After a two week break in Brisbane and Sydney over Christmas I flew out to Colombo, Sri Lanka on 4th January. It was my first visit there, but I had been told to prepare for many curries and much cricket talk!
Upon my arrival, I was surprised by the presence of the military along the streets. Soldiers were carrying guns patrolling the streets. On our drive from the airport we were stopped twice at military checkpoints to have our IDs scrutinised. Considering that an end to hostilities had been declared I was taken aback by the level of military presence. It was quite unexpected.
The first few days were spent at Mutwal in Colombo. It is a beautiful spot right on the water. I was able to visit the school here. There wasn’t much of a chance to speak with the students as I could not speak the local language.
I then headed to Wattala which is the venue for the Brothers’ training program. They made the most of my visit there by organising a four day program with me speaking to 26 young religious from different groups of Brothers and Sisters.
Wattala is infamous in Colombo as the mosquito capital! Once the sun went down the mosquitoes came out.
I was fortunate to meet up with a Sri Lankan Brother who I had met in Rome ten years ago. He made the seven hour trip down form Mannar in the north to see me. Mannar was in the heart of the fighting between the government and the LTTE (Tamil Tigers). The Brothers continue their work there and are working with the people who have been displaced because of the war.
While in Sri Lanka I also had the opportunity to visit Boystown. This place caters for about 200 teenagers most of whom are either orphans or street kids. They are given training in practical skills to give them a greater opportunity to secure employment. On the same site is also an orphanage for younger boys. A group of religious Sisters look after them.
I would say the most moving experience for me was my visit to a pre-school that caters for kids from one of the local slum areas. While the school lacked proper facilities including electricity the kids were enthusiastic.
I managed to survive the curries and enjoyed the countless conversations about cricket. Three of the current Sri Lankan one day side are former students of the De La Salle schools there.
Over the past eighteen months I have had the opportunity to visit India, Pakistan and now Sri Lanka. It has really brought home to me the connection and solidaity that exists between Lasallian schools across the Asia-Pacific.