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Frank Grigson's Trip to Veravil - August 2019
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Dear <<First Name>>,
I had the good fortune to visit Olivia (Olly) and Fred at their base at Veravil in the August just past.  Veravil, for the uninitiated, is on the West coast of Sri Lanka approximately 370 kilometres from Colombo and there are three ways of getting there: train, bus or car.  The train that I considered catching left Colombo at 05:45 am, got into Jaffna at 12:30 pm with the connecting bus leaving at 1:30 pm and arriving at Veravil at about 4:30 pm.  Buses were not an option for me for safety reasons so it was a toss up between the train/bus combo or by car and the latter won out.
 
I left the outskirts of Colombo just before 7:00 am and travelled mainly along the west coast before turning inland and passing through Anuradhapura. The roads were pretty good but single lane all the way. After a stop at Anuradhapura for some food and tea we continued north through to a town named Mankulam where we turned west towards the coast. The journey was relatively smooth until the final nine kilometres where we transited on to a dirt road that slowed us down considerably. I finally made it to Veravil in good order by about 2:30 pm. The fun continued at Veravil as we had to find our way to where Olly and Fred were staying which we eventually did after some tricky conversation using sign language and broken Tamil as none of the locals seemed to speak Singhalese.
 
I finally spotted the van parked in a garden and dropped in to the house where I was warmly greeted by Olly, Fred and Ramesh.  
Fred outside the Library building
No rest for the wicked as we all jumped in the truck, dropped my bag at the Veravil Divisional Hospital (Fred and I were staying at the nurses’ quarters for the next three nights) and drove on to the building that Olly and Fred had recently leased to turn into their living and working accommodation. Almost immediately a pair of gloves and a mamotty were thrust into my hand and, accompanied by a number of children, we got stuck into the first job for the afternoon, clearing the land. It was hard yakka, in heat, clearing up mainly thorny shrub, piling the shrubs, and then setting each pile of fire. The latter went against everything dear to my heart noting that the surrounding land was tinder dry and there was not much water around. However, all went well and there was no need to call out the Rural Fire Service J.  Sometime during that hectic first afternoon, I got to meet Rosie, the Grama Seveka (Head Person) for the area and her youngest child, a boy named Quietson. Rosie had graciously opened up her small two-bedroom cottage to Olivia and Fred and provided them with somewhere to live. Just shows how generous people can sometimes be.
 
5:30 pm sharp we finished and having dropped Fred and myself off at our digs, Olivia headed back to Rosie’s and put together a slap up meal for the evening. Just before eating, I had the opportunity of having a shower and while the water was OK, you could feel the salt content even after towelling up. Sleep was not long coming after the long journey and after a couple of hours of manual labour.
I spent the next two days assisting with a myriad of things ranging from digging trenches, using a crowbar to prep the floors and walls to lay bricks for the shower and toilet, rubbing down wood for the A-frames for the ceiling and using a drop saw, (yes, we finally ran a electrical cord from the hose across the road) to cut the wood to size for the A-frame. Somewhere in there Ramesh did a fair bit of bricklaying and translating, Fred did all of the managing, supervising, mentoring and some labour while four locals worked their tails off finishing up the trenches and putting up a wire barrier, just under the tiles to stop the birds and creatures from entering the building. Olivia turned up at just the right moment every day with the morning tea and lunch while ensuring that all the materials we needed were purchased and ready, an important job given the local Bunnings was about 75 minutes away at Mankulam. Somewhere in the midst of her day she found time to conduct English classes, negotiate for the electricity to be connected and do all of the cooking.
One evening, Fred and I spent some time with Dr Roseiro, the Senior Medical Officer for the district. Having been in the post for about five years, he is well aware of what the population in that area lack. Good drinking water, something we take for granted, is lacking. People in the Veravil and surrounding Valaipadu area have to buy drinking water and they do so from a variety of suppliers. The water sold to the locals is full of calcium and other ‘interesting stuff ‘ and it’s not unusual for the population to drink the water without boiling it first. Consequently, there are a great number of locals who develop kidney stones. The other problem in the area is that most people have only saltwater out of the local wells to bathe in. This causes skin diseases and is particularly problematic for the local fishermen who finish work, bathe in the sea and use a bucket of fresh water (expensive to buy) to try and get the salt off their bodies. The third issue here is post-traumatic stress, given the thirty-year civil war. Other than a monthly clinic, there is nothing more Dr Roseiro can do to assist.
 
The ‘so what’ of all of this is that the major project Olly and Fred wish to kick off is water capture for the locals. They will shortly fit-out one of the houses in Veravil with gutters, down pipes and a thousand-litre tank. The purpose of the one off is to capture the costs of materials and labour to enable a proper budget to be developed and a project plan to be drawn up. While a thousand litre tank will be insufficient to meet all of a family’s needs, it will go some way to alleviating some of the privations they suffer for something we take for granted. How much each house will cost to fitout will depend on the dwelling as my quick observations suggested that, for a start, not many houses had fascia boards and they would need to be retro-fitted.
 
I left Veravil three days later wishing I had planned more time in the location as there was much to be done to ready the building for Olly and Fred to move into, for the library to be finished and the class-room prepped.  It’s been ten years since I started travelling to Hewadiwela, Buttala, Thenna and now Veravil.  I visit to provide support to a couple of wonderful people who are making a significant difference in a small part of the world. It is with great difficulty that I always leave, but hopefully this short story will motivate people to dig deep into their pockets and donate what they can to the Kathleen Keegel Children’s Fund, as it’s the children of Veravil that will benefit from the clean water and the vocational training that Olly and Fred plan to provide.
 
If you would like to donate funds, please go to
http://www.kkcf.org/ways_to_support/donations
or call Georgie in Melbourne on 0403 023 949
 
Frank Grigson
Sept 2019
 

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