Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Yarl Yathra – the first Youth Yathra 2016 for creating Green Leaders to combat climate change...

I have described what "Youth Yathra" is in my previous blog. This is about first Youth Yathra named "Yarl Yathra 2016".

It was unfortunate that I could not write a blog for the month of September. It was mainly due to the physical weakness in my right hand which was identified as Tennis Elbow (inflammation of the tendons of the elbow (epicondylitis) caused by overuse of the muscles of the forearm) Well…I am still having the issue but how can I stay without overusing the right arm :) 

I decided to write about the Yarl Yathra before its too late as it was  our first Yathra and the 3rd Yathra for this year  is happening this week. So I am well behind the schedule.

Yarl Yathra was held on 5th, 6th of August 2016 in Jaffna city in the Northern province  with the participation of 47 youth. 25 of them went with us from Colombo and the rest were trained youth from Jaffna. They were trained as Green Leaders who can be ambassadors for combatting climate change and think about sustainability. Though we can train in many numbers we never believe that they all will come up to the level we expect but our intention is at least some of them will be there. The initial name list from Jaffna participants was over 55 and we had to stop them applying for the training. But it was fluctuating and some days we got only 12 trainees and we had to try different ways to bring them back. The main challenge was the language barrier. Most of them were not speaking English so the bridging language was not useful at all. We had to rely on the coordinator of American corner,Sinthuka who went abroad for studies , was working for a NGO. She was the official translator throughout the whole  programme.  None of others could communicate in English effectively but we used body language a lot and we were successful up to a certain stage in day to  day communication but not in teaching or training component. Then everything was translated from Tamil to English and vis a versa which resulted in huge communication gaps most of the time. Anyway, we manage to train 22 youth from Jaffna though our target was 40.

The first day early morning 25 youth from Colombo, who were members of past yathras (Kelani Nadee Yathra, Paapedi, Kolamba Yathra) arrived in Jaffna by night mail train. It was very nice to meet to some of them even after 5 years since our first yathra along the river who are still active in the environmental conservation field. We all had traditional Jaffna/Hindu breakfast at a local restaurant. After that youth from South went to see Jaffna city as for many of them it was the first visit to Jaffna. Remember most of these youth are below 30 years old so obviously could not visit Jaffna due to the 30 years conflict we had in the past.  So it was a great opportunity for them. The official Yarl Yathra started at 2pm at American Corner in Jaffna where Jaffna youth were waiting to welcome all of us from South and South Yathrees were waiting to see their first ever (for most of them) Jaffna friends.

Southern Yathrees meet Northern Yathrees 

Arrival of information officer Mr. Joshua Shen
The information officer from US Embassy Mr. Joshua Shen and Ms. Sharmini Sinnaiha also came as invited guests. After an ice breaking session, team was divided into 5 groups and went for different directions to collect polythene along streets. Within one hour all teams collected so many bags of polythene and then they sorted them out for recycling. Only plastic bags with dirt were selected and washed and hang them for drying.

off to collect polythene from garbage dumps

Sorting out polythene

Gayan - a yathree from Paapedi 2013 shows washed polythene
The second day morning all got together to cook Pongal (the traditional rice with milk, mung beans and sugar). After eating pongal for breakfast all cleaned rest of polythene. Again half of the team went to Jaffna city for hanging notice board with messages of protecting trees and their importance.

Protecting trees....
Rest of the team stayed at American corner and got ready for public exhibition. After lunch all got together conducted public exhibition where I saw some emerging leaders.
Part of the public who came to see the exhibition 
It was very satisfying to see around 10 youngsters were taking the leadership roles and following instructions of the training using training skills. After lunch they all got into their teams again. Empty plastic bottles were given to all teams and were asked to make their own eco brick using the washed and dried polythene they collected on the previous day. It was very nice to see Tamil/Sinhala/Hindu/Buddhists/Muslims/Christians all of them making eco bricks together. These eco bricks will be used to make a garden bench at American corner.

All yathrees from South and North making Eco Bricks

Then it was the time for award ceremony. Joshua Shen  and Sharmini joined with us again after their meetings and Sinthuka, Newton, Priyangi , Sharuka and few others conducted the award ceremony showing their leadership skills.  

It was the end of Yarl Yathra and by 6 pm the team from south rushed back to their accommodation packed and got into the bus provide by Sri Lanka Army. The youth from South were ready for their next event to complete the Nature exploration of Jaffna Peninsula on bikes. Only Newton from Yarl Yathrees join with us for the second part and all of us were transferred into the Army camp at Kankasanthurei which is one of the Northern tips of Sri Lanka.  
Dhanushka, Chaturanga, Newton, Gayani with 2 new yathrees

Next  day we rode from Kankasanthurei (KKS) to Point Pedro (PP) was a life time experience as it was hot sun and over 4 hours riding push bikes with the people even who could not ride a bike (thanks to past Yathrees who were so nice to ride the bike with a friend on the back of the bike). Therefore we did not leave any youth behind and all got the same experience. 
Sri Lanka Army they provided us with food, drinks and even escorted us to show us the route. The morning snack was ready at another Army Camp in Velvetithurei, who welcome us very warmly and admired our effort in training Green leaders. After another 2 hours we were on the Northern tip of Sri Lanka – Point Pedro. That was very exciting as we have never been there in our entire lives.

Point Pedro (says now where you are) on the Map of Sro Lanka
Whole team who participated in bicycle journey at Point Pedro

The lunch was ready by 1pm at the PPD Army Camp and wow…it was so nice to have live music and fresh juice when we arrived there. The next challenge was riding back to KKS to catch the night train back to Colombo. All of us were so exhausted and no energy to ride back. Million time thanks to Col. Herath of Point Pedro Army Camp, just one request the bus was there for all of us to go back. Wow what a relief…… It was just fantastic communication by the time when we came back to KKS all arrangements were ready for us to take a sea bath, even the dinner packets. Youth enjoyed the sea and got dressed, collected their dinner packets and jumped into the train just on time.  Major Lakmal and Col.  Mayasinghe were there to say Good Bye to them and I had to stay one more day to conduct an awareness session for Sri Lanka Army Camp Palali as a way of thanking them for the great help they offered to us.

Kanchana delivering a lecture at Army camp and part of the crowd

I got up really happy next day morning at KKS for few reasons, one was obviously Yarla Yathra was over which means 10 months of our commitment for Jaffna youth came into an end. Its up to them if they want to continue the mission to protect their environment. We gave the knowledge and training and if they want to continue then we will be still there for them. The other reason was I just got up in Northern Sri Lanka safely which was a dream for us 7 years before. No bombs, no shelling, but just the peace….Now we enjoy the peace and we all are sharing everything together. What a blessing!!! Thanks to all who sacrificed  their lives for this peace. Some of the youth who were branded as terrorists are with us working together to protect Mother Nature. Our wonderful Yathree, Islayan Newton who joined with us in 2011 as a LTTE ex-combatant actively working with us now and has become a Green Leader. I teach environment in Northern Sri Lanka which was a dream for me 7 years ago. What else I  want!!!!!
My favorite picture - spirit of Yathra -  Newton (Tamil) Gayan (Sinhala Buddhist) Nifras (Muslim) but there is no difference in that smile....

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Youth Yathra –Green leaders to combat Climate Change

What is Youth Yathra 2016?
Youth Yathra 2016 is a programmewhich focuses on “Creating Green Youth Leaders” who will be change makers in action against climate change. This is a programme initiated by Eco Friendly Volunteers(ECO-V)under a grant received from American Embassy Sri Lanka. A 10 month training session each in Jaffna, Kandy, Matara districts were conducted as the first stage of the project.ECO-V invited more than over 120 youth (Yathrees)with the support of American Corners at each district and conducted  a series of workshops for giving them the relevant knowledge and information about their environment and how to protect it by combatting Climate change during the 10 months. The themes discussed in the sessions focused on healthy food, conscious consumerism, organic farming, connecting with nature, effective communication and its relationship with climate change. These trained youthYathrees are expected to be the Green Leaders as well as messengers for their localities in the future leading the climate actions. This will be launched as a “YATHRA” in the final stage.

Why Youth Yathra?
Now the programme has come to its final stage and the Yathrees in three districts are ready to pass the information to the general public as YATHRAS. Trained youth are ready to conduct 3 Yathres in Jaffna, Matara and Kandy starting from August. The first Yathra is YalrYathra which will take place in Jaffna on 5th and 6th of August 2016. As a condition of the programme there was no financial allocation for public campaigning for two reasons. One is that the Yathrees should learn to raise funds locally and second is to encourage the public - private partnership in combatting climate change and protecting Nature. It was expected that this project to  be a great opportunity for all the people who are interested in protecting Mother Nature to partner to serve and protect her.
Yarl Yathra 2016

The YarlYathra is the first Youth Yathra organized by the trained youth in Jaffna under Youth Yartha 2016.

How do we do Yarl Yathra?

YarlYathra is a 2 day environmental campaign planned in Jaffna city. All the youth who were trained during past 10 months within Jaffna will be joining with 25 youth from Southern Sri Lanka. These Southern Sri Lankan youth will be either past Yathreesof ECO-V or under current youth Yathraprogramme in Kandy and Matara.It will be held on 05thand 06thof August 2016. All the youth will meet in Jaffna on the 5th afternoon and will join for a street cleaning campaign. This will be a learning experience rather than a cleaning campaign for them to understand human impact on Mother Nature. All youth from South and North will take part in this event. There will be a gathering in the evening at American corner in Jaffna to share all their experiences.
The next day (6th August) will be started with preparing breakfast in Jaffna style and through this event all youth will exchange the healthy food culture, practices and synergies while they make their breakfast. Then the team will be walking around Jaffna city in creating awareness on protecting Mother Nature and will return for a public exhibition organized at American corner, Jaffna. The theme of the Exhibition is “Combat Climate change as Green Leaders”. This exhibition is open for public. The day two will be over with as award ceremony for YarlYathrees. Official invitees for these events will be representatives from US Embassy Sri Lanka.

Eco Friendly Volunteers (ECO-V)
ECO-V ( is an Environmental Organization working in Sri Lanka for last 15 years. We are a team specialized in scientific research on Animals and plants and conducting training on environmental conservation related topics. We have been working in Sri Lanka for last 15 years under the topics of climate change, Green leadership, Solid waste Management, Eco friendly Lifestyle, food safety, conscious consumerism and Bio diversity conservation.  We conducted research on Spot winged Thrush, Purple faced leaf langur, Eurasian Otters and Peak Wilderness Sanctuary. The Yathra as a new method of training Green leaders to combat Climate Change was introduced by ECO-V in 2011 with the partnership of Journeys for Climate Justice (JCJ) in Australia which is a partner organization of ECO-V. We have conducted 3 Yathres since 2001 namely, KelaniNadeeYathra( 2011 - Papedi( 2013 - and KolombaYathra (2015 All the projects are mentioned in our blog site.

Project funded by American Embassy of Sri Lanka

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Leaders Vs. Green there a difference....??? 

The year 2016 started with new hopes. We all at ECO-V knew that its the 15th Anniversary of ECO-V. We do not have any special plans to celebrate 15th anniversary. But we knew its going to be a very busy year with a project that we all were waiting for and also had very positive hopes in getting another grant for a long term commitment. So today I am writing this blog with a satisfaction for achieving both goals (up to certain level) those we had at the beginning of the year. 

The "Youth Yathra 2016" is the project we started in 2015 with the financial support of American Center Sri Lanka. It was very nice way of getting a grant as they supported us just because of our track records in doing something innovative and productive. Thanks to our previous Yathras  (Special thank to Journeys for Climate Justice ( we had so we maintained good records. 

This time the aim was conducting 3 yathras (journeys) in 3 districts - Jaffna, Kandy and Matara. The idea was training "Green" leaders in 3 different districts of Sri Lanka and bridge them to make a bigger impact to combat Climate Change issues. I still don't know whether we will achieve it 100% or not. Will see by December this you all have to wait till then.

As a trainer, facilitator, I read a lot. My passion in creating Green Leaders has become my life now. Its really amazing to live on it and practice it. The commitment to practice Green lifestyle is not very easy under the normal/ordinary social structures. When supplies are not enough to fulfill my demands to live on this subject such as organic food is expensive and not available everywhere..., food wrappers are not eco friendly..., energy I am getting from National Grid is not clean...,etc. But at least much more you can do on your own such as saying NO to unwanted wrappers even they are eco friendly, say no to plastic and polythene, drink water but not fizzy drinks, try to eat all natural food rather than processed and unhealthy food, buy local, travel by public transport or walk and cycle, grow what ever you can, plant more goodness the list is getting longer.....So becoming a Green practitioner is not that difficult. Only thing is you need to have urge. 

But then transferring that change into the society is challenging...because not all are thinking in the same line as we think about "Great Turning" 

Anyway Creating Green Leader through Yathras is our small effort in making a bigger impact. We started with Jaffna (the area that I was dreaming to start working soon after the war ended). Finding people for environmental related training (even though its free) was challenging and still we have only 25 people though the target is 40. Most of they say, what is the use of learning about it? Can we get a job? No time....hmmm...what can I say...But the people who joined with us experience the importance of the training. That's enough at the moment. 
usual indoor class room sessions

During 4 months of training sessions, I saw Jaffna participants changing....very slowly...towards positive thinking, team building, more importantly changing their thinking more green and heart felt feeling for Mother Nature. It was not easy to conduct the sessions in Jaffna, my thinking in Sinhala, speaking in English, then translating it to Tamil by a friend from Jaffna were all key practical challenges for effective communication. All initial sessions were held indoors which I hate. But we had to do that as we were using American corner facilities to teach them. 
The best class room....on Mother Nature
Can we work as a team?
Problem a team...its fun...
Think about Mother crative

Trying to protect an ant nest which is among grass....

Newton taking leadership...he is the only previously trained Yathree from North...

At last we found the best place for teaching...Out doors!!!! Wow....I realized the magic...magic of Mother Nature... it was much easier to convey my message of the big difference between a Leader and a Green leader....Indeed its different..Green leader must have all leadership qualities but most importantly the main quality is the "heart felt connection with Mother Nature"...of course that was not just a sentence...its a whole theory. So we managed to introduce the theory to the  participants from the capital of North of Sri Lanka! Let's see how we can start putting it to practicals....
The best shot of the day...they all are one team now and ready for tomorrow....

Wow....this is May...5 months were gone from year 2016. I just realized it was too bad as I could not write a single blog for this year. In fact there are about 4 blogs waiting in my email inbox written by various volunteers. Some are Chinese and some are locals. I never had a time to post them. So I must find some time to post them eventually. Anyway I decided to post Chamali's blog that she wrote very recently. She is very new to ECO-V and the coordinator of our new project "Conscious Consumerism towards sustainable life style and combating climate change" She joined with ECO-V from March 2016 - Kanchana

Chamali writes....

I am Chamali recently joined with ECO-V team as the coordinator to a new project named conscious consumerism towards sustainable life style. When I first came for the interview,  I thought this is the right place for me, because I am a nature lover and I want to work with Mother Nature since I passed out from the University.  So I am grateful to Ms. Kanchana for giving me this opportunity. The project that I have to coordinate is funded by Diakonia, a Swedish organization working in Sri Lanka. The awareness on consumer issues among Sri Lankan consumers is very limited. So this project mainly focused on sensitizing 5 main stakeholder groups (Youth, children, Women, Teachers and Farmers) at Kandy, Jaffna, Colombo and Galle districts on food safety and sustainable life style to combat Climate Change.