Saturday, March 23, 2013


22 March 2012

The journey is almost over - only another 1 day to go.

Today we joined the WORLD WATER DAY celebration along with the EVERY DROP MATTERS project organised by the UN. We joined their activities - i.e. collecting special waste from households (batteries, electronic waste, energy saving bulbs...)  and talking to people about waste and ways to reduce it.

Since we are approaching Colombo, the situation surrounding us has changed immensely.
Remember the very first days of our journey ... they felt like riding through paradise. It was pure joy traveling through the stunning, rich nature of Sri Lanka. I could not think of anything nicer than cycling and feeling energized by the beautiful scenery. But since we passed Kurunegala, the feeling is different. We are wearing  breathing masks in order to protect our lungs from the fumes polluting the air. The traffic is chaotic. It feels very stressful to be on the road and to experience our vulnerability as cyclists. But there is one big advantage at the same time - while all the vehicles are stuck on the road, we are the only ones who are moving forward.

Tomorrow we will reach Colombo City.
We will participate in the global EARTH HOUR project and disconnect from electricity for one hour.
Join in, "switch off" and continue to save energy wherever possible.



Today we got up at 5am and started environmental meditation and stretches.

After some team-building activities, we were on our 10km ride towards the train station. There, we were able to drop in at a Singer store, one of the main sponsors for this journey and recognize and thank them for their support.

When we arrived at Gampaha, we rode towards the Bontanical Gardens where we got to tour the grounds, but also receive a lecture about agriculture from Chamira.

We are now two days away from arriving to Colombo, our final destination, where we will then be joined by other urban cyclists and celebrate Earth Hour.

Please continue to check in to see our progress!
Harish Mistry


March 20th, 2013

Day 7
Following on from yesterday after an inspiring presentation delivered expertly by Jie Chen from Crissy Fields Centre, San Francisco, USA. About his work with the youth from different neighborhoods around SF, very similar to the Yathras of Paapedi being from all parts of Sri Lanka. One of the key points I noted was how the aim was to not only give the youth the knowledge and information required but to allow the group of individuals to work as a team and equip them with the tools to be able to manage their own projects designed and created solely by them so they can relate to it on a personal level. This helps to build up a lot of skills required in implementing and running projects which would inspire them to be leaders in future.

The learnings gained from the different approach and methods of Crissy Fields Centre led by Jie Chen, opened up new ideas and possibilities to the current Yathras eagerly listening, as some more than others could relate directly to their own lives and to their own projects as thy themselves were mentors for others. This created a new dynamic within the team, which was interesting to see.  And was shown during the rehearsals of a new street drama which was delivered today at Kurunegala underground road crossing system in the city center.

The first performance was great to see as it was nice to see it being performed by a group of people different to the previous. It actually involved a set of 3 acts each delivering a different key message. As the quieter members of the group having had time to settle take the initiative and want to play more prominent roles in the street drama. I myself had a part to play, albeit very small! But it was exciting to feel even more involved. The second performance was acted out at Kurunegala bus station. The area was vast and it was very difficult to be heard. It was cut short in part by the noisy buses and their blaring horns but the Yathras showed great initiative as they split themselves into two groups and tried to cover 2 sides of the bus station., in trying to maintain the group of people that had gathered. Before dispersing into smaller groups to deliver the awareness messages on issues around protecting the environment.

During the remainder of the day either side of the street dramas, to further water tests were carried out at Saragama Wewa (tank) and Kurunegala Wewa. At Saragama Wewa, refreshingly the water was of pH7 (neutral), so of rinkable nature, but unfortunately iy was polluted with polythene bags and aluminium cans, which was a shame making it undrinkable.

We also visited our first Hindu Kovil (Temple), which was a very pleasant experience for all. In particular for me being a Hindu it was a very peaceful and serene experience. It was special for me as it allowed for me to just be..and rest my mind and focus on God bu chanting prathnas. The start of Paapedi began with a blessed visit to the sri Maha Bodi and I wish for the latter part of the journey to go by equally as safely and even more successfully. And hope each of the Yathras find their purpose and are able to fulfill what they came looking for.

As we approach the latter part of this memorable journey and the hustle and bustle of city life, it is now vitally important to deliver an even bigger impact on the people and society as news of our actions spread and stimulate a greener more eco-friendly way of life.

Harish Mistry

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Our 6th PAAPEDI-day started early morning at 6am in a big garden with barefoot nature meditation and the sounds of all kinds of early birds. The deeper meaning of our outside meditation is to start feeling being part of nature, rather than feeling detached from it.
Meditation starts at 5.30am when its still dark!

During the daytime we focused on leadership education, sustainability concepts and the relevancy of youth projects.

How an article was written in Thirukkural News Paper!

All of us participants are from different cultural or ethnic backgrounds. For some it is the first time in their lives that they are in such close touch with a different community other than their own. And everybody loves it. We discover our own diversity and the beauty of it. During the first days I used to ask the other participants about their ethnic backgrounds. But one guy refused to tell me. All he said was, "I am a human being and i can speak three languages – English, Sinhalese and Tamil".  - I think that is the best answer one can give. Since then I stopped asking and I am happy that we all feel so connected despite of man made distinctions and history.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Two towns down and still riding strong! – Yapahuwa and Wariyapola

               Yesterday’s morning at Galgamuwa started with environmental meditation  led by Kanchana Weerakoon. We were on a path next to a lily filled lake with a plethora of wild life noises in the background. We were able to take the time to use our senses and our minds to explore and experience how the natural and urban space interacted with each other, and develop our own personal understanding of this situation.

                We were soon on our bikes, escorted by officers of the Galgamuwa police station and 10 Army personal  riding towards Yapahuwa. It would be a 29km journey for the day. The emphasis on this day’s work was practicing our messaging to the public during our ride. Along the way, participants would educate and advocate the public about not using pesticide and to please stop burning plastics because of its harmful effects on the environment and to your health. This ride included another theatre performance at the local bus station.
                When we reached Yapahuwa, participants had an opportunity to experience the cultural history and heritage of the 4th ancient kingdom of Sri Lanka. For participants who decided to hike up the mountain (and most of us did), they were rewarded with sights of where ancient and present Buddhist monks practiced. Also at the top, not only did participants see monkeys, they were treated with a magnificent 360 degree view of the lush beautiful landscape.

                Today we rode 34km to Variyapola escorted by the Sri Lanka military and the officers of the Yapahuwa police department (They are also riding as part of Paapedi team). So far we’ve ridden about 110km on our bikes. If you, our readers, are currently not utilizing a bicycle, please consider these benefits:

1.       There are zero emissions from this form of transportation.
2.       You will save money on fuel.
3.       It can reduce stress.
4.       You can use it to carry books, flowers, and food if you are going to the market or library.
5.       The activity of bicycling can affect your health positively – giving you legs of steel!
6.       The Earth is happy when you use it (No air pollution etc.)
7.       And much much…. more!

It is amazing how practical a bicycle is for transportation and to run errands. Dust off that old bicycle or borrow one from your friend this week and give it a try!
During Street Drama in Galgamuwa bus stand

Talking about road kill (Green vine snake)
Some of Yathrees on top of Yapahuwa rock

Please continue to check this blog for more updates on the 2nd half of our journey - Jie Chen from USA

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Paapedi 2013 Thabuttegama to Galgamuwa

A Great Vision, brings about great journey, a journey involves great days amongst many. But all great days must begin with a bit of Nanda’s special unique brand of 5am stretching combined with rhythmic breathing exercises! It was actually 5.30am to be precise, but the majority all awoke at 5am anywayJ What better way to start the day as mentioned in the previous entry than to get those aching joints well oiled and moving like our beautiful bikes.  The perfect start and on your way to a healthy and well balanced lifestyle!!

The day began in earnest as we headed out to the streets of Thambuttegama to raise awareness of environmental sustainability to the public and various shop owners and to continue to raise the awareness of the use of various products people consume including simple changes in their attitude and lifestyle which would preserve Mother Nature and hopefully go a long way towards creating an eco-friendly society.
Following this the group of eager Yathrees headed to the fruit and veg markets where they performed their first Street Drama of the day. It’s amazing how extremely absorbing It is to watch the public’s reactions to the street drama. And so it should be, with such stunning performances. It is truly engrossing and I have been totally blown away by it all. Really I have! It is a very surreal experience as I don’t think I have ever been with a group of people who are so passionate and deeply care about what they believe in and are able to contribute on a different level which Paapadi 2013 allows them to do.
During street drama at Thabuttegama

Water quality testing at Maha Galkulama
After the multiple downpours of rain the previous day, which in effect ensured we remained cool and well hydrated compared to the usual days in the scorching heat in the land known as Sun Lanka, we were able to test quality of water of the various reservoirs scattered around in the areas we cycled through. This was an intriguing process in itself as we learnt first hand more about the multiple tools and equipment used during the method of testing the clarity and condition of the water.

From the many highlights of the days I have, I always find it very interesting to listen to Kanchana share her vast knowledge of the eco system to the group, of the birds, trees and nature itself.  One example there are ants living in the barks of certain trees which cannot be seen with the naked eye. We should not just see from a distance, but be close to nature. One way is with our eyes. There are many beautiful birds in Sri Lanka, and although we were at the side of a main road connecting two towns, we were fortunate to see a few of the 7 different species of Kingfishers this land has to offer. One of which is the largest in Sri Lanka called the Stork Billed Kingfisher. Which is extremely beautiful to see through the eyes of a binocular.

The day ended with a peaceful and relaxing dip in the lake, close to our stay for the night in Galgamuwa. Although we did not get to see wild elephants roaming freely as is the case in the late evening, I’m glad we didn’t  as I’m pretty sure we or I for that matter may not be here to finish writing this blog for the day!

Police Environmental protection Division who are riding with us 

Reflection time
Today has been a really enjoyable day. Every day is a huge success from the impact Paapadi is creating seems to be getting better and stronger as the Change Makers grow in confidence and experience led by the ever exuberant Kanchana.

Friday, March 15, 2013

3rd day of Paapedi 2013

15. March 2013
Today is the 3rd day of our journey. Our program is intense. We get up at 5 o clock every morning and fall into bed around 12 at night. And it feels so good!!! There are many things about our group of “yathris” (travellers) that impress me. Our 25 youngsters are inspiring. They are ready for every item on our daily schedule. No debating whether it is hip or cool enough or “just not my kind”  or whatever. Those guys just dive into the activities and do them with passion and commitment. Whether ‘street theatre’, speeches in front of a crowd, talking to pedestrians about our environmental campaign or singing a song. Everybody joins in and is a part of the group. There is so much caring and sharing among our yathris which is a new experience to me, because having grown up in Germany, I know that the first thing that many people there would do would be “complaining about something that is not how they expected it to be”. But the attitude among those young guys is really different. Our trip is definitely not a luxury journey. We have to deal with all kinds of challenges. And our travellers are content with what is offered and they appreciate what they have. I see them with admiration and I feel that I can learn a lot from them and their attitudes. I feel that this journey does a lot with us all. We are learning from each other, we are learning from Kanchana, and of course from nature. You should be here with us to experience this power of enthusiasm.
Teaching about bikes

Nadeesha in the middle of  public awareness programme

Yathrees at Thalawa tank with environmetal protection division of Police

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The cycling begins! Our 2nd day in Anuradhapura.

What a day! After arriving to Anuradhapura by train on a 200km ride yesterday, we began today at 5:30am with an early morning stretching and breathing activity by Nanda Kumara, a long time ECO-V volunteer and certified physical education teacher. We learned the importance of being able to control our breathing, for as we age our lung capacity goes down. And if we do not learn to manage it now, our quality of life would most likely go down as well.

Then we grabbed our bags, and jumped right onto our bicycles for the first time. We rode a short distance towards Sri Maha Bodhi, the sacred temple and location of the tree with a written record as being the oldest planted by a human being. We were greeted by one of our sponsors, managing director of Singer Sri Lanka, Dhammika Wijesundara who had come all the way from Colombo to wish us good luck. He had a few words of encouragement and shared a few thoughts about the importance of this ride and its symbolism for the future environmental health of Sri Lanka.

 We were then supported and escorted by the officers from the Police Station in Anuradhapura and the Sri Lanka army to our next three destinations, 2 major bus stop locations and a hospital in this ancient city. Our participants  completed their first challenge the evening before and developed a street theatre performance, which tried to educate and entertain the public regarding mother earth, sustainability, and human impacts and solutions to preserving our environment. These performances, similar to a flash mob, attracted 40-80 public members each.

In the evening, we were visited by Ruwan Weerasooriya from the Air Resource Management Center, who gave our yathris a lectured power point presentation on air pollution. Some of the items we went over were point and line source pollution, emissions history and science, green house gases and its relationship to climate change – all specific to Sri Lanka. All of us learned about the increase of our human ecological footprint and how that has impacted the environment and the health of people.

Our night concluded with a bike and cycling troubleshoot and education lead by Sion Zivetz, Nanda, and one of our participants Sujitha Ramanathan, who translated the workshop for our Tamil language speakers.

-          “This journey is a very new experience as an environmental journey. In the next 10 days I look forward to informing a lot of people, along the way to Colombo, about pollution and human duties to stop pollution. I also want to say it has been an interesting experience working and learning with international volunteers.”  - Sahan Amalka Jayakody, participant from Kadawatha in the Gampha  district in Sri Lanka

Monday, March 11, 2013

Officially two days before the Paapedi; it is full steam ahead with preparations!

Hello, my name is Jie Chen, an international Eco Friendly Volunteer who just arrived in Sri Lanka about a 36 hours ago from San Francisco, California. Immediately I was warmly welcomed into Kanchana’s home, which doubles as Eco-V’s headquarters, and by her team of volunteers who have been working tirelessly to put together various components of the bicycle journey for climate justice.

I met Kanchana for the first time in November 2012 when she paid the Crissy Field Center a visit. We were sharing about each other’s work with young people and I could immediately see the passion she had about her work in developing a more environmentally conscious and just society in her home country of Sri Lanka.

I was drawn to participate in this journey for many reasons. One of which was the immense potential for an exchange of learning of best practices and also a professional development opportunity for myself. It was also a great opportunity to see how, through the journey of a 10 day bike ride, young leaders would be inspired and trained to become tomorrow’s environmental stewards.

In the past 36 hours I have been able to witness the hustle and bustle of Eco-V’s office (in no particular order):
          ·         endless phone calls, faxes, and errand running to manage and changes and finalize and confirm plans
          ·         media studio interviews and communication with two major Sri Lanka networks Sirasa and MTV Sports
          ·         The pick up of supplies: bikes, helmets, repair equipment, water bottles, t-shirts, first aid, pamphlet and curriculum materials, and more
          ·         the organizing of the camera crew (Kanchana’s own brother) to document the journey and the stories of the ride
          ·         updating social media outlets

I look forward to the next couple days when the yathra (journey) officially begins. We will jump right onto a train and head towards Anuradhapura where all the yathris will convene together for the first time from different areas of Sri Lanka. We will start riding 28.4km towards the town of Thambuttegama in the first leg of our 234km journey.

Please continue to visit this blog for more updates in the next few days!

Jie Chen

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Exploring Anuradhapura to Wariyapola on Paapedi route

Thalawa tank- one of the awareness sites for Paapedi 2013

Planning ahead of Paapedi in Thalawa
Last Monday Kanchana, Trudy and I (Sion) spent the day finalizing the route and logistics for Paapedi.  We left home before the sunrise and when I woke up in the back of the van the sky was gray and raining.  We were approaching Anuradhapura, our first stop for the day and starting point of the bicycle journey.  The air was cool and the scenery a lush green.  The tanks seemed full to capacity and the landscape looked to be an endless wetland.  This is a completely different scene than in the dry season, where the landscape is arid and brown.  The bicycle journey will be wonderful and the participants will get a real treat seeing all the greenery, the birdlife and the tanks.
We stopped briefly for a string hopper breakfast before entering Anuradhapura.  I’d never been there before, but was struck by how calm, clean and quaint the town seemed.  It is of course one of the ancient cities of Sri Lanka and it is nice to see that the modern life has not completely taken over.  Our first visit was to the secretary of the provincial council.  We entered a massive government complex and found his office.  Kanchana spoke with him about our journey and confirmed their support and collaboration.  He agreed to have a small ceremony for the yaathris before leaving Anuradhapura and Kanchana agreed to offer a workshop for media representatives.  The goal of the workshop is to educate the media about the issues that we will be talking about on the journey so that their coverage is accurate and educational for the public.
From there we visited an ancient dagoba (stupa) where we paid a visit to the head monk.  While we waited for him we observed the langurs in the trees and enjoyed talking about birds.  When the head monk arrived Kanchana requested that he offer some blessing or ceremony to the yaathris before we start the journey.  He was willing to do it and agreed that on the 14th in the evening we would come to the dagoba and he would lead some chanting and ceremony for our group.  Everything was falling into place.
From there we visited the circuit bungalow where we will spend the first two nights.  The accommodation is nice and close to a tank where we will be able to do yoga in the morning and begin our preparations for the journey. 
We left Anuradhapura and continued on to Thambuttegama, our second stop.  Before reaching Thambuttegama we stopped in Thalawa to meet a contact of Kanchana.  He learned about Eco-V from the Kelani Nadee Yatra and was interested in helping with Paapedi.  He introduced us to the local council and showed their garden.  It was a nice mandala style garden, but clearly there was not a great interested to keep it up.  He expressed concern because they had sprayed “round up” a weedicide to kill the grass.  We agreed that it would be a good place to bring the yaathris to learn.  From there we went to the local tank and saw some beautiful trees.  Kanchana explained that they were planted by the British and have some harmful effects on bees.  They decided to arrange to plant some native trees nearby so that after the life of the non-native trees, the natives could grow up in their place.  What a nice idea!
After this meeting, we continued on the Thambuttegama where we were searching for accommodation.  We met the manager of a hotel and in conversation, Kanchana helped him to understand how to make better environmental choices, like switching from very dark curtains to lighter curtains so he wouldn’t have to use the lights during the day.  He was open to learning and said that he would help find accommodation for us.
We continued on to Galgamua where we went in search of a place for the yaathris to stay.  We visited the irrigation department training campus which is set in a beautiful garden.  Unfortunately the head of the center said that the facilities were completely occupied because they host students there.  She suggested a few places to us and we visited a lovely little guesthouse where we will be staying.  It is located on the banks of a beautiful tank.  The family that runs the guesthouse is willing to help us and we all thought that the location would be great for the group to stay.
From Galgamua we carried on to Variapola, our last stop of the day.  We checked in with the agriculture training school to confirm accommodation for the group.  Everything there is set and we spend the last of the afternoon light enjoying the garden and visiting a local nursery.  From here we spend the next few hours coming back to the city.  The roads get progressively more crowded and there are more and more shops along the way. 
The day was beautiful and the roads are quiet in the north.  It will be a pleasure to ride our bikes through the country.  I’m very excited for the journey and it feels that the experience will be so rewarding and transformative.  Go Paapedi!