Distant trails

By Tahnee Hopman

Five complete strangers decided to pounce on what they felt would be an opportunity of a lifetime.
Taking a month’s leave from their lives in Thornbury, Bristol, Wiltshire and Worcester, John Mills, Emily Palmer, Kath Williams, Jenny Simmonds and Claire Fry have spent the past three weeks indulging in an interesting culture shock experience while sightseeing, trekking, tea tasting, sunbathing, battling atrocious roads, strange accents and making elephant dung paper.

If all this were not enough, their already busy trip has also been filled with visits to hospitals, schools, media organizations, and the like in pursuit of new insights into how Sri Lankans and Sri Lankan organizations function.

John Mills, Emily Palmer, Kath Williams, Jenny Simmonds and Claire Fry. Pic by Athula Devapriya

“The focus here is to identify cultural differences, make comparisons and stumble on new ideas on how to get a job done,” explains John who is the team leader and namesake of the group which has come to be known as ‘John’s Angels’ in Colombo, Kandy, Kalpitiya, Bandarawela, Anuradhapura, Galle and Dambulla- among other places.

An innovative take on pushing the concept of international understanding to the next level, the Group Study Exchange programme conducted by the Rotary District 1100 gives a group of people from different vocations to meet with their counterparts in another country and exchange ideas.

The Rotary District 1100- not being delineated by country or region encompasses a rich and varied district comprising 66 clubs. The District supports many local and international projects including Shelterbox, and End Polio Now, while providing fishing boats for victims of the Tsunami, building a secondary school in Nepal and sending refurbished computers to primary schools in Sri Lanka.

Exploring the areas of primary education, media and journalism, occupational therapy, environmental administration and drug and crime rehabilitation, the five participants who have now become firm friends are confident that on their return home they will be able to report back to work, driven by an interesting set of new ideas to discuss with their colleagues.

“I think people back home will see a noticeable difference in all of us,” enthuses Emily whose vocation is occupational therapy. “The experience of meeting so many new people each day and learning how to interact differently with different people, and making frequent presentations of our work, had inspired a great deal of new confidence.”

“The opportunity to experience a whole new culture in this way,” is really great, “comments Kath, adding that the group has made a great many friends in the course of their stay, who they will continue to keep in touch with as a result of the programme.

Every three days, the five friends are hosted by a new host family. Both parties get the opportunity to live together and work together while following other educational aspects of the programme. “It has been a very fulfilling experience for all of us, says Claire. Under normal circumstances none of us would have met as we all come from different parts of the UK and so we feel privileged to have been given this opportunity.

Despite fatigue and limited internet access, the five have documented each day of the GSE programme. ‘The Sri Lankan Diaries’ which make very interesting reading can be found on www.d1100.blogspot.com and on Facebook.

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