The joys of people

A light-hearted post for you to lift your spirits despite the daftness that is hitting us daily these days.

I realized only this weekend that I have not been ‘home’ for more than 2 consecutive days since mid December. Yup.  That’s 7 weeks ago.

By home I mean the Colombo apartment … you know the place where all my stuff is.  Ok, it’s only one bag, but still.  But it’s also the place where I chop up tropical fruit for my fruit & curd bowl of goodness for breakfast, make my morning coffee with the stove-top espresso maker and where the building management give me big smiles and shake my hand when I arrive back from my trips at various times of the day and night.  You get the picture, it’s where there is familiarity and routine.  When you temporarily break the ties from your real home these things kind of matter!

I’ve been away this much all because of this mammoth road trip that takes me the length and breadth of the Northern and Eastern provinces, conducting assessments on 12 businesses.  I rate the change in their capacity to run a profitable and sustainable business since first receiving financial aid and technical assistance from the BIZ+ project between 3 and 5 years ago.  Phew!

A few of the places I have traveled to, most places are too small to make it on the map!

A few of the places I have traveled to, most places are too small to make it on the map!

Each assessment takes a bunch of hours as it covers the gamut of the business – from all the corporate functions to the factory floor and everything in between.  Let me tell, you I know more now about the manufacture of biomass briquettes, steel building components, PVC and polythene packaging, auto repair shops, garments, ice and construction materials than I ever did before!

The equally mammoth task of writing up the report after each assessment takes all of my concentration and energy .  Don’t get me wrong, I just love love love doing the assessments and hearing the pride in what has been achieved  (mostly) and the bright hopes for the future.  It’s the paperwork that gets me, particularly when I’m low on caffeine.

The work is a far cry from the work I do in Canada but the thing I have grasped these past few weeks, is that the businesses do not have to be complex, they just need to be approached with some common sense with a sprinkle of innovation, and always always always look after your people.  So there you have it from Expert Volunteer Kate.  No need to read any more business books.  That’s it in a nutshell. 🙂

This week I was back up in Meesalai, a small village less than one hour east of Jaffna in the Northern Province.  It’s where that small family-run garment factory is located, where young ladies with minimal education are hired and where they are taught a skill that will last them a lifetime.  This is not a sophisticated outfit and these young ladies have not had much experience with the discipline of turning up on time for anything, putting in a full days work or the whole concept of team work.  We’ve been working a little on that and at the end of every education session, I bring biscuits for the tea break (the delighted mob savage through three bumper packs of biscuits every time!)  and we do some sort of game which they get to choose.

This week was the balloon dance which is basically where a couple need to keep a balloon stable while they dance to music.  A pretty simple game but played with much hilarity … and competition too!  Check out the short video of  the final two sets of competitors.

If you look closely, you can begin to see the balloon between the couple in the back, slip a little.  The couple in the front won the Grand Prize of … wait for it …. a KitKat each.  It was less about the prize and more about the bragging rights.  I’m sorry I never took a photo of each sewing machine station flying a balloon that afternoon.  Too cute!

On the 7-hour train journey home yesterday afternoon/evening, I sat in next to a lady in the AC carriage who, as it turns out is a Community Medicine Doctor doing very similar work out in the remote villages as my friend Tandi does north of Yellowknife …. only Dr Indu’s work is in warmer climes, just a tad.  She travels ‘up north’ almost every week and this week she attended an emergency health meeting to discuss a current epidemic of dengue in Vavuniya resulting in a number of recent deaths.  Yikes!  She then traveled on to Jaffna to sit on the Examining Board for soon to be qualified doctors and was on her way home to Colombo, in time for Independence Day celebrations.

As an aside, today (February 4th), Sri Lanka celebrates it’s independence in 1948 from the British.  Lots of national pride today!  Here’s the President’s address earlier today, he stressed the importance of having honest politicians – all countries can take note of that.  There was also a military parade showcasing the military prowess of Sri Lanka’s forces … all a bit alien to me.

But back to Dr Indu, who I discovered was quite the celebrity on the train – she had a steady stream of visitors to her seat, which meant I got caught up in the chat.  All Doctors.  All with various specialties – cardiologist, oncologist, neuro something and later, a pathologist joined the carriage in Vavuniya.  All travel to the north regularly, providing in-person expertise and coaching at the regional hospitals.  They’ve all got to know one another intimately as the guys amongst them pass the time with a game of cards (no betting though!).

As it turns out, the neuro something Doctor studied in London in the 90s under an Irish Doctor by the name of O’Brien (that narrows it down alright).  He is a huge fan of Irish music – even meeting Marie Brennan after attending a Clannad concert.  Wow!  He’s also a huge fan of Mary Black and Chieftains and named a few other well known Irish singers and musicians too.  He knows his Irish music.

He also is a fan of Billy Idol (go figure) and also met Mr Idol after a concert.  So here we are on the train between Anuradhapura and Vavuniya in Sri Lanka, discussing Clannad and Billy Idol … I had no other choice but to combine his two great loves and introduce him to the Dropkick Murphys (couldn’t resist Gord!!).

Now I have a picture in my head of him doing his neuro thing headbanging to the celtic punk of the Dropkick Murphys.  Pity their current tour covers just Europe and the US.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend everyone.

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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7 Responses to The joys of people

  1. Bill G says:

    Hi, Kate: Thanks for the exciting update. It certainly sounds like you are adding great value to the organizations that are fortunate enough to have your volunteer expertise, and meeting a whack of very interesting people along the way. That is certainly one of the enduring joys of volunteerism. Both Robs and I were out shovelling (another big hit of snow yesterday and overnight). Bowen is beautiful but snowed in again. This time, fewer tree limbs down and hopefully all the snow will shed from the big trees before freeze-up tonight. I’m busy working on a food security study with SFU downtown and itching to get back into the gardens. Snowdrops made a cameo appearance just before the snow; they are resting now waiting for true Spring. Take good care, and enjoy all of your most brilliant new contacts. Lots of love to you, Bill xo

    On Sat, Feb 4, 2017 at 10:06 AM, Bowen to Bangladesh wrote:

    > Kate Coffey posted: “A light-hearted post for you to lift your spirits > despite the daftness that is hitting daily these days. I realized only this > weekend that I have not been ‘home’ for more than 2 consecutive days since > mid December. Yup. That’s 7 weeks ago. By home ” >

    • Kate Coffey says:

      You sure are keeping busy Bill! You will have to tell me more about the food security project you are involved in – Vancouver based?? I think everyone is looking forward to Spring, there has been too much snow on the West Coast this year. Sheesh. Much love Kate xo

  2. Mick Canning says:

    Love the images you introduced at the end, Kate. As a fan of Clannad and an occasional listener to Mr Idol myself, I must take a listen to the Dropkick Murphys. Just the name leads me to think I won’t be disappointed.
    It sounds as though everything is going well, though, so good!

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