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Sri Lanka

Becky Gunaratne, a Minnesota native, is married to Prassana Guneratne and has two daughters: Gabriella (Gabbi) and Samantha (Samy). Becky and her two daughters were residing in Kandy, the beautiful hill country of Sri Lanka. After spending over 6 months they returned to Minnesota on June  2005.

 She was one of our Sri Lanka representatives worked on the Tsunami Housing Construction Project. Her activities related to the project are updated here in Becky´┐┐s Journal. Currently she is working with the Community Center project. 

:: Community Center Design Session   (It's been a little over 2 months since we returned from SL)
So, it's been a little over 2 months since we returned from SriLanka. I finally feel acclimated to the western way of living again. I miss all the smiling faces in matter what, people are always smiling there and there is always a group of people standing around talking about nothing in particular, just visiting.... You don't see that here in America, everyone is in such a rush and busy with thing to do that they don't have time to just sit and visit with their neighbors.
Well, keep myself connected to that life back in SL, I've been helping out with the phase 2 of the MNSLFF project, which is building a learning center on the same land that they are building the 50 houses.
We met with a group of architects from AFH( architects for humanity). We gave them all the information that was needed for drawing up plans for the learning center and then they spent a whole day coming up with a suitable layout. I also got to show a clip from my video camera on the land that it would be built on. After they finished the plan, we had a rice and curry dinner together, which MNSLFF catered in, so that the AFH group could experience a SL meal.
It was remarkable to see these 15 plus architects get together and volunteer their time to do these project. They were excited to do it as much as we were to receive it. The MNSLFF group was very pleased with the results. Now we are just waiting for the UDA to approve it and then the contractors can begin building, with the deadline still for December for completion. I'm hoping I'll be able to help out with setting up the Montessori part of the center. It's exciting to think about it and I'm anxious to go back some day, soon I hope! Metta Becky
:: WEEK 19  (Home Sweet Home!!! We are back....)
After spending a week sleeping off my jet lag, I'm finally finding the energy to write about our last week in Sri Lanka... it seems like a DREAM now! Well, like I expected, the last week whipped by and before I knew it we were on a plane headed to America.
We spent the last week down in Galle celebrating both the Foundation Laying ceremony for the MNSLFF project and the Buddhist Vesak ceremony( which is the Birth, Enlightenment, and Death of Buddha).

The Foundation Laying ceremony was very exciting and I cried with joy to actually see it begin.
It all happened on May 19, 2005 starting at 7:00am were we outlined the foundation with blessed white string and then I got to dig the first hole while facing NE.
Then at 10:30am Satima(Neetha) started the Pirith ceremony which is a chanting blessing for prosperity and success in commencing and finishing the Project. She also gave a very nice dharma( speech) thanking all who helped get this project up and going.
We had about 20 guests, our special guest being Mr. and Mrs. Granville Perera( Mithula's parents and Yadamini Gunewardena( Representing the Minister of Land Distribution)...and served kiribath( milk rice) and thambili( king coconut juice) and bananas which is a tradition at special occasions.
Then at exactlly 12:21pm, Four stones were placed in the holes dug for the foundation and covered with cement and sprinkled with blessed water... Gabi was the main camera person and got a great clip on the whole ceremony.
After all was done at the site, we returned to the Lady Hill( P's Aunt Puppy's Hotel) and had a beautiful curry lunch, organized by P's cousin Bambi.
It was all very emotional and I had such mixed feelings about going, because now the exciting part was happening... we went back a couple of days later to the site and they had all ready levelled 12 plots and were digging for the foundations. Thilak, the contractor, had already made contacts with the local people and had employed some of them who knew about building. The surroundings of the land are so beautiful and serene. It was so peaceful out there, lots of rolling hills and surrounded by coconut trees, a cinnamon grove and rice paddy fields.

Then the last couple of days, was the beginning of Veesak... People were busy getting ready for it, building paper lanterns and decorating their homes and businesses. The main day was May 23rd the day we had to go... people were dressed in white and heading to the temples for Sil( which is where they meditate and chant all day). Then at night everyone lights up their lanterns( some which were huge!) and have a huge celebration at their homes and out on the streets with lots of free food and drinks for all. We were sad we had to miss it!

I sure wish I could have stayed to help out a little bit more but I am so glad for the opportunity I did have to be a part of this project and I hope I'll be able to do more here at home.

Now, we here in MN and it's all a blurr to me! The girls are so happy to be home and P was overly excited to have us home! He worked hard getting the house and yard all cleaned and polished for me! I'm planning on taking the rest of the summer off and will be playing with the girls and in my yard and we'll have lots of trip up to the cabin to see Grandma and Grandpa.
I'm planning on having a party in July sometime to share our Sri Lankan experience with whoever would like to see and hear about it....I'll keep you posted.


:: WEEK 17 and 18 (Down to our last few weeks here...)

Well, we´┐┐re down to our last few weeks here, so we´┐┐ve been squeezing in a lot of things and trying to spend as much time with our new friends as possible The girls are counting the days and marking off the calendar... today is the 14th so only 10 more days. Last week we spent the week getting together with friends for swimming or playing games.... though we came to get away from the hustle bustle life back home, we´┐┐ve managed to make quite a few friends here and keep ourselves very busy. So, now we´┐┐re saying our goodbyes and doing things like horseback riding and sleepovers one more time. The home schooling started and ended after a week, so Gabi has some summer schooling ahead of her. We´┐┐ve just been so busy now that we only have so much time time to study. But they love to still play school, where Gabi´┐┐s the teacher and Sami the VERY disciplined student and that´┐┐s a big learning experience right there.

We traveled down to Galle this past week... the MNSLFF Tsunami Project has FINALLY begun. We finalized all the paper work and the contractors have started to level the areas for the foundations. May 19th is the auspicious time for the Foundation Laying Ceremony. The Contractor will start at 6:00am cutting the ground for the first cement blocks...then at 10:30am we will have a PIRITH, which is a Buddhist tradition where a priest ( in this case manu Sutima as so known as Neetha) will be chanting and blessing the land. It´┐┐s quite interesting and it will be able to be seen in Episode 6- the Tsunami Project. Then at actually 12:21pm the very first cement block will be set in place.

We also visited a school in Galle. I´┐┐m helping my good friend Dave Orlowski, who´┐┐s the principle for a elementary school in Bloomington,MN, connect with a school in Galle, which was greatly effected by the tsunami. Dave´┐┐s students all drew pictures for the children here, which P brought over here. The teachers and students will create a friendship correspondence together, Pen pals. The head English teacher is very excited about this and thought it was an excellent idea. Now, we´┐┐re back in Kandy and slowly packing and giving away things, for when we go down to Galle next week, we´┐┐ll be staying there until we leave on the 23rd. So only 3 more day here in Beautiful Kandy...the girls and I always sing that song now ´┐┐I love dodo do do do I love Kandy´┐┐

Today, we will be visiting a famous Buddhist temple up country. It´┐┐s about an hour away and is suppose to be a beautiful drive with waterfalls ( another one of our Episodes to be seen in ´┐┐ The Guneratne Girls´┐┐ Sri Lankan Adventures´┐┐) Before you know it We´┐┐ll be on a plane heading for MN! One more week... not sure if I´┐┐ll be writing again before we come home. So, Thank you all for being interested and reading our newsletter about our wonderful and awesome experience here in Sri Lanka. We definitely will be having a party this summer to ´┐┐show off´┐┐ all that we did and saw! I´┐┐ll let you all know that date!

 SYIA( see you in America)

:: WEEK 16 (Count Down the days...)

I started to get very sad as now we´┐┐ve started to count down the days until we leave....only 22. Our tickets are rebooked for May 23, arriving back in MPLS,ST.PAUL on the night of the 24th, 9:00pm. Though I truly miss everyone back home and am excited to get back, it´┐┐s going to be hard to leave this experience.... there´┐┐s just so much more to see and do! This weeks highlights:

We took another trip to the Pinnaweela elephant orphanage....This time we got to see all the elephants parade down to the river for a bath. What a sight!! It looked so refreshing and we were, especially Sami, tempted to jump in and join them! The girls started their souvenir shopping and were so excited about it....They both bought things for their classmates back home and are both planning on going back to school for the last few weeks of school. They are just beaming with smiles!!!! Now it´┐┐s like vacation. I decided to splurge and took the girls to a very nice Ramada for the weekend in downtown Colombo. The cousins joined us and they swam all day long and were exhausted. We had a suite which came with a complimentary happy hour, which Indreash and I took full advantage of!....We rented dvds and ordered room service and lived like true Americans...UGH! but the joy it brought the girls made it all worthy it.

There was a terrible TRAIN/BUS crash this week....a intercity bus tried to bet the train across the tracks and lost. I guess they do that a lot...though the rail gate is down, the conductor looks out for the train and if he doesn´┐┐t see it they cross to the other lane where there isn´┐┐t a rail gate and slip thru to the other side. 37 out of some 90 passengers were killed as the train dragged the bus 50 meters. It happened to be the express train and intercity bus that goes from Kandy to Colombo....YES the same ones that I´┐┐ve been commuting back and forth on these last weeks to take care of all the paper work for the MNSLFF tsumani project. So, needless-to-say, I´┐┐m not allowed to travel that way any more. You just never know when I frecky accident like that could happen to you, but you can´┐┐t go on living being paranoid that something is going to happen to you. But since P´┐┐s relatives feel responsible for me, I need to respect their wishes...right?!

It was MayDay yesterday, Happy MayDay! They celebrate MayDay here too, but it means something totally different.... it´┐┐s a political rally and there are three parties and they parade down the main streets. We got to watch it since we were down in Colombo. And Yes, it´┐┐s another holiday and another day that everything is closed. No wonder it takes so long for things to get done here....there´┐┐s some holiday every week! Things are getting a little scary here between the different parties and there´┐┐s been more violence happening ....the Presidential election is coming this fall and with the tsunami devastating the island, there has been a lot of turmoil erupting on how to take care of the situation and who will get helped and who will get helped first.

Well, I´┐┐ll end on a GOOD note.... Gabi is now taller than Achie and Sami lost another tooth!...our girls are growing up too fast but I´┐┐m very proud of our little monkeys!!!! They definitely have learned many valuable lessons in life and have so much to share with everyone back home. We are putting together a small documentary movie about our experience, Gabi being the Director of course and Sami and I being the reporters....´┐┐LIFE IN SRI LANKA´┐┐.

 We´┐┐re anxious to show it to you all back home!

:: WEEK 15 (Getting Close to Leave)

The weeks seem to be flying by now that it is getting close to leaving...we still don´┐┐t know our exact dates but it will be somewhere the end of May. The girls, especially Gabi, are very excited to see all their friends and are planning on going to school for the last week back in MN. Meanwhile, we started our home-schooling and it´┐┐s going very well. Gabi is taking it very seriously and is so organized and ambitious about doing her work. Sami is really turning out to be a very good student also...that is, when she´┐┐s in the right mood. They go to AIC (Achie´┐┐s, which is grandma in Singhala, International College) from 8:30 to 12:00pm. The afternoon are so hot, so we have go swimming, or some kind of outing to play with friends.

The Highlights of this week....

First, I had a very interesting experience taking the train to Colombo. I had another meeting for the MNSLFF project to finalize the contractor and all the documents necessary for the donors back home. Being a non-profit organization, there is a lot of paper involved to show credibility of the project being funded in order to get a tax write off for the IRS. So, we almost have everything signed and documented and so 1 more meeting to sign the final contract and they will break ground next week. We will be there so I´┐┐m hoping to get pictures and will send them on line.

So, let me tell you about my train and bus experience to Colombo .... I decided to go by myself this time and take the express train. It leaves everyday at 6:25am and goes directly to Colombo. It was a very beautiful ride this time and everyone had a seat so there wasn´┐┐t anyone breathing down your back or seating on your lap and the b.o. was not bad. We passed thru the hilly mountainside, which we missed last time because it was dark. So that was a very stress less and pleasant ride. Coming back was the interesting part.....I missed the express train so decided to take the intercity bus.

I was the very last one they let on, which meant I got to seat in the co-pilot´┐┐s seat right next to the driver, up close and personal. The way these bus drivers swerve in and out of traffic is amazing....I was holding on for dear life, trying not to seem scared, but we had so many close calls. My knuckles were white from holding so tight! When we would get to a town the bus would slow down and whoever was getting off would just jump at the right time and if someone was getting on, they would run and jump on....what a riot. Then vendors would also run along side the bus delivering food to the driver and his assistant as we passed thru the town. So now I´┐┐m an expert commuter like all the other working class people. I don´┐┐t know how people do this everyday !

It was the full moon this weekend...therefore it was another holiday! I think I told you about how every full moon, they celebrate POIYA. So once a month they all take that day off, most shops are closed and people enjoy the day with family. Neetha´┐┐s routine has been to buy rice packets and go around the town and distribute them to the poor people. So, we go along with and the girls really amazed to see how happy these people are to receive this food....We´┐┐ve had lots of talks about how fortunate we are to have food everyday and to have a home, very humbling. Then, the next discussion will be.... ´┐┐I can´┐┐t wait to get back to MN and go to Taco Bell and the Super Target´┐┐... go figure. My girls are craving the materialistic way of living and all the choices we have back home....Ugh!!! I´┐┐m just hoping this experience has made them really appreciate the things they do have in life!

Well, it´┐┐s been a pretty quite week here and but emotional with the planning on going home earlier. My mother-in-law tells me though, ´┐┐it´┐┐s better to go home feeling you didn´┐┐t have enough time and wanting more...


(that´┐┐s Happy New Year in Singhala)...

So this week was the Singhalese/ Tamil New Year celebration. They celebrate big here...lots of food, new clothes, presents, and fire works. They have all sorts of auspicious times you have to do certain things. First, The day before the New Year, all work stops at a certain working, no washing or taking baths, no cooking...the stove is to stay off until the next morning at the right time.

Also, you are to stop eating until you cook the next morning (needless to say we didn´┐┐t stick to that tradition.... we stopped cooking but we didn´┐┐t stop eating, oops) Then at 5:38am the New Year morning, the mother of the house is to make what they call here Kiribath, milk rice. So, I had to get up and start the outdoor wood fire at that time while facing north, cook the rice and let it boil over which represents wealth and prosperity for the new year. Then we lit off the was noisy but beautiful to have everyone up and celebrating at the break of dawn. The birds´┐┐ chorus joined in too. Then we all put on our new clothes and eat the milk rice and all the sweets that go with it. Most people exchange presents too, usually new clothes.

After that we spend the rest of the day relaxing and playing games. The girls of course were exhausted so we took naps and watched a couple movies. All the shops and businesses close for 2 days. There is a auspicious time to start work again.

I'm starting to feel sad because I'm feeling the time flying by and now we have to come home a month earlier....I could easily stay here for a year but my Gabi is so homesick and ready to be a "materialistic girl" in our American capitalistic society. She's been such a trooper and has really learned and experienced a lot, but she's ready to get back to the hiphop,sassy hair, "yo, what's up" life style again...scarey.

Looks like we'll be coming around the 28th of May. I'll keep you posted

:: WEEK 13 (Meeting the building contractors)

We went down to Galle again....It rained like monkeys and elephants!? We met up with Tilak Ratniyake, who´┐┐s going to be a big part of this project from here on( he is Viren Ratniyake´┐┐s brother). After meeting up with Mr. Thilak, the contractor, we headed out to the project site. 2 more NGOs have started building. We won´┐┐t be starting until after the Singhala/ Tamil new year, which is the 14th. We are still negotiating with the contractor on the price per house...his new plans were for a bigger house and would cost about another $1000 per house. I still couldn´┐┐t get the list of people that were allotted the houses we´┐┐re building. I shall be getting that on Monday, as well as the document from the UDA that grants us the authority to build these houses on that land. Now I just found out from Lal , that we may not be able to use Mr. Thilak as our contractor because he isn´┐┐t registered with the UDA. So, I´┐┐m off again to Colombo to meet with Jayani, who will also going to be a big help to this project... she and Tilak will be the MNSLFF local representatives here in SL. Jayani and I will meet with the Land Reclamation Board today and hopefully finalize the contractor situation so we can continue to start next week...UGH! I think by the time I leave here I will have met every one of the top officials in the government! I´┐┐m on a personal level of communication with Mrs.(name withheld), who´┐┐s the Secretary or something important like that in the President´┐┐s House, she even gave me her home and mobile #s and told me to call her whenever I need anything.... it´┐┐s been very interesting.

We rode the train back to Kandy. The girls were so excited about taking the train and it was a fun experience....until we got to Colombo. We left Galle at 2:45 and arrived in Col. right in time for rush hour... that´┐┐s where the true train experience started. We are quietly sitting in our 4 seats when the train whistle blows. All of the sudden, people started running for the train in a mad rush. We´┐┐re feeling fortunate that we already have our seats because you can tell by the crowd that it would be a full ride. People kept piling in and soon start filling up the seats and then the aisles, still when there seemed like there was no room left even more people crammed in. They were coming thru the windows and even sitting on other peoples laps, whether they knew the person or not. People were holding on to the outside door way....there must have been a million people on that train. Gabi almost fainted and the woman next to me started to throw up! We didn´┐┐t arrive in Kandy until 9:30pm. The girls were exhausted but at the end said they had fun!? But, I don´┐┐t think we´┐┐ll be taking the train again any time soon.

We also got a new little puppy, Chutie Baba.... did I already tell you this? The day after Babuta got hit by the van, I discovered these 3 puppies living under an abandoned mama to be seen. Then we went to Galle for 2 days. We had decided we´┐┐d take the puppies if they were still there when we got back to Kandy and find homes for them. When we went to get them, there was only 1 puppy left and it was limping. Some people that live right by there said that one got hit by a car and they didn´┐┐t know what happened to the 3rd. The one left obviously got hit too but survived. I took her to the vet and found out her leg was broken. This was at the University Vet again. They didn´┐┐t have any tongue suppressors to make a splint so they asked me to go and get 2 ice creams and bring the sticks! SERIOUSLY! So I did, they bandaged her up , I brought her home and now we have 2 puppies again.

:: WEEK 12 (I met the President)
Yes, I got to go to the Presidents House and meet President Chandrika....well, I didn´┐┐t actually shake her hand but she did give me one of those nods to thank me for coming. And I didn´┐┐t get to have tea with her (Gretchen), but I did get to have tea while we waited for her (which was 4 hours)..... this is how it happened....

Lal, my friend who is one of the directors of this MN Sri Lankan Friendship Foundation, calls me one day and says ´┐┐ Becky, we need a local representative in Sri Lanka for our foundation in order to get land from the government for the tsunami project. Will you do it?´┐┐ I said ´┐┐Sure´┐┐, not knowing what I was getting myself into. It´┐┐s been quite the interesting week.... So I get a phone call last week from a man named Saman, who is one of the people in charge of the tsunami reconstruction plans. He tells me to meet Thursday at the President´┐┐s House to discuss our project ,WITH the President herself...Yikes! He made it seem like I´┐┐d be meeting her Excellency one on one.! Man, was I nervous, what would I wear? What would I say? I have no do you even address a president...I was sure to make a fool of myself, but I had to be strong and Just Do It! After trying hard not to sweat on my 3 hour car ride from Kandy to Colombo, I finally arrived at the President´┐┐s House.

I was greatly relieved to find out I wasn´┐┐t the only one seeing her that day. There were about 40 of us all waiting anxiously for the President to appear. We were in a conference room just like you see in the news, with the long tables and microphones for each person and a bottle of water at each spot. Everyone there was from some organization that was planning to finance the reconstruction of a certain amount of houses damaged by the tsunami....some donors were prepared to build as many as 2000 houses. Our project will be 50 houses with a community center and playground.

So the President finally appeared and addressed us about what that Government was planning on doing. The Government has land and is prepared to give each Tsunami victim 6 to 10 perches. The problem is the land is way inland and not suitable for the people... they want, (and some have already) to rebuild on their land where their houses once stood. The UDA, Urban Development Authority, has determined a Conservation Zone of 100m away from the coast. Those families within the coastal zone of 100m will be provided with safe houses outside the Conservation Zone. If they are willing to construct their own houses they will be paid RS 250,000 financial assistance. Each house will be min. 500sqft. which will cost about RS 400,000. They will be provided with the basic infrastructure such as road access, water, electricity, and sewerage.

They have determined that approximately 60,000 houses were completely destroyed and 50,000 more partially destroyed. Since some of these areas are not working out, the Government is now purchasing private land but the problem is it´┐┐s all scattered about... no large areas to accommodate a 50 to 100 house settlement. They for years to come after the settlement is rebuilt. The MN Friendship Foundation has big plans to create Sister Cities between MN and Sri Lanka where we would be directly involved and continue to sponsor these families in need and help to better their standards of living in the future years. There are lots of possibilities of different exchange programs and learning programs we all can get involved in.

Toward the end of the President´┐┐s speech, she told us if we wished to discuss land areas for our various projects to come back tomorrow to the UDA office to determine the locations. So......... I came back again for a full day of driving to Colombo and sitting waiting and meeting with important people, whose names I couldn´┐┐t pronounce, and pretending I knew what I was talking about?! Actually, Lal did a good job of prepping me so I was some what prepared. I´┐┐m not the philosophical or intellectual type of person and I am at a loss with BIG words.... I´┐┐m much the simple person! So, needless to say, I have had quite an experience and have learned about what the political life is like. I´┐┐m so not wanting to go that path in my life!!!! Now Lal is here, Thank God, and he has taken over so I can be in the background again. He´┐┐s had lots meetings with the UDA and the Minister. Still we have not gotten a location yet, we will probably be going down to Galle area next week to determine it and get the contractors started. It´┐┐s all in motion, a couple more big pushes!

Jayani Adikram
Our representatives in Sri Lanka more..>>

Becky's Blog

The Journal of Becky Gunaratne who is one of the representatives of MnSLFF in Sri Lanka. more..>>

MnSLFF handed over $9085.90 of your donations to SUCCESS-Colombo a registered charity social organization devoted to help poor and needy people of Sri Lanka.