Sustainable Livelihoods

Vulnerable communities and families with whom we work face constant stresses. Helping people develop livelihoods that can recover from and thrive after unexpected shocks require longer-term support.  We embrace the life-circumstances of those we work with and together enhance their capacity to develop and sustain self-managed micro-enterprises.

Kunchukulam Forest Retreat – a youth-managed guesthouse that brings the tourist experience back to basics and grounded in nature. Situated on the northern tip of Wilpattu National Park the Forest Retreat is a springboard to rich flora, fauna and cultural experiences. Encounter wildlife, swim in pristine waters and engage in village life –

Cafe Arokkiya – is a multipurpose community hub centred on a commercial kitchen and cafe operated by a group of valiant, resilient women. The hub’s vision is to encourage the war-affected community of Adampan to embrace ‘arokkiya’ (Tamil for ‘wellbeing’) – encouraging better nutrition, providing livelihoods for vulnerable groups, trialling organic agriculture, providing English and IT education and a recreational outlet for young people. A comprehensive skills capacity building program was funded through the Australian Government’s Friendship Grants Program.

Sasi’s Laundry Service – a micro enterprise to supplement the household income of a local widow. Sasi provides a laundry service for the cafe, the rooms for rent and for people in the community who need their clothes washed and ironed.

Manthai DS Canteen – a canteen for the many staff of the divisional secretariat office operated by Stela and her band of women. Their food hits the spot of hungry workers wanting an early breakfast or tea and short eats at break time. Stela and her small band of widows having been ‘holding the fort’ for five years now and run quite independently from Bridging Lanka.

A Holy Gig – on 14th January, 2015, Pope Francis, the 266th pope, visited Madhu Church in Mannar District. Our widows were invited to cater for the Pope’s guests. It was their largest job to date and a scary proposition. Thousands of meals were prepared using very basic facilities to the satisfaction of the consumers. Pope Francis’ presence was revered as he pleaded for trans-ethnic and religious trust and understanding. Over 600,000 people gathered in the jungle sanctuary to pay homage to a leader whom even the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists admire.

A Return to Sri Lanka and Fishing – the returned asylum seeker Bridging Lanka is supporting to rebuild a livelihood has bought nets, an outboard motor and boat. Angelitto goes out to sea each day, his fortunes are on the rise and the business is providing employment for other locals. He was one of nine asylum seekers supported by Bridging Lanka when their boat capsized leaving them stranded in Indonesia. Enroute to Australia, the people smugglers abandoned them. The nine hid from the authorities without shelter, food and medicines. For nine months we provided for them until each returned to Sri Lanka. We are in constant touch with six of the nine returned asylum seekers and help with education and livelihoods.

Pavan Grinding Mill – a rice and spice grinding facility that services the needs of paddy farmers and women from villages in a fifteen kilometre radius. The mill was established to cut out the ‘middle-men’ who exploited the locals by milling these products outside Mannar and reselling them back to the community at unaffordable prices. The grinding mill now runs independently of Bridging Lanka.

Precursor to Trip Advisor – prior to speedy online tourism and accommodation platforms there was no means by which visitors could find out about Mannar, its attractions or accommodation options. Most local guest houses did not market their services and simply expected visitors to ‘find’ them. The Bridging Lanka team headed by Karnan Karnapathy and Ranjan Xavier compiled a directory of local guest houses. They visited each facility, assessed the quality of the premises and service and put together a document outlining essential information about each guesthouse. The directory was updated annually until the Trip Advisers and Air B&Bs took over.

Mannar’s Community Tourism Strategy – Bridging Lanka developed a community-based tourism strategy for Mannar. The ultimate goal was to position Mannar District as an alternative and attractive tourist destination. The flow on effect would stimulate the local economy and create a new employment pathway. The Mannar strategy, positioned within the Government’s Tourism strategy 2011-2016, included a suite of 22 projects that would affirm Mannar’s uniqueness, honour its rich cultural heritage and bring increased wealth to the people and businesses of Mannar District. Input was gained from Mannar residents and Chamber of Commerce and shaped by Bridging Lanka officers – Tauri Tampuu, a volunteer from Estonia, Ranjan Xavier, Kelvin Thomas, Karnan Karnapathy and Diron Eliyas. Link to the Tourism Strategy: 

IT PLatform – the brainchild of Kamal Raj, a passionate and smart young man who wanted to introduce computer and internet usage to Mannar’s youngsters straight after the war ended. He knew computers and the world wide web was the future that had to be embraced. Bridging Lanka assisted him and friend, Majuran Suseelan to establish IT Platform. Four months of full-time ICT training for 26 youngsters were funded by USAid. Twelve young entrepreneurs in their 20s commenced the social enterprise to provide computer services to underpin development in Mannar District. The first ICT kids on the block! The business outlet offers graphic and web design services, computer repairs and maintenance, printing and photocopying facilities and spare parts sales. Bridging Lanka assisted with financial support, sourcing business mentors and funding training and professional development over three years. Now IT Platform is a successful business totally independent of Bridging Lanka. 

Environmental Health

Our environment is a major determinant of our health and wellbeing. In the communities in which we work, we aim for robust solutions that better sustain life, addressing potential hazards that affect soil quality, food safety, water supply, spread of disease and biodiversity.

Kulam Protection: Paal Kulam – the work schedule for the latest kulam rehabilitation project started with a landscape design and an implementation plan to improve land and facilities around the kulam and to mitigate against local flooding. At the request of the Divisional Secretary and the Pallimunai Catholic Church Bridging Lanka has rolled up its sleeves in response. Coordinators, Steve Dunn and Anna Rowe together with our Technical Officer, Felix Lambert have overseen kulam dredging, building of a rock bund, installing drainage and introducing seating and slide. The real hero was the Catholic priest who was central in ‘influencing’ neighbours to surrender illegal encroached land for kulam widening.

Chronic Kidney Disease of multi-factorial origin –  CKD-mfo is caused by factors including the contamination of water with heavy metals, recent environmental unfriendly irrigation and agricultural methods, excessive use of phosphate-rich artificial chemical fertilizer and toxic agro-chemicals. CKD-mfo kills more than 5,000 people annually in Sri Lanka – including Mannar district. Most victims are middle aged male farmers. Much anecdotal evidence suggests that consumption of contaminated water as the most likely source of this deadly disease. Unless prompt action is taken, more than 3 million healthy Sri Lankans who live in agricultural regions, risk contracting CKD-mfo and dying prematurely. Bridging Lanka is trialling a localised response to CKD-mfo in Kunchukulam as isolated areas like this are often overlooked due to their smaller populations. 

Transition to Organics – we have on board Vipula Bandara, an organic agricultural expert, who will drive a year-long ‘behavioural change’ process to take farmers from chemical dependency to organic approaches in cultivation. Vipula now connects regularly with paddy farmers from Kunchukulam and Adampan. His message is simple – genetically modified paddy seed currently  in wide use requires agro chemicals to grow. He suggested returning to traditional and more resilient varieties of paddy that don’t require much fertilizers and pesticides. These traditional varieties also have more nutrients and health benefits when compared with new ‘improved’ varieties. To make the transition to organics more realistic, Vipula suggested an incremental approach: (a) continue using urea, (b) stop pesticides, (c) for home consumption stop the use of chemical products, (d) sow traditional varieties of paddy in smaller trial plots.

Kulam Protection: Periyakamam Kulam – our first kulam rehabilitation was a ‘demonstration’ to test-drive a community-owned response to kulam rehabilitation. This involved working in collaboration with the local residents and rural development societies to design spaces for community activity and recreation, removal of weeds and rubbish, creating walking paths and seating, introducing lighting and other improvements for increasing open spaces for social recreation, health and economic benefits. Most importantly our combined efforts reduced local flooding substantially. Gowri and his team of youngsters have now become the custodians of the community-owned space.

Mannar Drowning: Kulam Awareness – prize-winning director, Nishanthan Anthonypillai, filmed, directed and edited a video which turned the spotlight on the illegal encroaching of kulams. The video highlighted the dire consequences of these actions for the thousands of residents affected by the flooding of their homes and properties during each wet season. Prior to Bridging Lanka’s pleas, noone, not even government had connected the illegal filling of the kulams and the subsequent flooding of the urban area. Link to the Mannar Drowning video:

Killer Disease

We have stumbled upon a disease with a death sentence – chronic kidney disease among farming families in northern Sri Lanka. Increased chemicals in agriculture are reacting with ‘heavy metal’ soils and poisoning the ground water. An urgent response is needed to save lives.

While researching traditional and current cultivation practices in Kunchukulam’s three villages, we stumbled upon an illness with a death sentence – chronic kidney disease. There is growing evidence that increasing use of chemicals in agriculture are reacting with the ‘heavy metal’ soils of the area and poisoning ground water supplies.

We personally know of Kunchukulam people who have died or are dying from chronic kidney disease of an unknown cause (CKDu) – and these are the people with whom we work closely. Once the disease is contracted a person has only two years of life left!

Sri Lanka is the leading country with the incidence of CKDu, affecting something like 23% of the population in the North Central Province. We suspect the same applies to the Northern Province including Kunchukulam in Mannar District where little research has been conducted. But anecdotally we know the numbers with CKDu are rising steeply.

Help us to save lives! We plan a number of responses:

Providing safe drinking water through a village level reverse osmosis water filtration system
Running a strong advertising campaign to influence farmers to adopt chemical-free agriculture
Conducting house to house research into the prevalence of chronic kidney disease
Testing children and young people for CKDu in order to get the disease in its early stages.

 A starting fund of AU$ 6,000 is needed to kick start urgent measures to reduce the impact of CKDu’..

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Urban Improvement

The challenge of urban planning and infrastructure development in a resource-poor context compels us to identify the factors affecting community vulnerability and risk and empowering them to contribute potential solutions.  We urge dialogue, advocacy and leadership that incorporate cross-cutting issues like environmental, gender and other social considerations.

Kunchukulam Transport Study – Lachlan Burke, Australian volunteer from Melbourne undertook a study of the movements of people from the isolated villages of Kunchukulam. Its residents endured much financial hardship and time-wasting due to inadequate public transport. There was only one bus service in and out of this community some 50 kilometres from Mannar Town. Lachlan, supported by Bridging Lanka officer, Jerad Anton, found that half of all monthly trips were to outside destinations to access employment, shopping, education, medical and other services. The report forms the basis to advocate for either increased public transport provision or an alternative community-driven solution. Nice work, Lachlan and Jerad!

Santhipuram Children’s Park – a long term project of love to establish an all-weather playground for the children from the materially-poor urban village of Santhipuram. Valiant Australian volunteers from Brisbane and Melbourne, Graham Burghdorf, Lucinda Peterson and Steve Dunn have worked tirelessly to provide a recreational and gathering space for the whole community in a low-lying flood-prone area.

Protecting Mannar’s Kulams – once approximately eighty ponds or kulams adorned the Island. Now less than twelve remain. During the wet season, kulams acted as drainage catchment areas. They were also culturally and historically significant. More recently the kulams have been encroached, filled and built upon, thus creating annual urban flooding. Bridging Lanka worked closely with the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS) to protect and rehabilitate the remaining kulams into attractive green and recreational open spaces where residents can enjoy social, health and economic pursuits. At the request of the Government Agent, Bridging Lanka produced the report, A Survey of Kulams in 2015 to advocate for kulam protection.

Raised Walkway for Students – the wet season and the ensuing floods displace thousands of people.  Santhipuram Primary School students were also affected as they had to wade through flood waters and mud just to reach the toilets daily. We embarked on an ambitious project to construct a raised 100 metre walkway from the school building to the outside toilets in the midst of rain and flooding waters. Volunteers, Graham Burgdorf from Brisbane and Saya Lorback from Melbourne, coordinated the work under trying conditions. The bulk of the labour was provided by volunteers of the Rural Development Society with daily site visits by Graham. The walkway was completed ready for students to use in the new school year.

Santhipuram Housing & Drainage Study – in search of drainage solutions for flood-prone Santhipuram brought together 2 engineers, 2 town planners and a landscape architect from Brisbane and Melbourne. Over a month the team connected deeply with the community as they developed drainage and housing options for hundreds of families whose houses are flooded  each year. The causes were sea level rising and incessant rain during the annual wet.

Mannar Urban Plan – a vexed long term project, of developing a new town plan for Mannar, has tested Bridging Lanka. Our urban development expertise has been welcomed and shunned in repeating cycles by sections of the government. Originally started in 2011, Bridging Lanka has contributed to the town planning process in many and extraordinary ways – completing a landuse survey, responding to a draft plan by conducting workshops to incorporate local feedback, conducting an intensive multi-day ‘lockdown’ to resolve the plans sticking-point issues, providing expert feedback on an additional draft at the behest of the Urban Development Authority. Steve Dunn, a national director of the Planning Institute of Australia and his multiple teams of planners invested much over many years to produce a genuinely progress urban plan for Mannar.

Urban Development “Lockdown” –  looming deadlines for the Mannar town plan galvanised Bridging Lanka into proposing a three day “lockdown” to produce an overall urban development concept for Mannar that would address major issues including drainage, roads, transport, areas of future settlement and town centre redevelopment. The concept was discussed with the Urban Development Authority’s Director of Development Planning and National Physical Planning Department’s Director General who both gave their approval. Steve Dunn, National Director of the Planning Institute of Australia, came specifically to Sri Lanka to facilitate this three day “lockdown” workshop. Eminent Sri Lankan urban designers and architects, Colombo-based town planners, local technical officers, UNOPS engineers, Urban Council Vice Chairman and residents all worked hard to develop an overall concept plan for Mannar and structure plans for the various sectors – infrastructure, economy, social and environment.

Knowledge Transfers –  our first major ‘transfer’ of knowledge and skills to Sri Lanka was in 2013. Steve Dunn, a senior Town Planner from Melbourne, put together a team of planning professionals (town planners, landscape architects, urban designers, social planners) to lead community consultations and produce detailed drawings for two significant town plan projects – ponds rehabilitation and foreshore development.  The Melbournians, members of the Planning Institute of Australia, and staff of private sector agencies Tract and Capire, contributed their expertise. From this initial group grew the annual ‘Operation Mannar’ fieldwork visits by planning professionals.

Mannar Land Use Survey – the first time in Sri Lanka – a set of digitised maps which capture the layers of information needed for a landuse survey. This survey is a crucial aspect of any town plan. An 18 month project involved 22 local youngsters who undertook the surveys. They were trained by  National Physical Planning Department’s Town Planner, Prabakaran Ponnuthurai. Town Planner, Joy Pratheevan and Bridging Lanka Officer, Kelvin Thomas worked tirelessly to complete this pain-staking work. The digitized maps were handed over to the Urban Development Authority who was keen to incorporate them into the Mannar Urban Development Plan report. 

Cafe Arokkiya Livelihoods

Imagine a group of widows busy preparing traditional Tamil food and fusion dishes in a busy modern café with groups of tourists and locals rubbing shoulders in downtown Adampan, Mannar District, AND creating a viable livelihood in the process. 

The well-functioning commercial kitchen and café is the anchor for a team of war-affected widows to grow in confidence as they begin to earn a sustainable monthly income, educate their children and slowly rise in social status.

20190927 130 Visakhas training Compressed

The building is complete and the business up and running. We just need a few extras to make it a going concern. We need a storeroom to house a generator (to withstand the many powercuts), large kitchen equipment and stacks of chairs – approximate cost is $7,500. A contribution toward this cost would be greatly appreciated.

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Protect Forests…Launch Careers

Fresh eco-friendly career options are energising isolated and jobless young people in Kunchukulam, as an alternative to livelihoods that destroy forests and kill protected animals. 

On the edge of vast virgin forests, the villages of Kunchukulam are suffering from years of debilitating drought. Cultivation is at a minimum. High youth unemployment and geographic isolation force people into illegal activity which destroys the forest through sand and gravel mining, timber cutting and hunting of protected animals.    

This project aims to both protect forests and develop forest-based social enterprises for young people that deliver a legal income. These include guided forest walks, accommodation ‘close to nature’, opportunities for wildlife photography and a catering outlet serving delicious local cuisine – all owned and operated by young people!

We have established a guest house, are trialling forest walks and built a youth empowerment hub. The hub will act as a training space for IT, computer and English learning, career development as well as an entertainment space and cinema. We need a further $4,900 to pay for an English teacher for a year.

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Kulam Rehabilitation

With local villagers we are creating a ‘demonstration’ kulam to show the broader community how their encroached and rubbish infested ponds can be transformed into beautiful and productive public spaces.

Most of the kulams in Mannar have been filled for housing and roads. The result is severe annual flooding because in the wet season there is nowhere for the water to go!. The rehabilitated kulams will deliver social, health, economic and environmental benefits to locals. 

We have received AU$4,000 toward this project. We need a further $11,000 to establish, walking paths, outdoor furniture, retaining walls, lighting and planted areas.

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Leadership for Religious Leaders

What are the implications of the pace of global change on communities emerging from war? Without IT and English skills it becomes difficult for religious leaders to bridge the divide between ancient beliefs and the challenges of modern life.

Starting with Imams and then extending to other religious leaders, this program aims to get this influential group ‘up to speed’ on counselling skills, reaching young people, interpreting ancient texts for modern times and actively participating in national and global conversations that shape their reality.
We now have a fully equipped and functioning computer lab.  We need AU$9,000 for an intensive six month training program in IT and computers, English language and leadership modules..

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Donkey Clinic Centre

A great initiative that combines animal welfare and village development. After three long years, we have finally built the Donkey Clinic facility and have started treating injured donkeys. We now need to make the operation sustainable.

The Donkey Clinic & Education centre will be a place buzzing with activity where donkeys are examined, treated, tamed and trained for new uses. The program will also lead to village economic development and a number of start-ups including fieldwork opportunities for student vets from many countries, donkey tourism, even donkey fertiliser!

We need a further AU$19,000 to construct two accommodation facilities with attached bathrooms for volunteers, visitors, and vet students. The rent from the rooms will help with the ongoing care of donkeys, staffing and facility maintenance.

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Social Cohesion

In areas where social anxiety and cultural division separates communities, we strive toward creating the conditions and programs that lead towards tolerance and community harmony. We work with all factions, acknowledging their pain, searching for common ground and embracing a cohesive vision. 

Towards Religious Harmony – an Australian Government funded project which aims to (a) better understand the causal factors which have led to an alarming increase in violence towards Sri Lanka’s minority religious communities particular Muslim in recent years; (b) identify grounded approaches to reducing attacks against person, property and places of worship; and © trial realistic civil society responses that aim to foster respectful and harmonious inter-religious interaction, relations and cohesion.

Ambala Public Acknowledgement – with the aim of strengthening bonds, the Muslim community of Ambala, Kandy District, paid their gratitude to their Sinhala Buddhist neighbours in a public acknowledgement ceremony for protecting them during a period of communal violence that occurred in the District in March 2018. In gratitude, 36 Muslim families of Ambala held a ceremony at the Buddhist Temple to acknowledge their virtuous actions. Over 450 attended the event which helped to bring both the Muslim and Buddhist communities even closer together. The event was facilitated by Bridging Lanka.

Moulavis in Leadership – this pilot initiative aims to increase the capacity of Mannar’s Muslim clerics, Moulavis, to provide effective leadership and guidance to their Muslim followers in the face of modern and global challenges. A program of training including English competency and basic computer skills will be augmented by sessions designed to build Moulavis’ leadership capacity and broaden their world-view to critically engage with the issues of our times.

Cross-cutting Themes & Reconciliation – Bridging Lanka director, Jeremy Liyanage presented a paper, “Can Redesigning the Built Environment Facilitate Reconciliation?” at the International Urban Design Conference in Colombo in October, 2013 which has since been published along with another article, “Going Beyond ‘Love Thy Enemy’” in the book, “A Time for Peace: Towards Peace and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka.”

Star Eagle Cricket Champs – Bridging Lanka has been a major sponsor of a team which has done so much to spread the gospel of cricket to the North of Sri Lanka. Tirelessly they have organised annual premier league hardball cricket tournaments in a football dominated region. So often they have been runners up but this year, they won! This inspiring group of youngsters are Mannar’s future hope. They use the game of cricket to reconcile village, district and national rivalries and have fun to boot! Bridging Lanka is proud to be one of their sponsors and biggest fans.