Overlooking the dramatic landscapes from a spectacular hotel in Kandalama:
In conjunction with the Upcountry Education Development Society (UEDS), our trip concluded with a visit to students on a rubber plantation in Kalutera. UEDS is a collaboration of former plantation workers who are social entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka’s major cities. UEDS members collect funds from former plantation workers for school supply distributions and exam registration fees to support children who live on plantations throughout Sri Lanka.
At the school, we were greeted with a traditional welcoming ceremony, escorted to the school to watch songs and dances, and distributed new backpacks, water bottles, and tiffins.
Singing the Sri Lankan national anthem
During the welcoming ceremony, teammates were greeted with flower garlands and a mark on their foreheads to signify special blessings
After watching performances by the students, teammates assisted with school supply distributions
Students were given a new backpack, pencils and pens, a lunch box, and new thermos
Students and their new supplies for the term
On the way to Kalutera. The coach had to move through very narrow roads.
Lighting the traditional Sri Lankan lamp as part of the welcoming festivities
We traveled to Colombo and visited with Honorable Minister of Education, Room to Read, UNICEF, and Sri Lanka’s National Commission for UNESCO. We also visited two other elite schools in the country – St. Thomas’ College and Royal College. St. Thomas’ has a Harvard connection as now Professor Stanley Thambiah in Harvard’s Anthropology Department was one of the school’s top students. At Royal College, we participated in EdEx, Sri Lanka’s largest higher education exhibition as honored guests.
Much of Colombo and its surrounding suburbs enjoy architectural details from its colonial past. Contemporary architecture in Sri Lanka is a blend of Dutch and British floor plans, open air verandahs, and respect for natural surroundings.
Lighting a brass lamp is a traditional Sri Lankan way to open an event or start a ceremony.
Sitting at the EdEx Opening Ceremonies
Hanging out in Colombo after the long journey from Kandy
We climbed Sigiriya! Sigiriya, or the Lion’s rock, was a former palace decorated with frescoes with stunning views of Sri Lanka’s upcountry.
On the way back from Sigiriya, we stopped in Kandalama and Dambulla, home of a famous Buddhist temple.
Climbing the 1000+ steps of Sigiriya.
At the top of Sigiriya.
Frescoes in Sigiriya.
Monkeys at Sigiriya.
The Golden Buddha of Dambulla.
We left to Kandy, a town built in the hills and considered one of Sri Lanka’s cultural gems. On the way, we stopped in Talawakelle at the Mlesna Tea Castle. Old manual machines dried, rolled, and crushed the tea leaves. We even had the opportunity to experience a formal tea tasting!
Tea tasting is an art similar to tasting wines. It’s an incredibly sensorial experience – the fragrance, and color of the tea influence its taste.
The range of tea colors
On the way to Kandy
On the 4th day, we ventured to Mocha, a former coffee plantation to visit with families in the tea plantation communities as well as visit their local school. On the way to visit workers’ families, the roads were so narrow that our bus had to stop so we could climb the rest of the way.
Outside the local school
Hiking through the plantations in Mocha
Overlooking the reservoir nearby
Yesterday, our team visited Gartmore, a small village nestled amongst towering cliffs and waterfalls. We interviewed teachers, principals, and family members. We also trekked through the plantations and peered over nearby waterfalls.
A Kovil (a Hindu temple) in Mocha town.
Teammates with one of four translators from Tea Leaf Vision.
On the way to Gartmore village.
Several waterfalls surround Gartmore. Teammates were able to trek close to the falls and peer over the reservoir.
Taking notes from Day 1.
The group has gotten off to a fast start; a 2:30am arrival in the “up-country,” Sri Lankan city of Hatton on Thursday and an early rise to head into the field for research. Two days later and interviews of 17 teachers, three government officials, four families, and an NGO, and the group is sufficiently exhausted. However, the scenery, the food, and the amazing people we are meeting keeps us excited to get back to work tomorrow!
Updates to follow!