have been great supporters of our Journey since it was conceived) and travelled onwards into the hustle-and-bustle of the outskirts of Colombo.
We picked a few strategic locations and launched a full-scale awareness campaign, covering town squares, markets and bus depots, with the support of local officials and police. We had a crazy and fun afternoon, performing street dramas, gathering crowds, chatting with locals, handing out eco-awareness stickers and singing our famous ECO-V song (about caring for Mother Earth, written by a famous Sri Lankan singer).
At dusk we made our way to the Education Centre in Hanwella, where we were invited along for the night. The Yathrees have been spending their evening finishing their beautiful journals, which they will be handing in tommorrow!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Yet another way we are reducing our carbon footprint!

After receiving a blessing in the hilltop temple complex, we met our friends from Lanka Sportreizen Adventure Company who handed each of us a mountain bike. This was to be our eco-friendly transport for the day.
We cycled to the beautiful estate of the well-respected Mapitigama family, who kindly invited us for breakfast. We then planted trees in the local area, before hopping back on our bikes to begin our epic journey.
We rode through rural countryside, lush rainforest and endless paddy fields, raising awareness amongst friendly locals along the way.
By mid-afternoon we had reached our destination at the renowned Ayurvedic (traditional Eastern medicine) town of Vedehagama, where we were welcomed with a much needed cup of tea!
After a quick tour of the town we continued further into the valley, to the fascinating home of Bandu, a lifelong archaeologist and naturalist. Bandu lives a simple life, using ancient, eco-friendly practices that are harmonious with nature. His garden contains only rare, endemic plants, many with important Ayurvedic properties. My personal highlight was a ‘living plant’ that detects your presence and moves away from you! INCREDIBLE!! Bandu built his house himself using traditional methods, and locally-sourced organic materials, incorporating thousands of fascinating artefacts collected over his lifetime, may of which are replicas that we has created himself!
We then travelled onwards to the Colombo-district, Salawa Scout Camp, on the banks of the Kelani River, where we sang into the night.... a glorious way to spend our second last night in the field!

Planting trees and raising awareness along the Kelani River….

The spirits of the Yathrees were not dampened for a second today, despite torrential monsoon rains all morning. We are very impressed to see their persistent positive mentality on such a long journey.
We continued our environmental training of the Yathrees this morning in our stunning rainforest. We also took the opportunity to study the water quality of the Kelani River, which has become heavily laden with sediment, highlighting the importance of stopping deforestation and replanting trees to prevent erosion, soil loss, and damage to this unique river ecosystem.
We ventured further downstream to the picturesque Hakbelawaka bridge, where we met supporters from the local government, undertook an awareness campaign and planted trees. The trees were a gift from the local Chairman Pradeshiya Sabawat who has been a huge supporter of our Journey.
Chairman Pradeshiya then invited us along to his headquarters at the nearby town of Yatiyanthota, where we were met by a gathering of government officials, the local school principal, the local head monk, and other supporters. We discussed our Journey, as well as strategies to encourage more environmentally-friendly practices in Sri Lanka. The Yathrees were even given a chance to introduce themselves and individually discuss their experiences so far.
The local officials were very impressed at the progress of our rehabilitated youth from the Northern and Eastern Provinces, who joined us through the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. The Chairman then treated us to lunch, and donated many more trees to us.
We spent the remainer of the day visiting towns along the River, undertaking awareness programs and turning heads with our popular street performances.
At dusk we made our way into the mountains to our resting place at a historic hilltop temple complex, as invited by the highly-respected and charitable Mapitagama Family.
- Pat

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

White water rafting down the mighty Kelani River..and taking Kithugala by storm with an eco-awareness campaign!

We had an unforgettable morning rafting down the hair-raising rapids of the Kelani River, the Yathrees first experience of such an adventure. Between the wild rapids we took the time to marvel at our stunning rainforest setting, as interpreted by our naturalist guides.
We then dried ourselves out and hiked up into the high-country to visit the world-famous Beni Lana caves, the dwelling place of some of the earliest homosapiens (up to 30,000 years ago!). This stunning archaeological site nestled in the side of a cliff face made us reflect on the scale of environmental destruction that humans have caused in such a minute period in the history of Earth.

We then traveled to Kithugala, where the Yathrees scoured the town, performing dramas in the streets about caring for Mother Nature, and engaging with locals about environmental issues such as polythene waste, climate change, water pollution and sustainability. The Yathrees have impressed us with their confidence and passion to raise awareness of these important issues, and promote simple solutions.
We stopped off for a quick visit to the stunning filming location of The Bridge On The River Kwai, before reaching our accommodation at the eco-friendly, tropical paradise of Wanadula Rest, where our host Lucas discussed with us how to transform any property and building into an eco-friendly, natural haven.
Sorry about the late post of this blog, torrential monsoon rains and our remote location has made it tricky to find internet service!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Action packed eco-Adventure experience!!!

Never have I ever had such an action-packed day in my entire life! Our legs are tired, our throats are soar from cheering on our friends, but our hearts are filled with an experience we will cherish for the rest of our lives. The idea of today was to “step outside of our comfort zone” and work as a team, as introduced by our inspiring eco-adventure guide and experienced ecologist Mahesh.
We spent last night in tents, with the Yathrees taking sentry posts throughout the night. Rather than seeing this as a task, they were highly grateful for the experience, and even pleaded with us to let them do this every night!
We rose at dawn to raise the Sri Lankan flag, before jumping into a meditation and yoga session to get our minds and bodies in tune for the day ahead. We then launched into some innovative and hilarious group activities. I have never witnessed such comradery, selflessness, teamwork and participation in all my experience in adventure guiding!
A morale boosting Haka (Maori-dance) inspired performance by Team-River, in the pouring monsoon rains
After breakfast we took to some rope courses in the jungle canopy, and despite torrential monsoon rainfall, which persisted all day, none of the Yathrees ducked for shelter or complained once – rather, cherishing this added challenge from Mother Nature.
Kanchana being lifted down from the high ropes course
After lunch we hiked through awe-inspiring jungle, across wild river crossings and into the mountains around Kithugala, with the raging sound of the Kelani River never far away. We passed the location where the classic World War II movie, Bridge over the River Kwai was filmed, and even visited an eco-friendly micro hydropower house. This led us to the rarely-seen Katarum River, where we took turns in plunging down a hair-raising rock pool slide!
Upon returning to base camp we sent the Yathrees off to prepare a drama to perform tonight to reflect on this marvelous day. Judging by the Yathrees performance so far, I trust this will be a hilarious, jaw-dropping, tear-jerking and heart-warming evening!
At this half-way point in our Journey we would like to say a heartfelt thanks to our kind and generous sponsors and supporters, your support has changed the lives of our youth, as well as everyone that we have passed along the way on our Journey For Climate Justice.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Testing the waters of the mighty Kelani River…

This morning we ventured onwards to Polpinya Temple, where Kanchana led us in an uplifting Green Leadership training program. We then sent the Yathrees off into the wild to get some inspiration, which they put to good use with some beautiful artwork.
After lunch we continued downstream, stopping along the way to test the water quality of Kelani’s two main tributaries – Maskelyia and Kehelgamu. It was inspiring to see the Yathrees show so much enthusiasm to understand and protect these waterways, which are the lifeforce to much of Sri Lanka.
We  then met up with Mahesh from SEALS (Spirit & Eco-Adventure Living Squad) who will be leading us through an action-packed 2 day nature-based adventure course! We took up camp at the SEALS base at Kithugala, on the banks of the scenic Kelani River. We spent the remainder of the day bathing in the river and soaking up our picturesque surroundings.
All in all another glorious day! Our mouths hurt from laughing so hard, and our brains are packed full with knowledge to be the green leaders of the future.
Once again, Kelani Nadee Yatra is in the media spotlight, with a great article in today’s Sunday Observer, Sri Lanka’s renowned English newspaper:

Trekking downstream through wondrous jungle, under the peaks of the Seven Virgins!!

Another day…another unforgettable experience! We watched the sun rise with a jog to the nearby temple, before jumping into a Yoga session with our good friend and yoga-guru Nande. Nande then led us in an environmental meditation session, which got our brains in tune for the day ahead.
We then ventured onwards to the Canyon Hydro Power Station, where the resident engineers were kind enough to give us a tour. After testing the water quality we travelled further down the road, and begun our steep descent to the majestic Laksapana Falls.
We feasted on jack fruit curry for lunch in the spray of the falls (eaten off a banana leaf to minimise our waste), and a few brave souls even swam up to the base of the waterfall to witness its power firsthand!
After trekking back up the steep rocky path, the Yathrees launched into another eco-awareness campaign with local communities.
This was a great success and lead us many kilometres down the road, where we hitched a ride in the back of a passing small truck (imagine 25 of us clinging on for dear life in the tray!)…not a bad effort to minimise our carbon footprint! This brought us to our destination at Bokarabebilla Temple, nestled in the jungle below the Seven Virgins (a series of 7 beautiful peaks), where local monks kindly agreed to put us up for the night.
Our journey has achieved massive media interest, most notably being a  30-minute live interview about the journey on Derana, one of Sri Lanka’s leading TV stations, as well as being broadcast on national radio, where we were introduced as “Sri Lanka’s longest ever environmental education program”.