Thursday, 27 October 2016

An inspirational visit to Hope House - 26/10/16 - Sophie S

Today we visited the building where an amazing new Ocean Stars project called Hope House is underway. This is in collaboration with a TV documentary whereby the town of Ampulantharai is supported by a successful female business woman from London, to set up a new skills training centre for women in the village. Ocean Stars sought out the location, helped to set up the project and now manage the ongoing success of Hope House. This was an enormous priviledge to see, as this is a scheme which supports single mothers in the community, giving them hope by teaching them sewing and computer skills in order that they may find work to support their families and lift them from poverty. Students pay the equivalent of 7p for a two hour session, 3 times a week. This money then goes back into Hope House.

We were told the story of the many challenges faced along the way to setting up this wonderful project, including the transportation of the storage container (now acting as the computer training room) all the way from Colombo to Ampalanthurai. Problems encountered included broken down lorries, running out of fuel, JCBs stuck in the mud and the most awkward location to place the container…..on the roof of the current building!! This mammoth effort was well worth it (in my eyes, one of the most important projects Ocean Stars could offer to the farming village in which Hope House is situated). We were also lucky enough to buy some of the women’s sewing items and to see the grand opening of a water well which is very necessary to ensure any water supply.

The women and their children were so grateful for our visit, and this was without doubt one of the highlights of my trip this year! How often do you see computer lessons happening in the middle of nowhere, on a roof in an old storage container!!

Kanchirankkuda - 27/10/16


Our last day and yet again the teacher and children fill my heart with joy. We were due 40, but only 24 arrived. Phew,  a few tearful ones, but once again after Albert the toy monkey entertained them, their smiles came out. We decorated the room with fish, played with the balloons and bubbles, always a pleasure!

All the women in the village brought along a small amount of food and (about 15) cooked us a wonderful meal. Suda once again played his little tricks. I don't mind spice, but those green chillies and the tears and sneezing from me upon eating them gave him great delight. The teachers, again with little to no resources, were a credit to the children and the community.


On my usual morning walk from my chalet to have breakfast I said good morning to the alligator who seems to have taken up residence in the lagoon just a few steps from my hut. I kept a wary distance from him to make sure that I wasn’t his breakfast! I thought it was a joke until the boatmen last night showed us some grisly photos of a fisherman who had been attacked by an alligator and had had his arm and leg bitten off

Another day at the office…….the office this time being the small pre-school at Kanchirankkuda. Sandra, Reanne and myself travelled the relatively short distance (45 minutes) along mainly dirt roads. We didn’t have too much difficulty in finding the school and as usual on arrival we were given a rapturous welcome. We arrived in time to start school (8.30am) and there were about 20 children waiting for us, but gradually more arrived until we had about 30. There were 2 teachers. Sandra did some dancing games and Reanne read them the rainbow story, with Akshaya interpreting. As we had now run out of fish hats, we used fish paper plates which the children decorated and hung on the classroom wall. There seemed to be an adequate supply of tables and chairs. I led a simple outdoor ‘sport games’ session and we kept each game to about 15 minutes as it was very hot.

The school building consisted of 2 rooms and was well constructed with a sound roof, albeit asbestos. As usual there was no glass in the windows but wire mesh. Also there was no toilet, running water or electricity. Again I’ve come to realise this is quite normal. There was no well, water was being taken from a plastic tank near the road which was refilled every so often by a water tank vehicle. When it was time for the children to leave, we gave them each a knitted teddy, a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste. All the children seemed happy and healthy.

Kirankulan - 26/10/16 - Howard

Great hilarity amongst the team as to who can learn and remember the most Tamil words! At the moment Dan is the clear winner!

Today, Maureen, Sandra and I visited the small pre-school at Kirankulan. As usual we had a very warm welcome. They had a class of 21 children aged 3-4 and two teachers. The children were very neatly turned out in Ocean stars t-shirts and blue gingham overalls which had been made by the teachers. By now I was getting used to the routine of helping with the song and dance and craft activities. I think I know by heart the story of the Rainbow Fish by now! The classroom was fairly basic, although they had tables and chairs. As regards toilets, the children used the back yard. There were no washing facilities so the children used a stainless steal bucket of cold water to wash their hands before lunch. Having said all this, the children looked generally healthy and happy.

When it was time to go home we handed out teddy bears and lollipops to the children which went down very well! Afterwards, we were kindly invited to the home of one of the teachers which was a short walk away, and here we were given lunch,

Thevalaimunai – Sophie S and Amy – 27/10/16

Today we visited another fairly remote pre-school called Thevalaimunai. When we arrived there were just four children there, two in uniform and two dressed in their own clothes. Slowly more children arrived after lots of encouragement from the teacher, taking the numbers up to 9. We were told that four of them were in hospital with a fever. There were a few tears at the start, with children being a little reluctant to want to join in and preferred to take a step back. However, fortunately and most rewardingly, the children came out of their shells and began to approach us and participate. They particularly enjoyed making a fish hat, playing with the bean bags, bubbles and parachute. The children’s smiles during the session and especially at the end of the session gave us the most incredible feeling of pride, pleasure and happiness. We both felt so touched by observing the difference in these wonderful children from when they arrived at the start of the morning, and eventually how ecstatic they were whilst playing with the parachute, that we decided to donate this to the pre-school. The teachers were extremely grateful for this.

I (Sophie) was touched when, as we arrived at the school, the teachers excitedly showed me the picture they had on their wall. It was a picture we had given them a year ago at the teacher training morning of me in my ballroom dress. 

We said goodbye and handed out lots of gifts to the children including sweets, stickers, tooth brushes and tooth paste. Seeing the children walk home on their own, with at least 1/3rd of them walking home barefoot, was rather heart-breaking.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Hearing impaired charity fun evening - 25/10/16 – Sophie S

On Tuesday evening we enjoyed another successful evening with the hearing impaired community Ocean Stars support. Ocean Stars sponsors children of hearing impaired parents, and this evening acts as one of the only outings and opportunities some of these children and their families get to socialise and have fun. We had a fantastic display of craft activities, balloon modelling, puzzles, card-making, bubbles, bubbles, bubbles and different sporting activities. This was an amazing group effort between the Calthorpe Park students and Team 2. It was really heart-warming to see these families enjoying themselves, particularly when singing along to the hokey cokey, the songs the CPS students sang, and finally when samba dancing!

The highlight for me of this evening, was giving a small piece of jewellery to each individual, donated this year mainly by my mum and Amy. I never see such grateful recipients of any gift as I do during these moments. This makes it such a special occasion as we can see just how much Ocean Stars input means to our sponsor children and their families.

Team 2 experience of the BBC-famous singing fish of Batticaloa:

Team 2a have just returned from an exhilarating (maybe slightly humiliating if the ‘official photos’ ever get out) trip into the middle of the river to listen to the world-renowned singing fish of Batticaloa. With great anticipation we waited for the ‘singing fish’ to begin their chorus. Having brought the boat to a standstill, fallen into a hush of silence (anticipation building by the second), the boat guide said he would now call on the fish to begin their song. He then proceeded to position the awe down into the deep dark water. Then as we waited, he slowly placed his ear onto the top of the awe and began to listen. He then pronounced – ‘yes, they are singing’ and handed out 6 awes instructing us to hang out of the boat and listen to our awes too.

At this point, Sandra looked at me and said ‘have you ever been had?’ and we considered that the guides might just be having a right good laugh at us. Finally, Amy began hearing things, so we all decided, as she was the fish whisperer that we should listen with her awe. At that point, we all decided we could make out faint sounds of Paul McCartney’s ‘The Frog Chorus’ ( This was certainly not singing as we expected.

Finally, it was on our return to the dock that the guide showed us pictures of the 6 crocodiles in residence in this small lagoon. A very entertaining night….especially as we left team 2b in suspense of the upcoming experience of the ‘singing fish’. Turns out, Dilanee from Team 2b literally “dived” into the experience, nearly taking the fisherman and half the team with her.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Howard - Neloor - 25/10/16

The pre-school at Neloor was so remote that Ramesh our driver had to ask the way several times from passers-by! After an hour, again along some very bumpy dirt tracks, we finally arrived to enthusiastic reception. The pre-school was next door to the junior school, and again the whole site was surrounded by barbed wire fencing. We spent the morning with the class of 21 children (aged 3-4) and two teachers. The school consisted of a single room with a damage roof which leaked badly when it rained and the floor could be ankle-deep in water. In this situation the children are moved off site to a neighbouring building, courtesy of an agricultural firm. I was getting into the swing of things as regards the routine of introductions, group singing, dancing and colouring. Once again I took a group (in rotation) outside in the small yard for some running and ball games. The children really liked this and at times were screaming with laughter! For me it was very hot!

 Whilst the school had tables and chairs, there didn’t appear to be any toilets. At lunchtime the children left, some were collected by parents, but most wandered off along dirt tracks into the scrubland in many different directions. Afterwards, Maureen and I took the opportunity to wander around the village and I was struck by the poverty that existed. I felt very emotional about how they had nothing, yet had so much warmth and friendship to give.