"Being a family means you are part of something wonderful. It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life. No matter what." ~Author Unknown

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Three Days In

So we’ve been here 3 days.  I had to count that several times, because it seems much longer.  Not in a bad way, just in the sense that we’ve done more than seems possible in 3 days, and we’re quite comfortable with our routine and surroundings. 

The travel to get here was long.  There is no easy way to reach this place.  By the time we boarded our 14 hr flight to Dubai, we were already 11 hrs in.



The airport in Dubai was a dump.  That was disappointing being that I assumed it would be ritzy.  From what I could tell, there seemed to be two terminals(similar to Detroit).  One newer, nicer one, and the one that we were in.  We settled on a fancy Dubai dinner of McDonalds, because it seemed the safest.


We had two of these huge carry on’s with us, which was such a pain to haul around!  We had no choice though.  We had two suitcases-one full of donations, and one with clothes personal products, and food for us.  Then we had to use the carry on bags to put heavy or breakable items like crayons, movies, etc. On the way home we will only have one full suitcase as the rest will stay here!


We were delighted to see our bags show up in Columbo.  It seemed impossible that 3 flights and 24 hours later they could find us.


When we left the baggage area it was mass chaos.  There was a sectioned off area for drivers, and there had to be 100 of them.  we searched for our name on a sign and finally found it.  As we walked out of the airport we got our first taste of the heat.  It was stifling.  Our driver Agid was very nice.  He offered to stop for food, and asked us several times if we needed to use the bathroom.  The drive went pretty fast(even though it was 5 hours), and was a great way to see the country.


Agid made a couple calls, and it was determined that he should take us to Grace first.  They knew we were coming and were waiting for us.


We were happy to be there and get our first glimpse of the property and meet the girls.  We were also pretty jet lagged and ready to get to the hotel and shower.  Angela, the head of Grace, was so nice about giving us options and making us comfortable, but I could tell she really wanted us to stay for lunch.  She had to pick Roxanne(another volunteer from the states) up at the airport.  Roxanne is also staying at our hotel, so it was determined we would stay till Roxanne got there, have lunch, and then head to the hotel.  We freshened up in one of the guest rooms and got to know some of the other people there.  Kasthuri is a college student that grew up in the states, but has family here in Sri Lanka.  She is a great resource for Grace because she speaks the girls language!  Jessica is also from the states.  She is at Grace to help them create a sustainable garden.  She’s worked with building community gardens in California, so she has experience with dry hot conditions.  Both of them are staying at Grace for about a month. 

While we were waiting we wandered over to see what a group of the little girls were doing.  Turns out they were having their tutoring session.  The girls are off of school right now for their break, but they have tutors that come to keep up their studies. 

IMG_1290IMG_1291IMG_1292They were writing numbers in their notebooks.  This little girl is 8 years old, and was writing numbers in the hundreds.  We’ve been told the little girls are all doing extremely well.  They are getting good, on time schooling, plus tutoring in English(speaking) and math.  Unlike the older girls who have good education in place now, but missed years at a time when they were younger.

Roxanne arrived and I immediately loved her!  She’s just a great lady.  She was here with the big group, then did some other traveling with them, then came back to Grace.  She knows what they did, what we need to do, and how to get it done.  We had our first lunch at Grace with her.  The visitors sit at a separate(fancier) table.  If you try to sit with the kids they will say no!  It is uncomfortable for them.  There is a strong sense of respect for elders, and they are very attentive to visitor’s needs.  They bring bottled water to you, offer fruit throughout the day, and tea.  After lunch Angela took us to our hotel.  We agreed to take a nap and shower and meet Roxanne that night for dinner. 

IMG_1294The hotel is very nice.  Certainly overkill for the time we’re spending here, but there is nothing in-between here.  If you want air conditioning, safely prepared food, and safe water, you basically have 3 resorts to choose from.  So, here we are.


Shot of the pool from our room, and Adrienne in the cabana.

IMG_1300       It is funny because the other guests are here for their fancy vacations.  They sit around the pool with drinks and come to dinner in their fancy clothes.  We leave in the morning, come back in the evening, and don’t wear make up or fancy clothes.  We have taken a dip in the pool the last few nights, because hey, it’s there!

That first night at dinner Roxanne brought her list, we brought ours, and we made a game plan.  We are all very goal oriented, and determined to accomplish everything we are here for.  IMG_1307

We got to grace the next morning and went right to work.  One of the most important tasks Adrienne and I are here to do, is set up Rosetta Stone and Quizlet for 5 of the girls.  These girls are going to be working at the hotel we’re staying at.  This is a big opportunity for them.  In Sri Lanka you take tests at two points in your schooling.  The O test is taken in elementary and determines what kind of track you’re put on.  The A test is taken near the end of high school and determines if you are eligible to continue on to university.  If you don’t pass, no college for you.  Period.  And they’re hard.  The board of directors for Grace met with the girl’s principal last week to talk about their progress.  She said there are several girls that just don’t have a chance at passing their exams.  The board chose 5 of those girls to take this opportunity at the hotel, because they will have to learn to do a job.  What’s sad is that these are all very bright, kind, nice, girls.  They think they will pass their tests.  They all want to be doctors, lawyers, and teachers(the three highest regarded careers).  This is just how it works here though, so we have to help these girls reach their potential outside of a classroom.  Therefore, We are asking them to put in an hour a day practicing their English with Rosetta Stone, and then learning hospitality specific vocabulary with Quizlet.  The good news is, after staying at this hotel, I’m positive these girls will work circles around the current staff.  Their English is already so much better than the staff we’ve encountered, and they are used to visitors at Grace. 

Which brings me to the realization…I’m in charge of getting old refurbished computers working correctly for these programs.  You know you have problems when you call tech support, and Jen shows up.         

IMG_1309 There were some serious frustrations that day, but we got it mostly up and running.  Adrienne trained them on Quizlet, and I showed them the Rosetta Stone.


We also had a chance to pass out the flip flops that we brought for each girl.  Jessica was so happy to see that we had brought them because she had to safety pin one of the little girls flip flops that morning.


We left feeling great about our progress that day.  Yesterday we were anxious to fix some of the problems from the day before, but we were more relaxed knowing we had done the bulk of the work.  We joined the girls in the ocean for a swim when we first got there.


Theva wants to know if I can swim!



Nadasha loves Adrienne(the feeling is mutual)! 


The military here is no longer allowed to carry weapons since the civil war ended.  They now go around and do community work.  They came to Grace the first day we were there and cleaned up the yard and did all the prep work for the garden.  It looked fabulous!  Yesterday they said they wanted to come back and serve lunch to everyone, and play some music for dancing.  I believe their intentions are honorable, but it is very uncomfortable for the girls to have them around.  These are the very soldiers that 5 years ago killed some of their parents.  Most of these girls have very traumatic pasts stemming from the war.  On the other hand, it was very good for them to see the military being peaceful and kind to them. 

IMG_1461    IMG_1462

The commander loved Roxanne!  No surprise, everyone does!  He spoke very good English and was very friendly.  They served the lunch, and then presented all the girls with goodie bags.  The commander told us they pay for this out of their own money.  After lunch they played some music.


The little girls danced to their music, and then did a little show of their own dances for the military.  Then the Commandor gave a speech about peaceful times, and Angela spoke also.  She handled it all so beautifully.  She truly is an angel here on earth. 


In the afternoon we got all 5 of hospitality training girls working on either Rosetta Stone or Quizlet.  We also did some role play of different customer situations.  The girls are very nervous, but they definitely felt better after doing the role play.  We had lots of good laughs over it, and they are starting to feel very special to be chosen for this.


The girls have to log the hours they do on the computer.  It helps them feel more accountable and serious about the practice.


After a full day we got the Tuk Tuk back to the hotel.  It’s quite an experience!


Then we decided to enjoy the amenities.  Adrienne is loving the iced coffees!  See the little spot in the background?  It’s a cow crossing the lagoon.  Quite the juxtaposition.


The cows.  I can’t get over the cows roaming everywhere.  It’s the weirdest thing.

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