Saturday 10th November
I leave Bournemouth early and have a few short hours to kill in Heathrow; Find a lounge to rest in and catchup with emails and calls before I fly to Sri Lanka.
After 11 hours flying (a few rubbish films and a little sleep) I arrive to the beautiful smells of Sri Lanka. Easy process through immigration, and find the lovely Julie Cox waiting for me.
Our dear friend Sutha is there with a rather swanky car that he has been able to get his hands on for our long drive to the eastern province. Sleeping on and off, a quick pit stop for our first lovely Sri Lankan breakfast, and a hysterical moment with chair moving and we arrive at a sweet hotel for a day of rest. We are on the beach in Passekudah, close to where we will start work on tuesday in Batticaloa.
Today is Julie’s birthday and we have a lovely day resting, massage and swimming….ready to start work tomorrow.
One of the boys who works at the hotel starts to chat to us and shows us his scars from the tsunami. He describes some horrible experiences that he had in the war seeing his best friend’s head blown off….You can feel his trauma…My heart hurts…
We head off to the MOH (Ministry Of Health) offices in the centre of Batticaoloa to offer a training for midwives. I have met a few of them before. Whilst shy, there was a huge amount of laughter once they were willing to get onto the floor…a bit dirty and no mats…but nevertheless, laughter is good for the heart and soul. Given that they were all reverse breathing, this was a great way to help them to relax, by the end quite a few of them were breathing normally!
The afternoon brought a young child with complex needs. It was beautiful to see him settle and find a little peace in that challenged body.
What made me smile was that the father was downstairs and kept calling mum, but she didn’t want to leave, so kept ignoring his calls. Not usually something that the women around here do.
A lovely beach walk and dinner in our fave little local veggie place
An amazing day. Julie, myself and Mr Kaliyuga meet. Mr Kaliyuga is a a holy man who is revered wherever we go. He is in his late 70’s and post war, works tirelessly for the betterment of humanity. Since meeting Julie and I, his heart has been deeply opened by the children with special and additional needs.
We set off for the day with breakfast (I LOVE Sri Lankan breakfasts) and then took a tuktuk to the MOH/hospital where we spent the morning. The doctors introduced us to the OT and physio team who showed us their very basic equipment. The hospital unit was also the mental health unit and they are still using electric shock treatment – something I was shocked by!
Walking into the room where families with special needs had gathered, they all look at us with anticipation. We do a quick intro and I am taken into the stroke rehab room to work with the first five of the children (and families) with the most complex needs. The OT and physio join me. 15 children later it was time for lunch and to move onto the next MOH. What struck me most of all was that no one seems to see the potential in these children, and that just a little awareness and reminder can go a long way. It also really supports the parents.
There is so little knowledge or awareness of what is possible for these beautiful kids.
Crying from parents who were so grateful; My heart just sang. The physios and OTs were so grateful to build their tool box and asked for a training…. There is never enough time to do what’s needed here.
Quick lunch and the next MOH where i meet another three children with complex needs. A grandmother is carrying a picture of her grandchild, before he had an operation which left him severely disabled. She wept and is terrified of doctors, so the child gets no support. The third child had also been damaged by an operation. His nervous system was seriously disturbed. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to really work through what could have helped him, as we had an important meeting with the GA. This is the top government official for social care for all of Batticaloa district, he is so supportive of Holistic Special Education and opens all the doors we need to be able to reach the children in need.
Batticaoloa is a beautiful town and we go for a walk on one of the waterfronts. Julie is a local star, as a teacher from Polunarua recognises here from facebook and stops us. Then a social worker stops us on the street, he works for a children’s home and is looking for money and volunteering. An amazing story emerges; A few years previously Mr Kaliyuga’s best friend founded this children’s home, but a few years ago drowned, saving the lives of some children. This chance encounter informs us that the children’s home that his friend set up is still active. Mr K had been wanting to hear news of the childrens centre and was delighted to have found that his friends memory lives on to benefit many children in the home. These divine interventions never cease to amaze me.
A stop at Food City (supermarket) and we get ourselves dropped to the beach for a quiet moment before walking back to our little veggie cafe for a quick dinner.
The day starts with breakfast and a rush to get to a meeting with a group of government social care officials discussing the new MJF centre, here for children with complex needs. MJF is opening a new centre in Batticaloa for children with special needs, and for local children and young people to benefit from vocational programmes. I will be working with them to provide a training for their staff in special yoga. One of the social care officers broke into song int he middle of the meeting! That lightened things up quite a bit!
Afternoon spent in a children’s home run by the Catholic church and an amazing Sister. All children with special needs. They clearly don’t get any physiotherapeutic support at all, and there was a child who had a big seizure who quite possibly needs medication, but the kids are clean and are being fed, and much more importantly you could feel the love. The staff were amazing and the children took care of each other and were happy. Very humbling and very beautiful to see.
I did a group session and then worked 1-1 with the care workers with a couple of the children with complex needs . From there we went to a meeting with an extraordinary organisation called Sarvodya. They support many aspects of community and have a very strong spiritual bent. After presenting Special Yoga, we were invited to a tree planting. It was one of the staff’s birthday and her gift was a new tree planted in her name with prayers and honouring. Truly humbling.
This morning I was at a school/centre for children with autism where I have been before. I ran a training session for parents. As always there were some people who had come from quite a distance to bring their children in to see me, and to learn some practises to help their children. We started with breathing practises and almost everyone in the room was breathing in reverse. Took a while to change that.
A young boy with ADHD came to me and did a session. Found the pathways to calm him through massage and stretching. Lovely to see him stop. Mum had tears in her eyes telling me that he never stops and never sleeps unless he is medicated. He almost fell asleep in my arms and kept giving me back his hands to massage.
Maybe ten or so children of all ages appeared over the course of the morning. I loved finding pathways to bring more vital energy where needed, and calm where needed and sharing those techniques with the parents. Was also lovely to meet a wonderful speech pathologist and support worker from Japan who helped me with some of the children.
Time off for the weekend!!
In the afternoon the lovely Buddha picks us up to take us to Trincomalee. Funny stop on the way for coconuts where the lady thinks Im Julie mother! Feels satisfyingly familiar as have spent quite a bit of time there already.
Morning spent offering a workshop for midwives, some I have met before, most have done workshops with Julie. Also there are a few doctors. I realise the the easiest way to transform reverser breathing is by lying down as everyone is more relaxed that way.
Almost everyone i meet in Sri Lanka has reverse breathing patterns; It’s a island traumatised by war, the tsunami, poverty and other natural disasters with mud slides, monsoons etc.
The afternoon we go back the MOH in Kinnya. Definitely one of my favourite places to work. Mothers with their children with special needs are waiting for us. A few I have met before, and they start to tell us how the different yoga tools I shared, have made an impact on their children. One child with downs syndrome is now walking without falling over, another mother described how her child’s epilepsy has reduced in strength and quantity through some massage points, another child was significantly more aligned with her C-shape body.
15 or so sessions after, they all leave empowered with some new tools for their children. I saw kids with deformed feet, stories of botched operations and consequent mistrust of doctors, operation scars, significant disability after injections……those stories make my heart break because they could have been avoided.
Evening spent catching up with Dr Arulkumaran one of the founder members of HSEF who is now the Regional Director for Health for the eastern Province. We discuss a game plan to make this work more sustainable by concentrating on a few districts, really establishing the work in those places without spreading ourselves so thin. It’s difficult because everywhere we go, the need is so great and everyone wants us to come back and train more people.
Today is a muslim holiday yet we are still able to work. Its UNICEF’s World Children Day and we spend the day working with Child Development Fund who are one of UNICEF’s implementing partners in Sri Lanka. A great workshop in the morning for the teams. A family brings their child from Colombo to meet us (its a 6 hour journey each way). He’s young, just been diagnosed with autism and is beautiful. He’s non-verbal but very communicative. I offer a little yoga and Julie helps with communication and learning for him.
The afternoon is spent in one of their centres in the community. Around 15 or so families with children with special needs are waiting there for us. After a few speeches we start. I work back to back with the families, each one leaving with tools for their child …again complex stories – no money for medication – I’m desperate to help these beautiful kids. All the families leave happy by the end of the day. One of the mothers (possibly the only Hindu mum there) probably practises yoga herself as she really gets it and she sits with me while I work with all the children, helping, learning and guiding the parents. I realise that these are the people I need to find in the community who I can spend more time with and train up to support the other families.
Evening spent at dinner with the head of child development fund…
Early Wednesday morning we watch the dawn as we drive to Killiniochchi. Arrive to offer a workshop for the pyscho-social workers. There’s a speech and language pathologist, a singing teacher, a young yoga teacher working with Serendip foundation. Lots of learning, laughter and the feedback is very powerful about how much better they all feel and hopefully they have tools they can offer to the children and families.
Afternoon we drop our bags to the children home and then are taken to a variety of meetings to make further contacts for HSEF, incuding to a state children’s home where we start to hear stories that made my heart so sad; These children had been sent to this centre by the state. Not all are orphans, but all have a horrible story of abuse and neglect. Mostly they run and then they get picked up the state and put in another state home until eventually they become criminals on the street. The care workers don’t stay, so there is no healthy attachment for these boys. The psychiatrist, a very wonderful doctor was desperate for help. He runs all day from his clinic to the nine state children’s homes doing his best, but ends up medicating the children against his better wishes, because there is no support for them. My heart was heavy, butI saw the light in Julies soul light up; she will go back and do what she can to support the staff and those beautiful boys.
Thursday is Poya, full moon day where its a monthly holiday. We are invited to join Mr Kaliyuga for a puja. The puja takes place in a rural community close to the land where AYM, Heart of Living Yoga and others, support the very deprived communities with after school classes for children, feeding breakfast to the elderly etc. The elderly men were thin, ravaged by trauma with haunted looks in their eyes. This place was deeply affected by the war. There were also boys from a children’s home who looked well cared for and were happy and engaged.
The afternoon took us to Assets Children’s Home where I have spent time before. It is run by a priest and most of the children have special or additional needs. Last time I was there, I was filmed teaching a yoga class to the kids, and every morning this is how they start their day. The boys were full of so much joy, all participating and hopefully now the new young local yoga teacher will join them to lead a weekly class.
Came back to our children’s home where we were staying and went and spent an hour with the girls there.
So sad to know that at 18 they get sent back into their families or communities or presumably the streets where they have little chance of a life or a healthy marriage.
All in all it was an amazing trip. I thought about the karma that haunts us all in lesser or greater ways. I thought about my soul’s journey with these children. I thought about gratitude and humility. I thought about how just a little makes a big difference. I thought about love and i thought about how blessed i am to be able to serve and support these families.
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