Monday, December 31, 2012

Good Bye and Thank you year 2012!


Today is the last day of year 2012. I was very busy since I came back in mid November from USA after Eisenhower Fellowship travel. During the last week of Eisenhower fellowship programme we were supposed to provide a photograph which will express feelings about whole programme. The image should have chosen during the travel. It was very interesting to put two months of experience and feelings into one image. A butterfly flying away from its cocoon was my image which was taken at Audubon Society education center in Phoenix, Arizona. I felt like a caterpillar inside a cocoon who is absorbing everything and turning into a butterfly who fly away to pollinate. 
Award of certificate by EF president John Wolf
EF experience for me in one image

I missed the opportunity to visit Namibia in November to attend the refresher course on conflicts on Wetland management due to a strike by Air Namibia. However, Centre for Innovation and Development (CDI) at Wageningen, Netherlands who was the organizer of the programme in Namibia had a similar programme running in Nepal. CDI invited me to attend it in Pokhara, Nepal instead of Namibia. This was the second time I attended a course at CDI and first one was held at Netherlands in 2009. 
During stake holder interviews on Rupa Lake case study

With some of course participants

Fish tail Mountain at Annapurna mountains in Pokhara

It was almost Christmas when I returned from Pokhara, Nepal after 2 weeks and was looking forward to have a holiday after long travel for last 3 months. Still no great luck in getting holidays as we had the meeting for ECO-V members on the day after I returned. The meeting was to discuss our future activities in the coming year. It was very nice to meet most of our enthusiastic members. Some of them were with us since 2002. 

During ECO-V Thiresi meeting

Many of our senior members

Last year we were busy with kelani Nadee Yathra the river journey for climate justice which was a huge success. This year we were fully involved with the yathrees (youth who participated in the journey) supportive projects. All yathrees did at least a small scale project and 6 of them are still continuing their initiatives at local level to make a difference. They all are good examples of youth leaders at grass root level. Our promise was to guide them for one and half years after the river journey but it seems like we have developed strong bonds with them for another few years which is very encouraging. Now it is the time for another initiative and we are getting ready for next National level event in coming year.
Well, personally, 2012 was a very happy year as it helped me to become an Eisenhower fellow and got my leadership skills strengthened. We have been talking about our dream of having a well developed training component for future leaders at grass root level.  So I believe that we all can keep dreaming and acting together to make it a reality in year 2013.
We thank you all for being with us by encouraging and admiring what we were doing and we believe that you will continue to be with us in coming year too.
Good Bye year 2012 and happy New year to all of you!
Kanchana, Thushara and rest of ECO-V

Monday, December 3, 2012

Back to San Francisco, Canticle Farm and workshop with Joanna Macy

After Boston un-conference organized by New England Eisenhower fellows I flew back to San Francisco. It was a very unique experience for me. Throughout Eisenhower fellowship travel, I had the opportunity to stay at hotels like Hilton, Double tree and many other star class hotels but two nights living in a small room at Casa de Paz at Canticle Farm ( was an unforgettable experience. It took me back to my university days when I did research living in Tropical Rrain Forests when I sleept on floor, living with minimum facilities this time eating vegetarian and sometimes even vegan (which is a new practice for me) walking in the organic garden watching humming birds!!! Wow…I really enjoyed few hours of those two days meeting very unique personalities in USA who are trying to get connected with Mother Earth with a simple life style. In fact it’s not very new to me as many people in Sri Lanka live that way but I think for many Americans its very unusual. They all talked about Ghandian philosophy, middle path of Lord Buddha, meditation, sustainability, connection with Mother Earth, inner peace, and low ecological impact and non violence. All familiar words! The beauty of it is they respect Buddhist philosophy, and teachings of St. Francis. Isn’t it wonderful??? I only spent the night and early mornings at Canticle farm as I had to travel to San Francisco to participate in Joanna Macy’s workshop on “Great Turning”. Read more about Canticle Farm community on this link.

Garden which provides food for all community members

seating areas giving the opportunity to connect with Mother Earth

Two days with Joanna Macy talking about “Great Turning” was giving me full of positive energy. It confirmed me what I was preaching for last 11 years is so true and Joanna confirmed me that I am on right track. This is what Joanna says about Great turning A revolution is underway because people are realizing that our needs can be met without destroying our world. We have the technical knowledge, the communication tools, and material resources to grow enough food, ensure clean air and water, and meet rational energy needs. Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning. It is happening now”. 

During "Active Hope" workshop

Very happy to meet you Joanna...

Joanna Macy with full of positive energy

So ECO-V’s mission towards Eco friendly life style is the key path for more sustainable future on this planet. It was very nice to have a very positive feeling about life after 2 days of “Active Hope” workshop by Joanna Macy whom I have been admiring for past few years but never had the opportunity to meet her before ( I would like to thank Eisenhower fellowships for making all the arrangements to meet her and get that training under her.

Also I would like to invite all who read this blog to take some time to read more about “great Turning” and also to take possible actions to be a part of it. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Washington DC, New York and Boston

After a great retreat at Grand Canyon we all came back to Phoenix and some of the fellows flew to West coast to continue their travels. I and few fellows had to stay one more night in Phoenix as flights to East Coast had got cancelled due to hurricane Sandy. Finally I arrived to Washington DC on the 31st of October. Next day was the day to meet Robyn Dalzen and Julie Jackson at Conservation leadership programme (CLP) based at Conservation International. They have arrange a lunch time talk for me and was the time to say thank you to CLP for helping me to come this far starting in 1997 with Sinharaja 97’ (was an expedition with 4 Cambridge students and two Sri Lankan counterparts near Sinharaja forest in Sri Lanka).

Lunch time talk at Conservation International
Next day I had some free time to visit Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and also Native American museum. I have visited Native American Museum when I came to DC in 2005 for Environmental Leadership programme conducted by Smithsonian Institute. So I always wanted to come back as it was such a living place with rich art and culture of Native Americans or “Amerindians” as they call.
Smithsonian Museum for Amerindians

I had a great privilege to visit “Climate reality project” initiated by former vice President Al Gore. He was my one and only favorite politician in USA since I started studying and talking about Climate Change issues. I could not meet him but I met his Programme officer Kevin Curtis. It was such a wonderful meeting where I was invited to be a panelist for their upcoming 24 hour Reality programme on the 14th and 15th of November. Unfortunately I could not get permission from Eisenhower programme as they have a mandatory session for us in Philadelphia. Anyway now I am invited to participate the final session of 24 hour Climate Reality on the 15th of November where Vice president Al Gore will be speaking. So it will be an exciting event!

Kevin Curtis at Climate reality Project in front of Mr. Gore's office
My next travel destination was New York. Due to unpredictable weather conditions and still New York airports have not started their normal routings I was advised to take the train and it was a nice train journey which gave me more reflection time on this leadership programme.
Time Square!
Staying at the Millennium Broadway Hotel at Time Square New York was a very different experience for me. So many people, Neon lights, busy streets, crazy taxi drivers really confirmed me I am in New York! I had a very good time during my B’day weekend in New York and it was a very personal time with my aunt and cousins and no official meetings!

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) at Brox Zoo was my next destination. WCS is also a partner of CLP programme so meeting Christina Imrich for the second time was a very happy moment. She has arranged me few meetings and also a lunch time talk for staff at WCS. I had a great day at New York Botanical Garden on the 6th November which was the USA Election Day. Learning about urban gardening, and how it can be used for conservation education was very interesting. The election night was full of fun and activities when I came back. Spending time at Rockefeller center and Time Square gave me some insight to US election culture. 
Election day in New York!
Next day was again traveling but had 2 very successful meeting at prospect Park Zoo and with an Eisenhower alumnus Paul DiPerna. Then Saliya Peiris and I travelled to Boston by train. It was snowing again in New York when we started traveling.
With active conservation educators at Prospect park Zoo
Eisenhower un-conference was the conference organized by New England Eisenhower fellows and it was a very nice and friendly event where I met many alumni and got experience about “Open Space”. Night was full of food and music at State House in Boston.
In the process of "Open Space"
After a day again…travelling… but this time across USA to San Francisco from Boston. Six hours….what am I going to do???

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Grand Canyon in USA - What a splendid beauty of Mother Earth?

It was the day that we had a retreat…a real retreat from Eisenhower fellowship. We all got into a bus and started traveling towards grand canyon with two staff members from Eisenhower fellowship; Leigh Cohen and Holly Logen.
Holly me and Leigh

When we stopped for lunch at Sedona and waiting in the line with other Sri Lankan fellows I saw one gentleman walking with a very familiar cap on his head. I was watching it and recognized the emblem on it. It was our lion the Sri Lankan golden lion!!! I was surprised and pointed out it to other fellows and yes we started talking…so that’s how we met Captain Dhammika Dias who is a Navy officer under a training here in USA. It’s really surprising and we all were very happy to say hello to each other far away from our Mother land.
me, Capt.Dias, Saliya, Jayantha and Anuruddha

We all reach the Yavapai Lodge at Grand Canyon east Rim at 4pm. Leigh and Holly suggested we should watch Sun Set. So having not seeing the Grand Canyon yet! I got into shuttle bus with a question mark on my head. What kind of place this is???  Well we reached Mather Point at 4.40pm and after a short walk we went to Mather Point and it was so many WOWS….I heard…Oh my goodness..what a piece of work…I was thinking who did this???? That is a river, The Colorado river has done over million years. It’s eroded ground with 447 km long, 29 km wide, and 1.6km deep. After creating such a great piece of ground Colorado river still flows silently and we saw it at a distance just like a snake.

Colorado river today
sunset at Canyon
Sun set was so beautiful, we took several picture and left Mather point as it was getting much cooler.
Next day we had a guided tour around South rim of Grand Canyon and it showed us more amazing landscapes. I had an opportunity to hear about biodiversity of the Canyon from a park officer and rest of the day was relaxing when other went for a helicopter ride.

Next day morning was the time for Sun Rise..I was thinking of Adam’s Peak ( and this was huge and landscape was totally different from Adam’s Peak. So again it was a different beauty as it was full moon Poya day and we witness the beauty of full moon and the rising sun. Then we went to Imax movie theater in nearby city and it was a 45 minute film on history of Grand Canyon. It was so nicely done and watching it at 3D theater was giving us the real feeling of the Colorado river and the Canyon. It reminded me my experience of learning about planets and weather in Norrokoping, Sweden during Climate Change Training course last year which was a similar theater which gave us 3D experience.
Depth of Canyon

Different colours

Sun rise 
Sri Lankans at canyon Anuruddha, me, Heshma and Jayantha (Saliya absent) 

Well that was my experience at Grand Canyon. Throughout my stay there I was trying to understand who I am, and what kind of impact we as human being put on this Mother Earth but no matter still she is giving us so much back. I felt so small there as the Grand Canyon is a massive piece of work done by the Colorado River.

What a retreat in the middle of the Eisenhower fellowship - Thank you!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

From Snow to Desert (Colorado to Arizona)

I was fully dressed and ready for snow when I left the motel to go to Denver airport. It was snow white everywhere along the road which was full of fall (spring) colours yesterday. Hmm..that’s nature…always full of surprises!!!
Denver, Co when I left my hotel
After 2 hours of a flight I landed at the Tempe airport, Phoenix, Arizona. Oh..dear me it was 300 Celsius and I was baking inside me as all layers of clothing was too much for that weather. Anyway it was a very short ride from airport to hotel and I got back to summer clothing before I went to look for some lunch. Tempe and Phoenix is so beautiful and very different from other cities that I visited. Full of sunshine and all desert habitats and I was already in love with Phoenix. Since the air was so dry and very low in humidity I was walking comfortably along streets under very hot sun but I had my water bottle in my hand. City was very friendly and I was comfortable walking along streets and absorbing urban and desert environment until it was 8pm.
Phoenix, Arizona when I arrived from Denver after 2 hrs of flight
Next day morning I went the Phoenix zoo to meet Jeff Williamson who is the President of Arizona Zoological Society. He was waiting for me with two bags full of material and some books of Richard Louv who is one of my favorite authors. I was very much looking forward to meet Richard Louv but he is in Canada these days but his office directed me to meet Jeff to discuss my future plans with him. I was told that Richard Louv is aware of my meeting with Jeff and taking our discussion forward. Working in collaboration with Children and Nature Network is one of my goals and it was fulfilled today as Jeff was very supportive and encouraging for that. He took me around the zoo and also around Desert Botanical garden. 

Oh...I saw the Road Runner, for the first time in my life when Jeff was taking me around. Roadrunner is the fastest running speed ever clocked for flying birds, although it is not nearly as fast as the flightless Ostrich. ( 

Jeff was kind enough to make some arrangements for me to visit Audubon Society of Arizona. Wow! It was a waste land given to Audubon Society on lease and now they have turned it into a interactive environmental center. (
Open space class room at Audubon society -Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area

Cathy, Sarah me and Jeff at Rio Salado Habitat restoration center

They were very happy to share their educational material and promised to assist me when I am ready to have our own training center for grass root level youth. So networking is taking place!
The last meeting was with the director of Educational department of Heard Museum Jaclyn Roessel. (  It is all about Native American Art and Culture. Jacylyn herself is having roots for Navaho Tribe ( which is one of the prominent tribes of Native Americans. So it was very interesting to discuss her personal views as well as objectives of the museum.

Finally all other fellows are also in the town as we all are heading to Grand Canyon for mid retreat of the fellowship programme. So its already 5 weeks gone!!

Denver, Fort Collins and Boulder - Colorado, USA

Next destination was Colorado and that was the 5th state I visited during Eisenhower fellowship. I flew to Denver and that was my 10th city in the 5th state. Gregory Inn was a nice place which has been booked for my accommodation and I felt very happy to be there as it’s a small house which belongs to Steve a very kind person. The experience there is totally different from staying in a luxury hotel in the middle of the city.
From Denver I took a Gray Hound bus next day to go to Fort Collins for my next meeting. One hour ride on Gray Hound bus gave me the opportunity to understand some of the living standards of US citizens. There were many homeless people even in Denver but not as bad as in San Francisco. I felt really sorry about them when I saw many homeless people along streets and near bus stands and how badly they are into alcoholisms and smoking. In my mind I was grateful to Sri Lankan government for banding public drinking and smoking when I started coughing while walking along the streets here in USA. 

Meeting David  Bartecchi the executive Director to Village Earth was very successful as we both felt that our organizations are very much on the same direction to achieve our goals. Village Earth is a non for profit based in Fort Collins which is working towards empowering grass root communities and organizations. Their strategy is very interesting and I realized that without knowing about such strategy we have also been working on the same line.

Next day I took a bus to Boulder, Colorado. It is a very beautiful city with much higher living standards than Denver. I was told that Boulder is very much into sports and they have some programmes for homeless people too. First meeting was at Naropa University (. I felt very comfortable at Naropa as their teaching is very much based on Buddhist Philosophy. It was their sustainability day and all were excited about introducing the sustainability statement for the university. Dr. Anne Parker and I had many ideas to share with each other and it was very interesting to see their commitment for better environment. Teresa Eastburn (Terry) was at the entrance to the Naropa University when I finished the meeting with Dr. Anne to take me to next appointment. Terri was not a new face to me as we met at naaee conference in Oakland and she suggested me a visit to NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) when I described our climate change project. So she was kind enough to give a guided tour around Boulder city before we headed to NCAR. NACR is situated at a very beautiful landscape and the architect was very particular about the environment when he designed NCAR in Boulder 1960 ( The story reminded me kandalama Hotel ( designed by Geoffrey Bava the well know architect in Sri Lanka.
View of Boulder, CO
Naropa University in Boulder, CO

Exhibition panels at NCAR raising awareness on Climate Change

After having a visit around NCAR and meeting Raj Pandaya and Roger Wakimoto the director of NCAR, Terry dropped me at Sherpa’s restaurant for my next meeting with Prof. Luise Chawla and Gene her husband. She is a at University of Colorado and having done some work at Butterfly Peace Garden in Batticoloa Sri Lanka. It was very interesting meeting and successfully concluded with the invitation for writing few articles about our work at ECO-V (reconciliation and environment/children and Environment) for one of their journals.
With Teresa Eastburn 

Oh..dear me! A very long day with 3 successful meetings and thanks to Eisenhower fellowship programme for arranging me a taxi to come back to Denver after a very late night. Goodness me! It was snowing when we came out of the restaurant. That was the first snow fall in Colorado for the season and it was 3 inches heavy by morning next day when I left to Arizona. 

The morning from my room in Denver

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Next stop was Seattle Washington State

Portland was full of information about positive movement towards sustainability but I didn't have much time there to explore everything. It had a very good movement towards cycling as a way of transportation which was very attractive to me.

Dana Ecelberger who was with us in 2005/2006 in Sri Lanka participating our field trips and helping us for our projects was always a great admirer of ECO-V. Even she left Sri Lanka after her studies, she still is our family friend and ECO-V member. So she was working with my programme officer Leigh to make my time more productive in USA and wanted me to explore more in her home area - Seattle. Since Dana knew my interests it was very easy for both me and Leigh as Dana came up with more ideas for the places and people I should visit and meet during the fellowship travel. Rain gardens in urban environments (to control run off), organic farms, woodlands, Botanical gardens and resources for conservation education were on her list of things to do for me within 4 days with her. Even the weekend with her was relaxing but full of sharing ideas while traveling around Seattle. Even we ended up discovering a fox skin kept for sale at a second hand shop which was not a pleasant item for both of us but it was a learning experience.
Me and Dana 
A fox skin (about 60 years old) with four legs which is unusual
How they have used animal skins for fashion which is not accepted these days (luckily)

One day morning I was surprised to hear that Bald Eagle is a frequent visitor to her home garden so she can't leave her cat outside while she is not at home. I really wanted to see a Bald Eagle as I have read about it during my post graduate studies on birds. Next day Dana was taking me to her sisters place at Port Townsend and a big bird started flying at our eye level in front of the windscreen. WOW!!!! It was the Bald Eagle. A raptor at our eye level in the middle of a bridge and then flew so close, parallel to the car for about 2 minutes. I was so thrilled and surprised and looking at it with my mouth opened. Such a charisma in that bird!!! So that was one of my WOW moments during fellowship - watching the America's National Emblem LIVE! for the first time in my life. I wish I took a photo but I was too busy watching it and didn't want to take my eyes off from this black and white huge bird.

"Rain garden" as rain water management system
After 6 days in Seattle it was the  time to say good bye to Dana but having hopes is meeting again soon as she is very much looking forward to come back to Sri Lanka.Thank you Dana and Curtis for giving me accommodation and treating me so well. I felt I had a family in USA.See you both again soon!
My next destination was Denver Oregon.

Monday, October 22, 2012

News from Portland, Oregon, USA

After the naaee conference in Oakland I flew to Portland where Paul venture was happily waiting for me at arrival terminal. It was the first time in this tour some body I know was waiting for me. So I was not worried about calling for a taxi or a hotel shuttle and more relaxed as it was less work for me. It was such a nice feeling to meet somebody who was a teacher 6 years ago and then became a good family friend and now again who is more a peer to share common ideas, views and working together for a common goal...that is "environmental sustainability"...

Touching a Red Wood tree for the first time in my life
Paul has been communicating with Leigh Cohen my programme officer at Eisenhower fellowships and came up with a great plan for 4 days in Portland (Oregon) and Vancouver (Washington state). It was more relaxing Sunday where Paul took me on a long trip for more observational learning which I always loved in my life. Started with a walk along a path where I learnt about Native American culture, then a local farmers' market to talk about traditional food and tasted some rare apples too. Then a long drive along Columbia River Gorge where we talked about different landscapes while walking and driving, river flows, glaciers, water falls, invasive plants (but berries are lovely as I couldn't stop picking them up), traditional jam making industry (tasted all 20 more recipes...yammm....).
Paths are full of information about Native Americans 

Native American art
River Columbia

Wow...its a great a great relaxing but learning day. Paul is a great guide and great teacher of course a great friend!!!
Next day was again learning!  I had a good exposure to a class on Ethno-Botany. It was a field based class where they taught about traditions of Native Americans where there are more commons between our cultures which are rich of sustainability, living with nature. I had a good exposure to the teaching methods, and met some great people who love to hear about my work.

Afternoon was a visit to a high school where I had to talk about Sri Lankan environmental conservation and our river journey we had last year. First it was only for 30 children but the school teacher was so interested so I had to talk for 60 children as they combined 2 classes. It was taken very positively by the teachers and students as they are involved with community projects local and overseas.
Presentation at high school class

Next day we had more "walks and talks" and met with Sharif Abdulla a very good friend of Sri Lanka and a volunteer to Sarvodaya. I have met him several time in Sri Lanka so it was a nice surprise meeting him through Paul. It was also a big surprise to find out he is the author of "The Power of One" a book that we discussed few years back. Sharif directed me to "yes" magazine where I had to give an interview about how our river journey was linked up with reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. So it was the time for me to talk about environmental conservation, youth and peace!

So thank you Paul and Koa taking me around Vancouver and Portland, making me happy and helping me to learn and experience Nature!.
Koa you are a human!

Paul, me and koa!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Eisenhower fellowship travel continues...

Its my 3rd week in USA. I hardly have time to sit and write blogs. The easiest way is write something on face book as its quick and no need to write details. So I tried to keep in touch with our 1100+ ECO-V face book members. But I need to update all our well wishes those who are not on the face book.

After a week in Philadelphia I flew to West Coast while other fellows went to East Coast. Past 3 weeks were very busy, packed with appointments, following the maps, getting into buses, Muni (bus service in San Francisco) or BART (underground) or if I was in a big hurry then taxis. Communicating via email and working with unfamiliar smart phone (we all got one phone which we have access to internet too) also took my time. On top of that I managed to keep my family happy. So I have to get up at 5.30 in the morning everyday no matter where you are to skype with my two boys and Thushara. That's very important than the fellowship :)

My time in San Francisco was really tight. Everyday I had to meet at least two people or visit places. I had a broad overview of US West Cost conservation strategies which are very green and systematic.
Visiting Spirit Rock Centre to take a training on Anxiety and Mindfulness, Meeting Joanna Macy who is an Eco Philosopher are two best opportunities that I got in my life.
View of Spirit Rock Meditation center in San Rafael, CA, USA

I learnt more about coastal ecosystem management, Climate change issues, park and recreational areas (Chrissy Filed was once an air field and today its a green area for all).
With Marc Holms from Bay Institute in front of Golden Gate Bridge

In front of Crissy Field Center with Director Christy Rocca

With Greg Scott who runs an organic farm at Solaria

Met wonderful people like Greg Scott from Emergence Farms and Gardens who really try to save Mother Earth with innovative thinking. So It was very short but productive exposure for me to meet all these wonderful people and visit amazing places.

Then I moved to Oakland to participate at 41st annual conference of North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). My expression was WOW!!!! It was full of Environmental educators mainly from USA and from 20 other countries too. Total participation was around 900. For the first time felt this world is full of very nice people who really do care about Mother Earth. There were many of us who are environmental educators who speak common topics like inter-connectivity, finding the missing links with Mother earth, children, youth etc.
NAAEE Conference

Meeting, inspiring people like Craig Kielburger and a 12 year old author Pawan Gowda, watching Disney world latest movie Chimpanzee, networking with Children for nature network, Rain forest Alliance, Project Learning Tree, and many other organisations are the highlights of the conference. Three days at conference was full of inspiring moments. Thanks to Eisenhower fellowship I met many like minded people who are passionate about EE.

Now I am in Portland and will write to you again when I get some free time. Than you for being with me.