Not all play, there’s been work too!

I had a pretty busy start to my time here in Sri Lanka, thrown in at the deep-end, that’s for sure.  Within a day’s arrival, I had a 5am start to attend a training session for BIZ+ partners, on productivity principles.  The session was in Matara which is what allowed us to scout around and find my home away from home over the next month or so.

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As you can see the session was well attended and included a partnership with the Sri Lankan Government’s Dept of Productivity – making it easy for the businesses to establish and maintain important connections long after the BIZ+ project finishes.

As part of my Great Place To Work Certification preparation (GPTW), I visited a few businesses in the north and east of country – a whirlwind two-day tour with about 20 hours of traveling for 4 hours of meetings – phew!  There is no other way to get there other than by car or bus ….

2 weeks in

We visited a soya meat producer and a polysack manufacturer among others during this trip and of course I took some photos.  I’ll be returning to a few of the businesses again this week to commence preparation for GPTW certification.

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On Friday, I was asked to do an assessment of HR practices along with any obvious health & safety concerns at a few of the local businesses in Matara.  Ajantha  and I traveled with Dishan a digital marketer who will assist these businesses  secure an online presence for their products.  Very interesting to visit these small family run businesses, to learn how they started their businesses and the challenges they face:  from cashflow to hiring skilled staff to connecting to markets.  It;s the same issues all over the world.

Although I do not claim to be a health & safety expert, I posses oodles of common sense and this was put to good use, identifying areas for immediate fix at these factories!!

My visit to the shoe factory is up first.

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Natural cosmetic business is next.

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And finally the family run batik operation …. a tad primitive but really, just gorgeous work!

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Long hot days is the trend, thank goodness for the opportunity for a cooling swim at the end of the day.  And the business owners make my heart melt – they are passionate in what they do, are keen to learn and do better and treat their staff so well.

Sri Lankans really have hearts of gold, there is no doubt about it.

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Home, very Sweet Home

I live on a small island in the Salish Sea off the west coast of Canada.  It’s small, it’s semi-rural, you pretty much know everyone.  Or at least know of them.  I’m surrounded by ocean and forests galore. I’ve lived there for close to 20 years, choosing nature over the cement of the city.

Working in Sri Lanka in 2016/2017, I ended up being based in Colombo the capital of Sri Lanka.  A cosmopolitan city where coffee is $5 and yoga classes are $20.  There’s traffic to beat the band – a heck of a lot of it!  And the usual stinky smells of a large metropolitan city in tropical climes.  It was not my favourite place and I much preferred heading north and east to the businesses I would work with, surrounded by the sea or by paddy fields and the jungle.

This time round I had a little more sense.  I asked (begged!) to be based outside of Colombo and to have a little place with a kitchen where I could cook my own food and be self-sufficient.  Voila …. I’m living in Matara with the Indian Ocean right on my doorstep.

This is no trial let me tell ya!  Yes it has no A/C which is a tad challenging when the humidity hits 85%+, but with those sea breezes and a little fan going, all is good.

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It’s even better when the local fisherman offers you a massive lobster and you have to turn it down as you don’t have a pot large enough to cook it in.  Instead you grab some local prawns and toss them in a little oil with a thai slaw salad for dinner.

And for dessert some fresh papaya from the back yard of one of the business owners I met yesterday.

Two out of the three businesses I worked with yesterday all offered coconut water direct from the king coconut itself … such a thirst quencher.

I’m in foodie heaven here.

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A week already gone by

As I write this, a deep clap of thunder reverberates through my very being and for a brief moment I savour the vibrations within my body, before a bright quick flash of lightening is let loose.  There is a momentary stillness before the next quick thwack of thunder … a warning that soon the deluge will be unleashed to pound into the now sodden ground, and overflowing drains.

It’s not monsoon don’t you know.  The whole island has had a week of hammering rain, the worst in over 3 years I am told.  Along the East coast where I was just a day ago, I was grateful to be travelling in a truck tall enough to wade through some 2.5 feet of flooded water over roads that are low-lying in the first place.  The road side was only visible by the scattering of small wooden fishing boats tethered to the road signs.

The local fresh-water prawn farms were frantically pumping out water to prevent a slew of Jacques the French-accented prawns of Finding Nemo fame, from making a life-changing break for freedom.  I suspect they would not last very long in the searing sun, once the water recedes!  Would make for some tasty fish paste though.

There’s not one that is complaining about the torrential rain though.  That’s because of the drought in the last couple of years, a drought that has severely impacted the bi-annual paddy harvests.  So this rain is seen as a lifesaver, giving hope to farmers of two decent harvests that they can count on over the coming year.

But enough of the rain!

It’s heartening to feel some things haven’t changed, but there are more things that have changed.  It was good to take in the moistened heat and night-time smells of a sleepy city as I stepped out from the air-conditioned airport en route to my first home away from home – the downtown hotel. The city skyline is filled with cranes and construction sites, much of which is funded by China.  The land being reclaimed from the sea at Galle Face Green as part of the controversial City Port (now known as the Colombo International Financial City), is near completion … a few years behind schedule but getting there I guess.

Traffic is still crazy and three-wheeler rides are as manic as ever, especially when your face is at the same height of the exhaust of a neighbouring bus!

It was great to catch up with the ladies and gents of the BIZ+ office and reconnect with old friends. It was lovely actually, and they make my return back to Sri Lanka all the more worthwhile.  But it wasn’t all about chillin’.  The BIZ+ project ends June 2019 so there is much work to do with the investment partners before then:  business coaching in human resources matters, process improvements and general management themes.  It is the same the world over! In just a week, I have already traveled the length and breadth of the country, with business meetings in Matara, Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, a small island near Batticaloa and Polonnaruwa.  Definitely thrown into the deep end alright.

Personally, I will be working with a slew of the more mature businesses, helping them prepare for Great Place to Work certification (GPTW).  This is a worldwide certification with it’s genesis in the US, where a measure of the employees contentment level and the organization’s culture is taken.  An international independent committee reviews each application and awards certification, or not.  There’s high hopes for some of these business to receive certification once I am done with this – let’s hope I do not let anyone down!

So sin an sceil for my first week.  Access to wifi has been intermittent hence no photos but I move to my ‘permanent’ home in Matara at the weekend.  This should see me with a kitchen from which to cook, a place to hang up my clothes and what is hopefully, consistent wifi connection!  Tis the simple things, isn’t it.


The good thing about being on the road in Sri Lanka, is how many elephants you see along the roadside!

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Proud of the Nepal Paralympic Team!

Although no medals this time, CONGRATULATIONS to the Nepal Paralympics team for taking part in the 2018 Asian Paralympics in Jakarta, Indonesia.  You can stand proud for representing your country with national pride!

Personally I am delighted to know three of the athletes; Sonika Dhakal (swimming) and Dolma Sherpa (marathon) from my time at SIRC in Bhainsepati and Keshav Thapa (table tennis), who is the Coordinator at the SCI Hostel in Jorpati.

Jai Nepal!

Front row: Keshav (first left), Sonika (second left) and Dolma (last right). Photo credit Dolma Sherpa

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Moving with the times

When I was in Bangladesh checking out the nuts and bolts of microfinance, I was impressed with the face to face monthly meetings every Credit Officer ran in small villages, to collect loan payments and savings installments from BRAC’s clients.  What shocked me was the large hard-covered heavy ledger that was hauled around from village to village where the Credit Officer would diligently enter every transaction in the ledger, and the Branch Manager would compare the totals to the computer printout, and then update the client’s account book.

It took many hours to complete and this meant these clients had to break away from their work and families for an extended period … every month.  In addition to having a need for a Credit Officer out in the villages, there was also a need for teams of Account Officers who inputted the handwritten data into the centralized computer system.  This took another few hours to complete and was rife with errors … handwritten records are always tough!

At the time BRAC were considering a pilot project to investigate the possibility of introducing technology into the process.  Back at the regional office, I remember having a long discussion with the Regional Manager about the pros of using technology.  Being a process geek, I was happy to give some ideas on how the process could be digitized yet still have the appropriate controls to protect the client’s hard-earned money.  At the time the wireless network across Bangladesh was not very reliable or robust enough.

You can imagine my delight to read this article from the Centre for Financial Inclusion.  It tells the story of BRAC’s project to digitize the collection process.  Launched in late 2014, it took some years to pull together and a pilot was launched in 2017.  More recently, the process has seen a few tweaks before it is being fully rolled out across the country.

Another example of the smart use of technology! Way to go BRAC.  Enjoy the article from the Centre for Financial Inclusion.

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All’s well in Jorpati

Keshav is great for keeping me up to date on the goings on at the SCI Hostel.  Here are the latest stories.  Everyone is well and happy as you can see!

Hanging out at the Hostel

A day’s outing with Didi to the local temple

The students were also invited as special guests to the local Teej party put on by their neighbours in Jorpati.  Teej is an annual festival that especially celebrates women where the colour red is worn as a sign of love.  I’ve attended a few of these parties in the past and they are full of singing, dancing and general hilarity – it’s a blast!  These ladies not only partied, they also donated food and  Nr 2,000 to the Hostel – very generous!

Earlier in the month, the newly acquired ground-floor apartment closeby to the existing Hostel, was renovated to provide a ramp at the front door as well as accessible showering and toilet facilities.

The second hostel is finished and received it’s first two students!

Keshav, Rishi and the board members have also been busy raising the profile of the SCI Hostel.  Recently, they had a visit from the Deputy Mayor, the Inspector General of Nepal Police and the Senior Superintendent of Nepal Police, a retired Brigadier General of Nepal Army, the Secretary General of Disabled Human Rights Centre as well as a local government representative.

Phew!  That’s some visit from those in high places!  It enabled Keshav, Rishi and the board members to demonstrate the clear need for governmental support for their Hostel and all people with mobility issues.   Specifically, they asked for government land on which to custom-build a SCI Hostel, rather than continuing to rent two apartments.  We shall have to see how their request is taken.  But the visit was deemed to be a great success given the visit was reported on 20 local newspapers and national TV.  It helps to build awareness when distinguished guests visit!

Distinguished Guests at the SCI Hostel

Two weeks ago, they had a return visit from the Deputy Mayor and a member of Nepal ex-Police Family Forum who on behalf of a Nepali family in the UK, donated Nr. 250,000 (CAD$2,800 ) to the SCI Hostel.  This allows for more stability for the SCI Hostel, ensuring the students can receive funding, and therefore schooling for the coming year.  The visit was celebrated with  yummy plate of dal bhat – the national dish of Nepal consisting of rice, dhal, greens and a curry.  Yum yum.

I have to say, I am dead impressed with Keshav, Rishi and the Board for their continued work in raising awareness for the needs of those in wheelchairs, and the importance of their continued education.  It’s my honour to be associated with them.  आदर !

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The craziness of monsoon, Nepal

I’ve alluded in earlier posts about the challenges the people of Nepal (and many other counties in SE Asia) face during monsoon time.  This year’s monsoon has killed over 50 people in Nepal, and there is another two months to go before monsoon is expected to end.  Landslides are frequent and have hit the Narayangadh-Mugling road multiple times so far this monsoon, where at least 10,000 vehicles ply back and forth every day.

Landslides on the Narayangadh-Mugling road. Photo credit My Republica

This road connects the country’s southern, eastern and western parts with Pokhara and Kathmandu and creates unbelievable havoc when it has to shut down.
Another factor to add to the mayhem in Kathmandu is the ongoing road works that have been underway for years now, aimed to install proper drainage systems and resurface the roads.  Private contractors are doing the work … or I should say won the contracts but are not really doing any of the work, just lining their pockets really. So here we are in the middle of yet another monsoon and  nothing much as changed.  Take a look.

Streets in Patan, a suburb of Kathmandu, flooded after monsoon rains. Photo credit The Sun Daily

Muddy and flooded road in Jorpati, another suburb of Kathmandu where many wheelchair users live. Photo credit Kathmandu Post

Not only is it warm and muggy monsoon time, but the garbage has not been collected in Kathmandu for over a month due to two factors – no more room at the landfill and the access road has been washed out.  So now there are piles of garbage mounting up all over the city, and not only does it stink to high heaven, it also means a serious threat to water-borne diseases.

Photo credit Kathmandu Post

To top it off, the city of Bhaktapur has been trashed with the Hanumante River having swollen it’s banks, after a night of fierce rain last Wednesday.  The Araniko Highway heading east is completely submerged with over 4 feet of water.  Fortunately my friends the Kayastha Family are not affected.

Flooding of the Hanumante River in Bhaktapur

Banepa, the town where I live for much of my time in Nepal is completely flooded but thankfully Lok and family’s home is on a higher elevation and so has not been affected.  Mind you the people living in makeshift tents and under tarps after losing their homes in the 2015 earthquakes suffered the brunt of this year’s flooding – enough already.

Flooding in Banepa. Photo credit Sapkota Rajan

I came across this little story which made me snigger a little.  The Traffic Police along the Koteshwor-Suryabinayak section of the Araniko Highway are attempting to ensure drivers stick to lanes by vehicle type, where the heavy trucks are to stay right and cars & motorbikes must stick to the left, with no overtaking.  I snigger only because first of all, the lanes are not always evident and when they are evident, no one really keeps to lanes.   The chances of vehicles sticking to their ‘lane’ are slim to none!  There’s also an attempt at educating jaywalkers – ha!  Good luck with that.  Read it here.
And finally on a positive note, a cool thing happened at the recent Turkish Airlines ENGAGE Empowering League in Kathmandu.  The tournament is a wheelchair basketball competition now in it’s third year with 134 players and more than 600 spectators and is getting noticed by the general population. 
In the past anyone with a disability was shunned across Nepal and it was for this reason Ram Bahadur Tamang was determined to complete his Wheelchair Yaatra in 2014.  Ram’s aim was to raise awareness and give hope to those with disabilities.  It is clear Ram’s yaatra has done it’s job.  One of the young players at the tournament was asked for his autograph by some adoring spectators.  Unheard of!  Read all about it here. 
Keep up your advocacy work Ram!
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