Lads Trip 2016

Tom Stokely, a Trustee of The Dust Project, shares his memories of last years ‘Lads Trip’...

This was my second trip out to Sri Lanka with what is now an annual feature for the charity – the Lads September House Build Trip! Now, I have been on many weekends, holidays and stags with friends, but nothing could prepare you for the emotional, physical and spiritual intensity of a 10-day House Build Trip to Jaffna.

It was a big group of 14 with many different ages and backgrounds, but these project builds just throw you together from the start and that works. It’s not exactly easy or luxurious making your way from Colombo in the South West up to the Jaffna Peninsula. Apparently, it takes about 6 hours (Google Maps), but that is certainly not my experience. It’s an adventure and a feast for the eyes as you trundle north through urban and rural communities. There’s also a wonderfully welcome spot for tea and cake on the way up. It does not look like much, but a hot cuppa, a slice of chocolate cake, and a stretch of the legs is not to be sniffed at.

Once up there, a welcome shower, a very welcome beer and a most welcome curry awaits. The restaurants are not for the fussy or faint hearted in Jaffna. Still largely without much tourism, glamorous they are not. However, the veterans knew from the previous year where to head and we managed to eat like champions for next to nothing every night whilst up there. It might not come quickly, you might not get exactly what you ordered, and it can be like something from Fawlty Towers at times, but it’s never short of good food, good fun and memorable moments.

In contrast to the previous year, the rains had allowed for the bricks for the two houses we were building to have been made. This was welcome news to those who had spent 2015 making bricks!

With the benefit of a large team, we were masterfully managed on site by …. me ….. into 3 teams everyday. One team for each of the two houses, and one team to paint Queenie’s house which we had built the previous year. This year the houses were for Povaneswary and family, and Ananth and Usha and their daughter.

General building duties involve some amusing communication efforts with our local builders. Assignment of nicknames for them is job one (I dread to think what they call us), and then it’s just a question of rolling up your sleeves and cracking on. Knocking up cement for the floors, and brick laying, moving bricks and fetching water are nothing short of hard work. The sun can be very hot and you don’t want to pitch up wearing your designer shorts! We tended to get people doing what they wanted on any given day, and everyone got a chance to knock-up, brick lay, point, drink tea, and tell the local dog to shut up.

Lunches are an oasis of shade in the local community centre and are cooked and brought piping hot by local families. Not entirely sure, I always knew what I was eating, but variety is the spice of life!

I’m certainly not exaggerating when I say that we all worked our socks off for 4 days. What’s so wonderful is the community are delighted to have you there. From the youngest kids to the oldest, there is a palpable sense of community spirit and a determination to make things better for everyone. It gave the team a zest to work, and one of the most frustrating parts is having to walk away at the end of the week with so much still to be done. I certainly think that the guys who had been out there the previous year took a real sense of delight in completing the painting of Queenie’s house, which we had left as a mountain of un laid bricks a year previously.

Perhaps the greatest blessings of the trip came away from the building site. Seeing the kids from the orphanages so full of life and happiness, visiting our first Dust Project Business (DP Stores) now open and prosperous, and experiencing this wonderful loving outward looking community worship together on Sunday at an electric and touching service.

These are the moments that make these trips come alive, forge memories that will last and shape a lifetime, and leave you with an often permanent and lifelong love for Sri Lanka’s people.

I left Jaffna renewed in spirit but also with a heavy heart for how many more children and families live across this local community and beyond in desperate poverty and with little hope. I will be back again next September as will many of the 2016 Dusty Lads, and I could not recommend it enough to anyone reading this. Whatever your profession or skillsets, we can use you!

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© The Dust Project 2019