Teary goodbyes

It was time to say goodbye but before we did you know what that means......PARRRRTTTTTY! I would like to say I dressed up but I didn't I had a lovely dress to wear but when I put it on I felt all icky and just sulky so I changed into something more comfy. We all lumbered onto a coach to venture to somewhere unknown. The coach journey already had the party started the Sri Lankan members of the crew sang and danced in the aisles while the UK desperately tried to think of a song we could sing to hold up our side of the party. We failed miserably but Bojan from Bosnia made up for it by dancing in the aisles singing the Flintstones. As I fell into my seat on the coach laughing I wished I could stay with these people forever.

We arrived at a huge beautiful hotel with a waterfall and a massive fountain.There was even a red carpet leading us up the stairs. British council really had gone all out. We climbed what felt like a million stairs to come into a grand hall with big round tables.Everyone was running around taking pictures trying to capture the moments so they could take as many as they could home with them. Lots of the people we had met over the week were there but we were unleashed onto the food. The food was a huge buffet with all kinds of lovely dishes. I had some meat and veggie kebabs and rice which was lush but secretly I was saving room for the desert table I had seen. Oh boy was it worth the wait the best creme brulee I have ever tasted in my life!

After dinner the party got lively everyone was dancing and singing in their mother tongues and some of these guys had serious moves and not a drop of booze in sight.

Then it got even more exciting and the party hit the beach.Another beautiful beach. Never in one week have I been to so many beaches and I was loving it. Darkness had hit and we were dancing to everyone singing in the waves with firelight joining our dance. I really have had the time of my life, met amazing people,made links for projects and saw the most amazing places.

The Big Return To The Group In Columbo

My first impressions of Colombo were not good. We left sandy beaches of Galle and Matara to a dirty packed city. The number of beggars increased dramatically even knocking on car windows. I could see lots of shops and everyone seemed too busy all the time compared to the laid back Sri Lanka I had seen so far. Colombo does have a beach and our hotel was right by it but we didn't have time to visit this one. The hotel however was the best yet. A more modern feel with a huge shower. The staff were all really friendly. There is a gym and a rooftop pool and bar with an amazing view so if you do go to Colombo I highly recommend this hotel.

With the reunion we had the hugs, smiles and sheer excitement to see each other you would think that everyone had known each other for years. We all had to give presentations about our community visits. We learnt about rain forest, working with children with disabilities, and the forum theatre. Everyone had gained a wealth of knowledge and was so excited to share what they has learnt.  As we had learnt about forum theatre we put on a show for everyone. Sadly the press missed the show but we still ended up in a local paper. I was so fascinated with all the visits and only wish I could have shared those experiences first hand with all the different people surrounding me. They loved the Forum theatre and really joined in. We filmed it so I will save that for a future post.

All the learning we had gathered we worked together in teams to encourage each other how we would bring this forward and put it into our own social action projects. I have learnt so much from this trip about culture, people, other countries and how with belief and passion so many great things can be done all around the world.

Galle, Snakes and Monuments

It was time to leave Matara but like I said we had the most awesome facilitator and he wanted to take us to see as much as Sri Lanka as we would before we had to go back to meet the others. We drove to taake a look at Galle where one of the other groups had been staying. Galle is beautiful of all the places I have seen within Sri Lanka if you are looking for a holiday Galle is so beautiful and very tourist friendly there are lots of hotels along the coast without it being too over packed and over bearing.

Sam tried his luck with a huge snake. As we were visiting a big monument we saw a snake charmer with cobras in a basket if you saw my other post about the elephant sanctuary then you can probably already guess what I think of this. Keeping a big python in a bag and cobras locked in a box can not be good for them.It is animal cruelty and I understand that people need to make money somehow to feed themselves but I could not contribute.The group felt bad which is why Sam held the snake and gave him some money but I cant help but think that just adds to letting him continue with this.

The monument we saw however was pretty cool. It was a boiling hot day so it was nice to walk around and look down on the amazing views. I loved looking around the little shops but we didn't have much time because we wanted to go to the beach for lunch. Yes another beach! Hey when you live nowhere near the sea you have to get every second you can near it especially in this stunning surroundings.

Another Beautiful Sunset In Sri Lanka

Just when I thought the sunset I told you about in my other post was a beautiful as they could get Sri Lanka decided to blow me away again. The group had decided we wanted to go to the beach to practise forum theatre to be able to present back to the rest of the groups when we returned from community visits the next day. One of our local guides put us into Tuc Tucs and whisked us off to Polhena beach. It was like walking onto something like off a movie set. The sand was golden and the sea blue Huge palm trees and hardly anyone around. Why don't I just show you. Keep an eye out for the rainbow <3

I spent a little time wondering off on my own walking along the beach the waves lapping at my feet as the sun set and I just thought to myself. This is what life is about lots of little beautiful moments. I just wanted to bottle up that moment and keep it forever.

The restaurant we had dinner at was right on the beach I had fresh sear which was beautiful.. Our host told us the tale of a young couple that jumped to their death from the Buddhist temple in a terrible true Romeo and Juliette and we had found our forum theatre show.It is crazy I have never felt so connected to people in such short time but Active Citizens really puts you through some emotions and brings you close to those around you. I couldn't have asked for a better facilitator James made sure we got to see lots of amazing places, kept us laughing and smiling and even helped me hunt down honey when I lost my voice.

Drugs Awareness Marches Sri Lanka Style

Traditional Dancers
We were welcomed by another school. This time treated to a traditional dance from two guys in traditional dress. They danced us into the building of another packed waiting room. We were invited on stage to light candles in Buddhist tradition. I really like how much of an effort the people of Sri Lanka make to make guests feel welcomed. The whole time we have been here so far we have been treated with so much respect. Everyone is so smiley and friendly wanting to stop and chat. You can not help but find yourself smiling too. We were given a seminar on drugs in Sri Lanka. I found this so insightful. In the UK we would be talking about the dangers of street drugs like heroin and crack but in Sri Lanka cigarettes are considered drugs. I mean yes technically they are but I think it is pretty awesome that is the major drug issue rather than harder stuff and hopefully they will be successful at being able to combat it.
zinga in action 

We took the room outside all 150 people because we wanted to get them all energised. In Active citizens you learn a game called Zinga. Everyone gets in a big circle and the main person starts to shout maaaa one by one the circle must follow until the vibe gets so strong and powerful that everyone shouts zinga together. Sound boring? wait till I get the video to show you. We did the possible worlds biggest zinga and they loved it. In fact we had to do it twice.....mainly because Sarah forgot to press record on the camera but it was a good excuse to have another go ;) This time the language barrier was a lot stronger than we had been experiencing so we weren't able to get to know them as much as we had the other school.
Some of the posters in native language

We helped make some posters ready for a protest march. The one I worked on with Sam got voted third mainly because Sam could cheer the loudest. Conveniently I do not have a picture of our amazing drawing skills. ;)
Bojan always has jokes

The march itself was amazing the young people got so passionate and we walked all the way through a small village. The sun was beating down on us but the surroundings were like little hut houses and big beautiful palm trees while kids passionately shouted STOP SMOKING. The community seemed to really embrace it and smiled at the march taking our leaflets and waving as the tuc tuc in front blared about anti drugs. Here are a few pictures of the march.

Shops on the walk

Following the Tuc Tuc surrounded by beauty

Me and Sarah it was so hot she used my poster for shade

Our fellow marchers

I would march through these settings anyday

Protest Tuc Tuc style

Tajdar with our protest crew

Buddhist Temples, Tuc Tucs And Sunset Beaches

We split off into our community visits yesterday and we spend hours driving down to the coast of Sri Lanka to get to Matara. It was a really long drive but on the positive side this means we got to see a lot more of Sri Lanka and learn more about a new place when some of the teams were staying local. We also have a beautiful hotel. With a huge room all to myself.

One thing I have learnt while in Sri Lanka is that everyone is really chilled out and laid back which is cool but when you are waiting for breakfast it could be a while. Our Sri Lankan guide summed it up by saying "In Sri Lanka we are relaxed about everything....except driving we drive fast'. Talking of driving I am in love with the tuc tuc we so need these in England they drive crazy fast and we got to go in one it felt like we were in a roller coaster. They are a really cheap mode of transport. I loved seeing all the different pimped out ones around the coast.

Tuc Tuc my new fav mode of transport

We went to a beautiful beach on Matara coast. We got there just in time for sunset. The sea breeze hitting our faces as we chucked our shoes to the rocks sand beneath our toes and waves hitting our feet as the sun slowly went down. Buddhist chants from a local temple played through the air. The temple was a beautiful sight in itself across a huge bridge and out on the sea. The moment was breath taking we all just looked and smiled at each other as the waves lapped at our feet. The sky changing colour before our eyes.

We couldn't take pictures in the Buddhist temple but we remained with no shoes and looked around even met some monks. The building was beautiful and there was lots of fish, candles and flowers. I can see how the temple could be such a peaceful place to be in and I would love to visit some more Buddhist temples. Religion fascinates me and somehow I always feel safe and welcome in religious buildings.  If you go to Matara check out the view from this temple because I was told that when you look out from this point into the sea nothing lies between Sri Lanka and the Antarctica even though it is so far away. Looking out to the vast sea is always so humbling. I need to move to the sea!

We tried fried dhal on the sea coast and then we ate dinner with our hosts at a huge restaurant by the beach and got to go back to the hotel in a tuc tuc. Everyone was sharing and laughing the perfect end to the day.

Local Schools And Forum Theatre In Sri Lanka

The first part of our community visit today was to go into a local school and help teach about child rights and how to safeguard themselves. Having come from a children and young people background safeguarding is something I am passionate about. All children and young people deserve to live and grow up in a safe environment and be able to tell someone if they are not. The more work we can do to encourage children to talk to us about this the better. So I was excited to see how they do this in Sri Lanka.

Marching Band Welcoming Us
The school were so welcoming. We were greeted by a marching band on arrival, greeted by ladies in beautiful saris given leaves and lead to the front of a ram packed hall of children waiting our arrival. The school children here dress completely in white. White skirt and shit for the girls and white trousers and shirt for the boys sporting blue ties for both. Their uniforms all looked so clean and crisp and they all sat quietly.

Group work
In true universal school style we split into groups and we found out that there were actually 3 different schools. Children had been selected from a boys school, a girls school and a mixed school to come together to talk with each other about this subject. I really liked the idea of mixing new schools together for different opinions although it wasn't clear if this was something they do on a regular occasion or if the children then feed back to their peers at the school to ensure the message reaches as many children as possible. When standing outside in a circle I wondered why the children looked nervous. I soon found out the ambassador from the Ministry of justice worker that was leading the session was going slowly round the circle asking the children to not only introduce their school and name but also show a talent. Not if they would like to it was pretty demanding that you must. I am guessing this is something they do regularly are they were all ready with a song, a poem or a speech. Many of them could really sing and they take speech giving very seriously.

We went back inside and did a few more activities but we took this as the chance to talk to the children. We asked them what they wanted to do when they grew up and 90% of the group said be a doctor. One said he would like to be a DJ and the rest wanted to be engineers. It was so strange for me having worked in schools lots to be with a group of 9-12 year old young people who didn't give answers like singers and movie stars. It shows a clear line of culture in Sri Lanka that even from a young age there is a lot of pressure on education and doing well in school. We asked about art and media and found they all put more value on science and maths. The most interesting subject for me was talking about the kind of punishment they receive in school. It ranged from being taken out of class, plucking grass and kneeling for long amounts of time. Cleaning the classroom was a huge part of their every day and not part of a punishment. The teacher carried on leading the session discussing lightly the issue of safeguarding. We went off to explore the school which I will tell you all about in another post.

Forum Theatre
The highlight of the day was forum theatre. Forum theatre is used in schools and communities widely in Sri Lanka it is used with heavy story lines to get across difficult issues to the community facing them. The play runs through once and then the audience have the chance to stop the scene replace a character and try and change the outcome of the story. I really loved this method and the theatre team were amazing. I was so surprised to see so many of the young people taking part and really finding good solutions to the problems. I have so much to tell you about forum theatre so please follow and keep up to date for more news.

In all it was a very educational experience and it made me realise that in the UK we take so much for granted.

Bojan (Bosnia), Sam (UK), Shefani (Sri Lanka) Tajdar (Pakistan) James (UK) part of our great team

Elephants, Crazy Driving And Sri Lanka

A Small Temple 
When I heard we would be visiting an elephant sanctuary I actually squealed with excitement. I love animals and the thought of being able to see elephants roam free rather than just in a zoo or safari park was an exciting thought. On the journey there I wasn't alone we were first in the van and everyone was so excited not only to see elephants but just to be in Sri Lanka in general. The van journey itself was an adventure. The driving in Sri Lanka is mental like a crazed roller coaster.So much fast winding in and out near misses with dogs and Tuc Tucs but all the drivers are so calm. If that had been the UK there would have been ear steaming road rage. We saw a bus that had crashed into a house and nervously held on tight. Looking around the scenery is so beautiful. Although there are lots of shops they are all like small shacks with w big tunnel under them that literally has a plank leading into the shop. Men carried toilets and furniture over these think planks with big smiles on their faces. Some of the temples we drove passed were just beautiful.

Getting to the elephant sanctuary some of the team were really annoyed that it costs more for 'foreigners' to come and see the elephant sanctuary personally this is something that doesn't really bother me about going to see attractions in other countries because of course they need to make money to keep them going but also make it available to locals who have far less money but will come lots of times so in the long run they end up paying more than the one time visitor.

However I despite all the excitement to see the elephants my heart sank a little when we got inside. This place was less of a sanctuary more of a zoo but I didn't want to judge so started to explore instead. I expected the elephants to be in a sort of safari park i guess. Roaming semi free with lots of freedom. Of course I am aware there is a safety aspect with such wild huge animals but when it has been described as a sanctuary or an orphanage it strikes certain expectations in your mind. I had been told these wee elephants that had been rescued from bad times. When I in fact I found out they were from the wild. The first elephant we saw was one that you had to pay to feed and he was just there like an attraction to make money. I really didn't agree with this and even if you wanted to take a photo the keeper wanted money. I felt more like these beautiful animals were being kept as a money raising scheme than a way to help protect them and act in their best interest.

It only got worse for me when we were hurried along to 'feeding time' the baby elephants were so cute until i realised they were on chains. They were behind a fence and still on chains so they could be close to where the people were in order for them to easily touch them for their own gratification.I found this really upsetting one of the baby elephants was so distressed waiting to be fed that he kept pulling on his chains and even has a small cut. I just couldn't understand why the keeper couldn't calm him down or just let him off the chains. Things can be done with a bit more compassion and will not cost them any more. What I found interesting was that everyone read this situation differently. A girl from Pakistan believed he was just distressed because he was hungry, one of the English boys believed it was down to culture and then there was me and Sarah who were just upset and saddened. Have a look for yourself. This is just a small snippet look out for my video blog for a better idea.

I don't want to end this blog leaving you with a one sided view of this place. Sri Lankans have a lot of love and respect for elephants they are celebrated everywhere in statues,art and yes they are a form of transport in some places and very well looked after.

The sanctuary did have some beautiful moments as well as sad and the elephants are not always on chains. I
just feel the land they do get to walk around on is not nearly enough about the size of a small football pitch for 6 elephants is not much at all. However when they were roaming i saw a baby elephant play in the dirt with it's mother who covered it in dirt to protect it from the sun. seeing this family together playing brought a warm feeling to my heart.The sanctuary must care about these animals maybe they need support but they need to take the chains away and learn how to work with them in a different way.

A Journey To The Past Sri Lanka Style

We started the day with some beautiful meditation closing our eyes and being lead to listen to nature and then left to go explore the surroundings for a little bit without talking. I really enjoyed listening to the birds and looking out onto the huge lake. When we returned one girl gave a beautiful example with two leaves one new and one old. The old represented the old values and decaying and that once it is crumpled it finds it hard to bounce back where are the new one can bounce right back like the youth of today who can lead us to help fix problems in the world.

Active Citizens definitely know how to keep you on your toes. A quick speed network and then time to remember all those names in a name game. I almost died on the spot I am terrible at remembering names at the best of the time let alone when there are 28 new people to meet. The name game is a lot of fun thought and I managed to avoid the hot seat especially since the other team were cheating. I think I will defiantly play this game with one of my teams in the future.

The day was jam packed with activities each taking us on a journey. As we were all from so many different backgrounds eager to learn all about each other we had the chance through selling our countries on a market stall. This was one of my favourite activities all the countries split off and the teams worked together to get their stall to be alluring. Our UK team went to town with a pub quiz, sweets, football shirts, music and tons of colourful pictures. This was an awesome chance for the UK team to bond as we hadn't really had the chance to chat. Representing Manchester, London, Romford, Chester and Birmingham we told tales of fish and chips ,and won hearts with rhubarb and custard sweets.Most of all we got to learn so much about other countries. I got to drink coconut water fresh from a king coconut, found out that Sri Lanka were the first country to have a female president in 1971 but I was inspired by Egypt and the passion and knowledge Aya has.

The real adventure was a journey to the past. I have to give the facilitators huge kudos they really have magic on being able to inspire and stir imagination. Dan took us on a long walk exploring how the past has changed and what built us to where we were. As crazy as it sound this was a very deep and bonding experience. The 3 groups had gone on different journeys but they all returned as emotionally bonded and touched as mine.I have to say I think my group had the best journey.

Active Citizens Getting To Know Each Other In Sri Lanka

Tired eyed and sleepy we met some fellow Active Citizens at the airport Amy,Chloe and Ed all from the UK who had been on the same flight as us! Everyone was buzzing with excitement and piled into the van which took us on a journey to the first destination. First stop was to be Thulhiriya to the MIMT training centre. We had been given a beautiful chalet to share with some of the other girls. The chalets were really nice with natural showers like literally showering in nature! No roof just mesh and nature at your fingertips. I don,t know about you but I found that really exciting. How often do you get to shower in tropical weather? The only downside is that they were pretty cold. Check it out on the video below!

Super tired from the 14 hour flight we thought we only has a cheeky lunch and dinner to attend. Active Citizens mean business though and we were chucked straight into workshops. After a little rest the team aren't that mean! The surroundings were so beautiful we needed a little bit of time to explore the gated area we were in with huge palm trees, Lizards running around and local smiley friendly people.

The activities for Active Citizen almost never seem like work they are interactive and fun getting you out of your seat instead of just watching presentations. I really recommend if you love social action work get Active Citizens trained you will have the chance to meet some amazing people and really learn a bit more not just about the world but also about yourself. It really is a journey of adventure. We kicked off with some speed networking getting to know as much about each other in as little time as possible. It was amazing to be in a room with so many different nationalities. Bosnia, UK, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Egypt. I already knew that I was going to learn so much on this trip from these people around me.

Just a few of the participants on the first day im hiding ha

Sri Lanka The journey

A Visa stamped passport in hand the journey began when the taxi came to pick me up to head to pick up Sarah and then on to the airport. I love how much time checking in online saves and we could have got away with being at the airport even later then we were but we chowed down on Burger King, Played on some random light game and even had a massage from one of the massage chairs. The excitement is very clear in our video blog which I will put up for you guys to see when we have finished editing.
Birmingham Airport

As I mentioned in my last post we decided to fly with Emirates. So many people have raved about them before and we wanted to fly from Birmingham rather than trekking to London. I really like Birmingham Airport it is just so much more chilled. Heathrow is way to big, busy and confusing. Everyone seems to be really stressed and in a hurry where Birmingham just seems so relaxed and at a nicer pace. It doesn't take ages to go through security and staff are really friendly.
Clouds and Sky

We were on a pretty big plane heading from Birmingham to Dubai. The seats were comfortable. As a plus sized traveller planes can often be more of a hell but this flight was cosy and the arm rests come up to make more room if needed. I like that the tray comes down in 2 halves so if you struggle with the tray coming down especially when the person in front has their chair right back you can still make use of the tray and have some room.

The entertainment system is brilliant. ICE provides you with everything you will need to fill the 7 and a half hour flight. Information about the flight. You can watch the plane fly across the map with all the information about times, and weather They even have 2 cameras to tune into below the plane and on the wings which is fun to watch in take off so even if you do not have a window seat you can still get to enjoy the view Communications allows you to link up your laptop, text and also see the latest news from BBC. I didn't really use any of this but there are also USB ports and a plus to charge devices which is something I really liked as a feature. Entertainment was the best the screen was pretty big and there was a large selection of films, music, TV programmes, and games. The variety was really good and there was no way anyone could find the time to get bored. In fact I planned my time so I could fit in as many films as possible.
ICE entertainment 

I watched Machete Kills, Sharknado and Brave. Machete kills is so worth a watch, if you have seen the first one you will know it is a B movie style action packed gore fest and the sequel is twice as good. Although I did get funny looks from Sarah from all the blood splattering everywhere. Sharknado was a lot of fun a crazy cheesy B movie where a tornado of sharks attack America. Brave was just to even things out with a bit of dark Disney but I really enjoyed it like the big kid I am.
Beer stew, Salmon starter, Sticky Toffee pud and snacks

The food was actually really good and we had plenty of drinks and snacks. A hot towel at the beginning and the air stewardesses were really nice. My only grumble is that they collect in blankets and headphones almost an hour before you land so you are left freezing from the air con and with nothing to do but chat and play games. I could have squeezed in some cheesy music or even a quick blast of family guy in that time.

Dubai airport is really big but they defo need bigger toilets as the ques were crazy! The second flight from Dubai to Sri Lanka Colmbo was nowhere near as good. Although we were on the same sized plane the seats were a bit smaller so I was Left squashed up, somehow our seats had been changed to in the middle of the middle row! I never suggest sitting there the worst seats possibly ever! The TV screens were a lot smaller with less selection, the seat belt was tight (I live in fear of seatbelts on planes not fitting) and the ride a lot bumpier but the staff were lovely and we made it through with a bit of a cramp. The main thing is we made it safe and sound and got picked up from the airport by a driver. Stay tuned to read more about the trip :)

Dubai from the air

Off To Sri Lanka!!!

It almost doesn't feel real! I am so excited today I fly out to Sri Lanka as part of British Council Active Citizen program. I will be representing YTV and Ulfah arts in helping social action projects around the world really make a difference. British council brings Active Citizens together from around the world.Currently 35 countries are part of the Active Citizen program in which they all receive the same training in order to be able to come together to find ways of working together and improving practise to help make more of a difference in the world. In fact if you read my post about making a difference in India this was created as a result of companies meeting through Active Citizens and now working together to make things happen. So as you can imagine I am really excited to be a part of this.
Sri Lanka Visa

I had a nightmare getting my immunisations and it seemed like my Visa took forever. (Even though it was actually only a week)  Now I am all packed....I know nobody is ever all packed right? I am bound to forget something. Usually a hairbrush or mouthwash but Glamour is minor. I guess so long as you have a ticket, Visa, passport and some money you are good to go right? I managed to ram as much as I can into a small case. When you travel do you travel light? Or are you one of those people with a huge case panicking about the weight limit?  I am working on the fine art of being able to pack as little but as much as possible in a small space.
Need huge coffee to pack

The flight is for ages but we will be flying with Emirates so I will let you know how that goes :) I am really excited because we will be seeing some elephants too! I will keep you guys posted on how it goes but in the mean time send me some love!
Dont forget passport :P

Robot Wars

A few weeks before Christmas on my day off I ventured into the cold to New Town Pertemps building. If you have never been to this Pertemps they have a great cafe that serve some lush Jamaican food. When I worked at the children centre we often popped to New Town to fill our belly. Pertemps is not just about helping people find jobs. Although today I was not there to eat.

Today I had been invited with my boss to attend a celebration of a new program they had been running in association with Robot Wars. Princes Trust and Pertemps worked together to find 10 young people aged between 18-25 who are Not in Education Employment or Training. Otherwise known as NEET's. Young people are left unmotivated in a time where they can come out of school and not be able to get a job. The recession really has hit them the hardest. So it is up to us to get them interested and give them a bit of guidance and inspiration when the system has failed them. This project does exactly that.

Hooking 10 young boys in to learn about making robots and how this could lead to careers in mechanics or engineering with a big fight off at the celebration This was open to girls too but seemed to have a higher interest from boys. In just a week of being taught new things and being given a little guidance the difference in these boys was amazing and just speaks for itself for the need for youth programmes everywhere. Interestingly this was funded by Will.I.Am at least he is putting his money to good use.

I also got the chance to see Major Damage a fire breathing robot!

I have invited the guys to come and attend some of our projects so I hope to continue their interest in the future and keep them motivated and achieving.