Ebbs and Flows

I don’t know about you, but sometimes life takes you in unexpected directions, despite your best efforts to stay the course.  It can catch you a little off guard but more often than not, the change of course brings you to newer and interesting worlds.

On arriving here in early July, my original plan was to stay in Nepal for one year, continuing the work at SIRC that was already started a few years ago.  Alas, the one-year work visa did not materialize as was originally planned before my arrival.  Without it, I would have been compelled to work under a tourist visa – a visa that limits my time in Nepal to 5 months in any one calendar year, a visa that prohibits paid and un-paid employment.

In the past, many volunteers came to Nepal under a tourist visa despite employment/volunteering being prohibited under this type of visa.  The Government tended to turn a blind eye at these infractions, but in the past few months, the Department of Immigration have become more stringent on implementing this condition, resulting in at least two volunteers I am aware of, being deported from Nepal. Yikes!  I definitely did not want a ‘Deported’ stamp on my passport, nor did I want a situation where I could never return to Nepal, now that would just break my heart.

So I made a very tough decision a few weeks back, I resigned my assignment at SIRC and have respected the conditions of my tourist visa since then.  It was very disappointing for all concerned, the team at SIRC as well as myself but I am confident I made the right decision, despite it not being a popular one for some.

My past trips to Nepal have always had a focus – trekking, climbing, working, attending conferences etc.  I’ve never really had downtime in the country.  So it’s been a bonus for me, and I’ve welcomed the slowdown in the pace of life in the past month.  I also got to attend the Vipassana retreat that I have wanted to do for years.  I would have loved to do some travelling within the country but monsoon and the challenges it brings (landslides, flooding etc) makes it difficult to make long journeys safely.  Another time for sure.  The downtime has also allowed me to consider my options.

I could return to Canada but that would have presented its own challenges, given much of my belongings are in storage and my house is rented out until next June.  I could stay in Nepal as a tourist, but that would have me pulling my hair out with boredom and would also mean me leaving the country for 2.5 months and go where?  The third option was to see if there was other work that I could find in the region.  This is where my focus lay before heading off on my meditation retreat.

After crafting careful applications, interviews by Skype and checking my references back home in Canada (thanks Lee and Simon!), I have managed to land a role on a USAid-financed project in Sri Lanka.  Yes, the Sri Lanka formerly known as Ceylon, that tropical island off the south coast of India, famous for it’s teas where many people go for beach holidays, that’s the one.  Sounds idyllic but actually, the country is still recovering from the effects of a devastating 30-year civil war that decisively ended when the Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers in 2009.  The country continues to need assistance in rebuilding it’s economy.

Map of SL 1

The project I will be working on as a business analyst is known as the BIZ+ program, implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development Division since 2011 and due for completion in July 2017.

Land O’Lakes – the US butter company you ask?  Yes that’s right.  Land O’Lakes have had an international development division since the early 1980s and use their expertise in agriculture and management to deliver successful programs, building capacity with their partners in developing countries around the world. Who knew??  I certainly didn’t.

Since 2001, the BIZ+ program has 47 business partners operating in 10 different industries ranging from dairy to value-add food companies, to agri-suppliers to consumer goods.  Many of these partners are rapidly expanding, often transitioning from a family/entrepreneur-run business to a company that requires managerial structures, and delegation of responsibilities and decision-making.


My role as a business analyst professional will be dedicated to steering and supporting management to improve the organizational structure of their companies, put some discipline around the planning process as well as the implementation of good management practices. Basically build capacity within the growing organizations based on my areas of expertise.  This role is right up my alley!

Over the next 9 months or so, I’ll be based a third of my time in Colombo, the capital city but the majority of my time will be spent working directly with the business partners located in and around Batticaloa in the eastern region, and Jaffna in the northern region.  I’m always happy not to be based in a big city, smaller towns/villages are much more my style.

Highlighted areas are where I will be based over the coming 9 months

Highlighted areas are where I will be based over the coming 9 months

As a side note, the eastern coast of Sri Lanka has been named by the New York Times as one of the 52 Places to Go in 2016.  Check the list here – #41.  

It looks like it will be mid to end of September when I will be leaving Nepal for Sri Lanka.  It’s dependent on when my work permit comes through (the paperwork is well underway as we e-speak).

I’m now keeping busy with trips to the Sri Lankan Embassy in Kathmandu, as well as doing some practical things such as …… shipping my winter clothes (including Cathy B’s beautiful & warm poncho!) home to Canada.  And making sure the summer clothes I have with me, are good for tropical climes.  Vaccinations for Nepal are similar to Sri Lanka, although Sri Lanka is due to be declared malaria-free by end of this year, so that’s one less thing to think about.

I’m told living in Sri Lanka will feel a little more luxurious than living in Nepal – there is good infrastructure everywhere with electricity 24/7, decent municipal sewage and water systems, safe and reliable local transport, as safe as it is anywhere for females and a decent health care system.  All I will really have to contend with is monsoon, mosquitoes, snakes and other tropical creatures.  Stay tuned for many humourous posting on those matters, no doubt!

I’ll be sad to leave Nepal after what will just be 3 months here this time round.  I’ll miss the strong friendships I have built up over the years and the life I have carved out for myself here in Banepa.

But I’m really looking forward to the variety and diversity of work that the BIZ+ project will present to me, and to experiencing Sri Lanka in a unique way.  Oh!  And not forgetting smelling the salty air of the ocean!  Eating crabs and prawns and the myriad of other seafood available on this tropical isle!  I have missed the ocean so …… it’s the only thing that tests me when in Nepal.

PS.  I have not forgotten about the monies raised for SIRC at the January 2016 fundraiser on Bowen Island. The money has been submitted to SIRC and I am awaiting their confirmation on which patient most needs the funds to cover rehabilitation and medical care costs.  SIRC have assured me this confirmation will come shortly, as they finalize their patient assessments.  Stay tuned.

About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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9 Responses to Ebbs and Flows

  1. Tonya Frizzell says:

    That’s amazing kate! What a great outcome to a difficult situation. Interesstingly, when I did my volunteer stint in Albania in 2001-02, my covolunteer (from Halifax) was on the Land O Lakes project as a VSO volunteer. Dairy is huge market and staple in the mediterranean and her work was as a marketing expert, reporting to the head of project in Tirana. Overall it was a good experience for her as she had American Project Lead, and USAID funding (though occasionally a bit misplaced intention) so could navigate the difficulties of development (unlike the rest of us who were working with local NGOs.) Glad to hear Land O Lakes is still working in this area.

    We did hit Sri Lanka on our trip and it is the friendliest place ever. Great food. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it so much.

    • Kate Coffey says:

      Yes, LOL seems to have an excellent reputation based on my contacts worldwide, so I am looking forward to my assignment, as well as experiencing living & working in Sri Lanka. A whole other culture to immerse myself in!

  2. Bill G says:

    Hi, Kate: Congratulations. I was sure you would land n your feet and turn disappointment into an exciting and rewarding new experience, providing great benefit for all you will work with. You were very missed at the Block Party (next year!) Take good care, Bill XO

    On Tue, Sep 6, 2016 at 3:19 AM, Bowen to Bangladesh wrote:

    > Kate Coffey posted: “I don’t know about you, but sometimes life takes you > in unexpected directions, despite your best efforts to stay the course. It > can catch you a little off guard but more often than not, the change of > course brings you to newer and interesting worlds. ” >

  3. Mick Canning says:

    Looking forward to hearing what happens. You are right to ship your winter clothes home – you’ll find Colombo rather warmer!

  4. Lyndsey Jennings says:

    Well done! I’m looking forward to your new posts… Cheers, L

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