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A letter from Chenoa Stock in Sri Lanka

March 16, 2010

Looking Outward

I have recently had the unfortunate experience of leaving the house without my keys, thus, as so happens, locking myself out. On a week day, this would have been fine, as it would have been a quick call to my house mate, a transfer of keys, and voila, I’m in! But today was a different series of unforeseen events.

Every Saturday I play Ultimate Frisbee with different folks in Colombo. This past Saturday morning we were having issues finding a ground on which to play, so we had to book elsewhere. After going to a Sports Complex and discovering that the ground I had booked had been double booked and we could not play, I also realized on the way home that I did not have my key. Double whammy. So I called my house mate. No answer. Called again. Still no answer. So I texted him about the situation and continued on my way home, stopping by a couple more grounds to see if any of them were not booked with cricket matches. (Tis the season.) No such luck. After hearing back from my house mate, I learned he was three hours away in a village conducting a youth day workshop and would not be back until evening. I even tried calling his house maid, but she was at a church service in a distant town and also would not be back until evening. So I called a fellow Frisbee friend and relayed the bad news (both of the Frisbee grounds situation and my key). He and another friend decided to go on a hunt around Colombo for pitches, so being that I was still key-less, I decided to join them. We wandered from ground to ground, but were not greeted by any welcoming gestures for us to play Frisbee. As the time for our Frisbee game drew nigh, we gave up on the search and decided that we would take our game to the beach. After attempting to get into my house by climbing on the balcony with no luck, I resolved to borrow a pair of shorts from a friend and we made our way to the nearby Mt. Lavinia beach, about 5 km. away. We were not sure how many would show, due to the late notice, but were pleasantly surprised when twenty people came to join, allowing us to have a proper, albeit very windy, game.

Two hours later, as the sun set and the lightning and rain began, relieving us of the heavy humidity that has pervaded Sri Lanka this month, we packed up and headed back to Colombo. On the way I received a text from my house mate, saying that he was on his way back, but would probably not be home for another hour or so. I graciously hung out at a friend’s house, who allowed me to shower, offered me dry clothes and food, and tolerated my one last need of the use of his phone, since my battery was low. After much back and forth conversation with my house mate, explaining that the heavy rains were delaying his return, I was finally able to get a hold of his house maid and arranged to pick up the key from her. It seemed all was moving in the right direction, until I tried calling a taxi and they said it would be at least an hour before one could come to my friend’s house, due to the heavy rains. Another friend who was also there offered to try calling his tuktuk driver, who was out of town, but who might have a friend who could come. After some phone calls, the tuktuk friend was contacted, the pick up was arranged, and fifteen minutes later I was on my way to retrieve the key. I found the place with ease, said an embarrassed and humble thank you, and returned to my house, where after a 12 hour ordeal, I was finally able to make the long awaited entrance to my home sweet home.

After this comedy of errors of a day, I have since reflected on the events. In my inability to get ‘in,’ I had to look ‘out.’  For a day I was unable to do anything on my own or in the safety of my ‘home’, but had to rely on the kind outreach of friends and tuktuk drivers, as well as the functioning of phones and communication across languages. And, amidst all of that, it actually ended up being a beautiful (and most random) day.

Photo of several children.

Children living in camps in Welika Kandy, Batticaloa (eastern Sri Lanka).

This past week Praja Abhilasha held an Advocacy Workshop for the leaders of our network partner organizations. Though attendance was not as high as we would have liked, about twenty people gathered for three days to learn about advocacy, what it is, its purpose, and the different tools that can be used for it. We also held sessions about the legal aspects of land, as we are advocating for land as a fundamental right, networking and communication, and the use of media in an advocacy campaign. There were brainstorming sessions about how each of these are important for our network and how we can improve and learn from these new tools and knowledge. The workshop concluded with a planning session of the Praja Abhilasha 2010 Action Plan. After discussing which test cases we wanted to take up as a network, we decided to focus on communities in the east and the north, which had been isolated from the rest of the country due to the ongoing war, but are now more accessible, due to its end in May 2009. Praja Abhilasha has recently been holding meetings and gathering information from these displaced communities, in hopes of allowing them the space to voice their struggles and needs for their land rights.

Photo of a young boy standing in front of a woman who is bending over to wash her hands in bucket.

Displaced people from Vanni (Puduvur Junction, Puliyankulam – north Sri Lanka).

As with my earlier key situation, these people are unable to claim a place as ‘home.’ They are unable to get ‘in’ to a place on their own, which will provide them with security and comfort. Instead they must look outward to those around them and ask for guidance and help. We, as Praja Abhilasha, strive to be that outside motivator and support for them. We are the friend who gave me shorts for Frisbee, we are the friend who took me in for a few hours and offered shower and food, we are the tuktuk driver who drove me in the rain to finally obtain my key. We are not here to do everything for them or to give hand outs, but are the collection of voices who can mobilize them to understand their situation and encourage and support them in taking action for the rights they deserve.

Photo of a man reading from a laptop and another man wearing earphones.

Practical application of making a Podcast during the media session of the advocacy workshop.

We continue our discussions with these communities, in hopes that they can see the benefits of working in solidarity, instead of on their own in isolation. This is definitely not a situation that will be resolved in twelve hours, but with time, strength, patience, and focus, we can move the campaign in the right direction, toward our goal of land as a fundamental right for all.

I hope this finds you in the midst of some spring weather and enjoying your home, wherever that may be!

Chenoa Stock
Companionship Facilitator
Joining Hands – Praja Abhilasha
Sri Lanka

For more information:
Joining Hands Program
Joining Hands Partnership Newsetters
Chenoa Stock profile, funding, past newsletters
Chenoa Stock photo albums

The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 125


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