In late 2012, Joe Warbington attended Sarvodaya USA's fall benefit dinner and felt compelled to help. He left his job in February 2013 and spent March in Sri Lanka, volunteering with Sarvodaya-fusion, a not-for-profit social enterprise with the mission of ‘e-Empowerment of communities’ all around Sri Lanka. He continues to be actively involved with fusion and Sarvodaya USA - in fact, he is excited to lead a group of UW students back to Sri Lanka in January 2014.
This is one of his stories...
This is one of his stories...
Navigating sri Lanka
Even though I've lived in Madison for years, I still get lost around the capitol square. So, you can imagine how nervous I was just thinking about traveling around Sri Lanka. Luckily, I had a very good friend (Stephanie) along with me to volunteer and if we got lost, at least we'd be lost together. We spent the first few days at Sarvodaya HQ in Moratuwa getting used to the town and surroundings, all on foot. We quickly learned that we'd need to travel over an hour to the Sarvodaya-fusion office regularly - that meant something more than just hoofing it. For our first trip to fusion, we took a tuk-tuk. My best description is a three-wheeled golf cart with a canopy. These fun little rides are often customized heavily by the drivers, so you get a glimpse into their favorite things. I believe our tuk-tuk driver could compete in the X-games - we were taking corners at incredible speeds, weaving in and out of traffic (traffic includes buses, mopeds, bikes, cows, pedestrians, other tuk-tuks). We kept up insane speeds for a full hour. Total cost: $4.75 USD! You can't even go a block in a taxi in the US for that. I had fun - Stephanie had motion sickness. Our tuk-tuk days were limited.
For our second day traveling to fusion, we inquired about taking the bus. This was a little more complicated than just telling a tuk-tuk where to take us... Mangala (our wonderful Sarvodaya International Unit coordinator) inked out our bus numbers and stop names on a piece of paper. She instructed us to let the bus driver know which stop which needed to transfer buses and where to get off. This was also the first day that it became necessary for us to learn how to pronounce the names of the towns - no one could understand us when we asked to let us off in a particular town, so we resorted to showing them that piece of paper with our stops. The bus drivers and riders alike were so friendly - everyone wanted to help us get to wherever we wanted to go. There a bus attendants that shimmy through the crowd and collect fares - the entire trip only cost us something like $1.25 USD each. I remember this elder rider trying to get our attention that our stop was coming up - him motioning for us to grab our bags and hop off of the bus. I say "hop off" and I mean it - I'm not sure the buses fully stopped anywhere along the route. You had a window of a few seconds to leap out or in of the bus doors. Tuk-tuk? Check. Public bus? Check. What's next?
We had heard that one could take the train along the coast up to the bus transfer point, so we figured we give that a try. The train schedule was particularly hard to find online, so we decided to get up early one morning and head for the train station just down the block. We came upon the station and the time schedule - it was large and legible, albeit in a foreign language. We broke out our notebooks and kindergarten level picture books to help decipher the stop names - it took some time, but we translated our current location and our desired stop. Sinhalese is, well, challenging. It has a fun looking set of characters. To the untrained eye - it can be terrifying... So many of the letters are just slight variations on a previously character. A swoop here or a dot there could completely change the character, meaning, and word. We waited for the station attendant to appear and then paid for our tickets ($1.25 USD). The train ride was excellent - the doors on both sides were left open, so we got a nice ocean breeze and great views of the rushing towns. Everyone again was very kind and helpful, making sure we got off on the right stop and made to the correct bus stand. Overall - traveling was an adventure of it's own, but I would have done it again in a heartbeat.