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MW Fitness House / The Honeymoon Build

Tiffany Stokely, our newest Trustee, gives a wonderful account of her first trip to Sri Lanka...

I gained many valuable things upon my marriage last year— a handsome ginger, a house older than my native nation, two beautiful step-daughters, the loveliest horde of English in-laws… and involvement in a worthy cause— far more beautiful and moving than I could have imagined— The Dust Project. As I got to know Tom, a DP Trustee, I started to catch his heart for this small but singular community in Sri Lanka, listening raptly to his experiences and anecdotes from recent trips, his knowledge of the people and relationships with them, and how The Dust Project came to be. Nothing could prepare me, however, for going there and meeting them for myself.

After our wedding in August 2017, Tom and I joined a group of 12 volunteers with The Dust Project for the first half of our honeymoon in Sri Lanka. This was DP’s first “mixed” build trip, with a dozen men and women of all ages, walks and skill sets, coming together to work on the house MW Fitness had raised the funds to build for Balayia, Kormatha and their three children. We were an incredibly mixed bag— my high-school friend, Kessy, and her 12-year-old son, Kingston, came all the way from Nebraska; Phil accidentally found out about the trip and signed up the week before; Mike (owner of MW Fitness) and trainer Lauren came to muscle through the build; an artist friend of mine from University, Lydia, came along… and the list continues of randomly intentional people who felt the call to come and answered it wholeheartedly— all of them utterly invaluable.

As this was Tom’s third/my first trip, he led us all brilliantly, while I tagged along wide-eyed, amazed by the landscape and culture, taking in detail, color, inspiration and reality, as we all traipsed north from Colombo to Jaffna. Roadside coconuts, long-awaited bathroom breaks, and 9 hours of an endless stream of Sri Lankan life passing outside the car window… and we were there— at the Community Centre from whence the Projects emanate.

The week absolutely flew by. My memory is crammed and somewhat hazy with the daily routine that ensued— awaking early to catch the morning-cool breeze and birdsong from our hotel window as I lathered every square inch with sunscreen, giving the sorest muscles a little extra kneading as I massaged it in; then down to the breakfast room, to be the first ones through the doors as staff changed the sign to “open”, for a quick bite of exotic fruits, mini bananas… and if feeling wildly brave, a breakfast curry!

After a tuk-tuk ride in morning sun to the build site, we democratically apportioned tasks for the day. Trying to be efficient with scanty time and tools, it often made more sense to split the team up for different locations, rather than have “too many cooks in the kitchen” at the actual build site. The nearby Girls’ Orphanage needed several coats of exterior finishing paint; the cement wall around the Community Centre needed a few strong backs; the cess pit behind Balayia’s house needed tenacious hacking and shoveling; and in addition to the cement-mixing-by-hand, the brick-laying, the mortaring, the wheel-barrowing, and whack-a-plating… there were ALWAYS cement blocks to be carried from one end of the site to the other. Never an idle hand. Never a cool brow. And never was I so proud of a team of strangers— getting on like good friends, and enjoying this exquisitely laborious and sweaty, HOT work in a spirit of camaraderie, for the pure joy of doing something hard for the sake of others. This is the spirit of Jesus, to serve one another and value each as invaluable.

We took turns going early to the school to help with their assemblies. Those kids— singing a morning prayer, doing their exercises and listening shyly to all you’re saying— will first melt your heart, then wring it, then make it BURST… then make it stretch until you want to take ALL of them home with you. They’re that cute. And the girls at the Orphanage are so beautifully plucky, shy, sweet, merry, and always up for a laugh, a game of hide and seek, or a hug— tactile, innocent, precious.

On the final two days, Lydia and I were able to buy some paints from Jaffna city centre (an experience in itself I can tell you!!) and then hurriedly painted murals on the walls of the girls’ rooms in the orphanage. It was brutal to have to do it so quickly, as we ached to be able to bless them each with a lavish gift of art and time; but we gave what we had to give, and they received it as if we’d given them the moon. Sweet and grateful hearts.

In trying to remember the things I learned from the people and children in Irupalai, these are most resonant— the joy of simplicity, and delight of gratitude. They simply don’t have ‘stuff’, but they have each other. The girls in the orphanage, apparently, have to have their own rooms according to government regulation; but despite this, each night they bring their mattresses out to the common hall floor, and sleep together as sisters. They value family and each other. They play with each other rather than ‘things’. Both children and adults alike are not afraid to take time to worship.

I’m sure I have many more things to learn, but a girl can only take in so much at a time. I really appreciated, in week 2 of our honeymoon, slowly drifting south through the country— seeing the variety of landscape, history and architecture, flow of life, political thoughts and rhythms. Tom and I both enjoyed this brief overview of a country so different to our mothers England and America, yet so full of vitality, grit and hope. And to see families once living in worse than dog hutches, now living in modest but lovely, safe HOMES, all their own… it’s unparalleled. To see kids flourishing in their potential, bright-eyed and growing strong with nourishment, care and shelter they wouldn’t have had without sponsorship… THIS is what we’re here for.

A gigantic Thank You to MW Fitness and all their friends and supporters, who took the time and effort to raise the money to build a home, and then by the sweat of their own brows, came to DO it. Much respect.

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