It was a 13-day journey along the Kelani River. Starting from the foothills of Sri Pada, a group of 21 young people made the journey downstream, some times wading through the river, at other times travelling by raft. They caught a bus to pass some stretches and biked along the banks of the Kelani at other times.
They had also made several stops on their way to do street dramas to raise awareness on climate change, stressing to village folks and others that they too can do their bit toward the environment individually. Named as ‘Kelani Nadee Yatra’, the programme aimed at increasing environmental consciousness to combat climate change at grass-root level through youth participation.
“‘Kelani Nadee Yatra’ is also an attempt to make young Green Leaders who can take the message of environmental protection to society,” explained Kanchana Weerakoon, president of the Eco-friendly Volunteers (ECO-V) who masterminded the programme.
Kanchana said that the idea of having a river journey is also a strategy since youth always enjoy challenges and outdoor activities and working in the field than learning in a classroom. “Water is severely affected by climate change and the Kelani is one of our waterways that faces many environmental challenges - so we wanted to highlight these issues too,” Kanchana explained.
Organizers say they received more than 100 applications and interviews were conducted to select the most suitable. University undergraduates, members of the Youth Parliament, school students were among the final 20, most of them aged between 18 and 20. At the organizers’ request, two ex-combatants being rehabilitated were also given chance to join the group. It was also the first time these two Newton and Selva were seeing this part of Sri Lanka.
“Newton is a young ex-LTTE combatant who was with us during our environmental expedition on Kelani River with his colleague Selva. During the journey the two had been able to integrate well with the others and face the challenges of the journey as a team,” said Imala Abeyratne, a second-year student of Rajarata University.
“Eventhough we had heard of complex things like Carbon Footprint, it is this ‘Kelani Nadee Yatra’ training which has given me the proper understanding of the concept and how each of us can contribute in simple ways,” Imala explained.
Another participant, Madusha Kularatne, a Peradeniya University undergrad valued the chance she got to observe the biodiversity along the Kelani River. Seeing a handun diviya (Fishing Cat) near Moussakelle for the first time in her life was a novel experience for her.
|The team tackling difficult terrain
The team also did some water monitoring, to ascertain the changes in water quality that would reveal the level of pollution downstream.
Talking about their Tamil colleagues, Madusha said that she had felt a little fearful initially hearing that two ex-combatants were joining ‘Kelani Nadee Yatra’. But it was just a matter of time before the spirit of youth overcame all divisions resulting in all of them being good friends now.
How Newton felt about this newfound friendship was evident in the poem he had written on the third day of the programme, while the team took a break on large rocks on the river.
“This is a journey that had given a meaning to humanity
This is a journey that blends beauty of nature
This is a journey beautiful places were observed
..and this is truly a journey where nature becomes life..
This is a journey that bring shame to those who ordered to kill
This is a journey that changed hatred
This is indeed a noble journey of peace
..and this is a journey that make us understand the power of god..!!
An exhibition to showcase the work done on the river journey will be held at the Beira Lake Kala Duwa (island) on September 15 from
9 a.m. – 5 p.m.