Holistic Education

In a context where rote and uncritical learning that satisfy examiners is the norm, we strive to support the whole child, young person or adult – their social, emotional, physical and cognitive development – preparing them for life, not just for testing. 

Youth Empowerment & Advancement Hub (YEAH) – young people, particularly those without jobs, have the opportunity of learning IT from our computer whiz, Pradeep and English from our language master, David. The hub also provides an ideal space to meet together and plan civic activity such as discussing how to address the serious local issue of chronic kidney disease or to be supported to develop micro enterprises that will bring in a regular income. 

Donkey Clinic & Education Centre (DCEC) – studying in close proximity of adorable donkeys does have its distractions but Vijitha our computer teacher offers expert and caring instructions to a wide spread of students from those who have never held a ‘mouse’ to those who need additional coaching to pass their technology exams. In conjunction, Raseefa offers the best English classes in the region from children to students who seriously want to pass their Ordinary and Advanced Levels at school. Her students’ high marks speak volumes!

Adampan Community Education Space (ACES) – a new learning space that offers the usual IT and English but also specialises in community nutrition training, organic cultivation workshops,  and even offers traditional cooking classes for tourists.

Donkey Assisted Therapy (DAT) – donkeys as therapists for people? Definitely yes! Our DAT program is a donkey-human partnership in which specially abled children, the elderly and those with various personal issues can benefit from the close connection with donkeys. The children and young people especially have increased in life skills learning such as communication, empathy, increased confidence and self esteem and being good team players. All this through regular contact with our special donkeys. 

Building English Competency – annually volunteer teachers from Australia present English language building experience for both local teachers of English and young students of Mannar. Dedicated teacher, Ellen Dunn, spear-heads new methods of teaching, interesting and engaging learning activities, conversational English sessions and the promotion of excellent online resources for urban and rural school students throughout the district. An integrated English as a foreign language program is currently being rolled out.

English for Professionals – Margaret Bornhorst slays em in the aisles! Her passionate and engaging style motivates a range of professionals to overcome the fear of learning a new language. As part of our knowledge transfers initiative, Margaret attracts nurses, teachers, government officers and NGO staff as regular attendees of her spoken English programs relevant to their individual professions. Recently Margaret has been joined by teachers, Margot McGregor, Cathy Polities and Jan Gillies from Brisbane.

Researching for Better English – the research report, Making the Grade, offered valuable data about the challenges of English language learning and teaching in Mannar District. The report was finalised in November, 2013, and informed our deliberations on how to roll out an English language program. Huyen Lai, a volunteer from Vietnam and Grace Pathmaraj from Mannar undertook this piece of research. Link to Making the Grade:

Animal Welfare

As “animals are sentient beings that are conscious, feel pain, and experience emotions” we are committed to ensuring that the animals in our custody are free from pain, injury and disease, adequately cared for and that animal-human conflicts are mediated and addressed. 

Donkey Rescue Service – local residents call regularly to inform us of yet another donkey in pain. Urban donkeys face a difficult time and frequently fall prey to vehicular accidents, human cruelty or fights among themselves. Our rescue team heads off to assess the situation. If a minor injury, donkeys are treated on the spot; otherwise brought to the donkey clinic for more intense treatment.

Donkey Clinic – a professional veterinary service is provided to the many injured and maimed donkeys that are brought to the donkey clinic. Some are so severely injured that they cannot be saved. Most donkeys live to tell a tale of love and care at the hands of our veterinary doctor and donkey welfare officers. They are assessed, administered painkillers and treated. Once healed – and this may take three months for a broken leg – the donkeys are released to their original environs. Those who may not survive in the real world are kept permanently at the centre. We are exceptionally grateful to Animal Aid Abroad for funding our clinic operation.

Hendro Animal Rescue Centre – in 2012 Bridging Lanka was approached by the Tsunami Animal-People Alliance (TAPA) to help them sterilise Mannar’s burgeoning number of street dogs. 498 dogs (and 3 cats) were sterilised. That was the last time an operation of that scale was undertaken. Now in 2020 the street dog population is in excess of 3,000 and rising sharply. Without sterilisation, new generations of animals will abound. Part of the vision of Hendro is to sterilise and vaccinate animals resulting in humane animal population control, reducing rabies and dog bites and reducing the threat of mass killing of animals. Animal Aid Abroad a Perth-based animal welfare agency is financially supporting us to establish this facility for this purpose. The Sri Lanka government is keen to partner us in this venture.

Nurturing Youth

The post-war reality of young people has changed dramatically through outside influences both positive and harmful. We are dedicated to ‘holding’ youngsters who are being overwhelmed by technology rather than love and despair than hope – expressed through anger and violence, substance abuse and self-harm. 

Eats & Beats – fortnightly food, live music and dance events are providing a safe recreational opportunity for young people at Cafe Arokkiya. This event has a three-fold objective, to (i) create a new youth customer clientele for the cafe, (ii) provide wholesome enjoyment and recreation for youngsters who willingly turn to substance abuse to escape boredom in an area with few recreational outlets, and (iii) encourage musical and performance based skills in youth. Our Eats & Beats trials have pointed to introducing opportunities for dancing as local youngsters are ever so dance crazy.

Youth Nation – a youth instigated group in Digana, Kandy District, committed to improving relations among Muslims, Sinhalese and Tamils in the aftermath of the Digana communal conflict of March, 2018. The group aims to (a) identify ways to develop meaningful social interaction among the groups; (b) undertake social service activities that benefit all communities; and (c) address common youth issues eg drug addiction. Youth Nation aims to establish a youth drop in centre in Digana Town.

Inner Gym Program – a different and personal development initiative to assist young people seeking inner strength and resilience to get their lives on a positive track, kick substance abuse, deal with anger and aggression, balance social media with real time relations, find an appropriate career path and negotiate a rapidly changing world. 

Drop In Not Out – the offer of safe space to negotiate intense and troubling situations including conflict with parents, falling behind in studies, surviving ‘love failures’. Personal support and counselling and even a temporary place to stay will be offered for those who require such support. This initiative is in its infancy and can only grow as young people express their need for support and guidance to negotiate an uncertain future.

Life Matters in Mannar – this program aimed to explore ways to nurture an intrinsically-based moral and ethical foundation in the lives of Mannar’s young people as a basis for personal as well as district development. The ‘kick-off’ was generously crafted by the Initiatives of Change team from Melbourne, Australia. A successful week of activities, of separate male and female ‘deep and candid’ sharing sessions, culminated in a weekend residential attended by some 70 participants. LMIM was conducted in August 2015 and was a start. A LMIM committee was formed to carry the momentum. They set simple yet ambitious goals:

  • Develop as young people through reflection and personal change;
  • Build leadership, moral strength and civic mindedness in Mannar’s youth;
  • Transform Mannar District in practical ways through the helping hands of youth.

Responsible Tourism

Tourism to the North of Sri Lanka is just getting going. A primary goal of Bridging Lanka is to learn from the mistakes elsewhere of tourism ‘at any cost’ and to pursue an ethically driven model. Its roll out will ensure tourism operators, their products and services will be founded on respectful global connectedness, minimising negative environmental and social impacts, increasing economic benefit, showcasing local culture and heritage and most importantly providing a meaningful and enjoyable experience for tourists.

Unlike the average tourist who may stay in Mannar for one or a maximum of two days, our tourists stay for between one week and six months. Each day they spend locally and thus stimulate a sluggish local economy. In our quest to establish Mannar District as an alternative and attractive tourist destination, we are experimenting with new and different options. Our model of tourism focuses on five major areas of interest:

  1. Volun-tourism – for those who want to ‘make a difference’, get valuable work experience in the developing world and further career advancement or simply to delve more sincerely into local culture. Placements range from ten days to six months or longer. Areas include urban planning, landscape architecture and engineering to English teaching, office administration, graphic design, and more.

  2. Reflexive-tourism – this is tourism into the interior, of leaving one’s comfort zone and venturing into the unknown to rediscover one’s self, confront inner demons and work through life issues in a confidential and supportive environment. Many who are at cross-roads find their time in Mannar helpful and illuminating for the journey ahead.

  3. Edu-tourism – students from overseas secondary schools and universities undertake field study tours that focus on women’s empowerment, veterinary medicine, social enterprise development, leadership, economy, environmental protection, international development and town planning. These educational activities count toward students’ course requirements or personal advancement.

  4. Contest-tourism – global teams of professionals are presented with a ‘real world’ challenge to respond to ‘wicked scenarios’ together with local villagers in specific contexts where no easy solutions exist. Any course of action may lead to unintended and negative outcomes, so collaborative efforts are pitted against complex and enduring dilemmas in a real-life contest. Team members receive background briefings before they come. This is only for those up for the challenge!

  5. Adventure-tourism – is about connecting with a new physical and cultural landscape and being physically active at the same time. Guided activities include: day hiking – experiencing a new location under the power of your own feet; backpacking & camping – staying out in nature overnight with the hope of glimpsing animals such as elephants, bears and deer; water adventures – canoeing and fishing in bird-rich lagoons and swimming in pristine rivers, and eco-tasking – being involved in an ecology-enhancing activity.

Kunchukulam Responsible Tourism – in close proximity of Wilpattu Forest we focus on three isolated villages where the youth unemployment rate is a staggering 49%. As an alternative to illegal livelihoods – logging, sand and gravel mining and killing of protected animals – we are developing a legal and responsible career path through ecotourism ventures with local young people. Guided forest walks, cultural immersion, visits to ancient sites and local cuisine are all operated by Kunchukulam’s youth.

Kunchukulam Forest Walks – many young people here know the forest like the back of their hands. We are enlisting hem as forest walk guides to reveal the unique and changing nature of the forests on the northern tip of Wilpattu National Park. The forest changes dramatically according to the season – wet or dry. If lucky one can encounter many animals at a safe distance including elephants, sloth bears, deer and armadillos or see evidence of their presence via their footprints, dip one’s feet into the languid tree-shaded streams or become more aware of the ayurvedic properties of so many of the plant species. Young people earn an income from their knowledge of land.

Bridging Lanka’s contribution to tourism includes setting up the Mannar District Tourism Coordination Forum, forming the Guesthouse Association for improving service and product, arranging new tours, developing information, brochures, maps and menus and more recently embarking on creating a Mannar District tourism master plan.

Donkey Tourism Gets a Boost – with the near completion of the Donkey Clinic & Education Centre and the functioning of the Donkey Assisted Therapy Centre, much national and international attention is now being paid to our donkey programs. Matt and Saleem from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) saw the tourist potential of both sites and ran workshops to identify a ‘tour stop’ structure, info panels and tour costing schedule for us.
Managers of premium tourist facilities, Palmyrah House and Kite Surfing Lanka asked whether they could send their guests to these sites. Of course!

Tour Guide Training – Matt and Saleem from International Finance Corp, part of the World Bank Group have been assisting Bridging Lanka to develop quality tourist services and products. As part of that commitment, a workshop on characteristics of an effective tour guide was an eye-opener for our Kunchukulam forest guides and the Donkey Clinic & Education Centre staff. They learnt that a good guide speaks loudly and clearly, uses non-verbal communication, acts professionally, prepares in advance, knows the audience, provides necessary information, shares personal experiences, makes the tour dynamic, manages the group, knows first-aid and continues to learn and improve the tour.