(Linking hands)

What you have achieved.....

By Hannah West and Luke Heslop


Ath Welak was a rehabilitation initiative set up to empower four businesses affected by the tsunami. This project aimed to give some individuals in the village of Weligama the opportunity to rebuild and sustain their livelihood, which would in turn allow them to support their families and to re-establish a sense of community. We are delighted to be able to inform you that Ath Welak, with the help of your donations has successfully met all the aims and objectives that were stated in the initial report and has completed the project within the specified time period.

By operating this project on personal level we have been able to provide the means of direct support to the victims of the tsunami. We hope that throughout this project we have made the relationship between donor and beneficiary clear and understood by all concerned. During the stages of the project's development we hope that you have found us to have been informative and clear on the process of our aid distribution, and that we have been successful in giving you an insight into the effect your donation will have upon the lives of the recipients.

The last few weeks have been a great education for us both. Not only have we been able to learn about aid distribution and the politics and procedures surrounding it, but we have also observed with great admiration and respect the generosity of our friends, family and all who supported Ath Welak from the UK.

Writing the initial Project Proposal was easy as it was based mainly on facts and contained information about people we didn't know on a personal level. Writing the final report has been quite the opposite. Over the last few weeks we have become part of the community in Weligama and have made some of the most wonderful friends. That is why we have found it so difficult to draw together a report that will be able to encapsulate the emotion of this whole experience. After deliberating how we could best approach this task we decided to amalgamate our personal diaries we had been keeping, correcting the spelling mistakes, and extracting the swear words in order to bring you a more personal and emotive report.

Business 1

Due to the kind donation of the individual who chose to support this particular project, as of the 27th of February Amarawathie was, for the first time since the tsunami and to the delight of the locals, able to begin cooking small breakfasts for people in the community.

We arrived in Weligama in the late morning and began our task of purchasing all the equipment from the local shops. With our translator Karu's local knowledge, Luke's keen eye for a bargain and Hannah's overall shopping prowess this assignment was executed with little difficulty. After bartering with the shop owners, packing the boxes and arranging a vehicle for the transportation of the equipment to be distributed the following morning, we then visited the beneficiaries to ensure they would be available to receive the goods the next day.

In the morning, Amarawathie sat on the rubble outside her tent, as she had done everyday for the last two months since the tsunami, waiting for the next short term fix of dry rations, except, this particular morning was different. This morning she was going to be receiving the tools that would allow her to start rebuilding her life and provide for her family. After distributing the equipment to business 2, we slowly made our way through the debris on the road and stopped near by Amarawathie's tent. At the sight of the van, Amarawathie and her family stood in amazement, as the ten fishermen and two slightly sun burnt foreigners made their way towards them, carrying in their arms the very items that would enable her to once again earn an income. As the fishermen helped us unload and distribute to the smaller businesses it brought about a great sense of locality and community to the project. It was heart warming to see the beneficiaries of one project aiding the beneficiaries of another and it was a great feeling to know that we were involved in a project that was working with the people, for the people. Locals gathered round as we exchanged traditional Sri Lankan greetings (this involves the placing together of your hands in a prayer like position and bowing towards one another whilst saying "Ayebowan"). After many embraces, and informing Amarawathie of who had directly supported her, we left a happier family.

A week later when we returned to Weligama, Amarawathie was insistent on cooking us and the fishermen in our group a meal with her new equipment. After sampling her fine cuisine it is obvious why the fishermen were so eager to have her back in business.

The process of distribution to Amarawathie.

Business 2

Business 2, to re-cap, was Ranjit, his father and their restaurant near the market place. All their equipment was destroyed by the tsunami and our wish was, with your donations, to purchase new equipment in the hope that they could rebuild their business.

After returning from the local shops with the majority of the items, we decided that Ranjit's business needed a little something else. The new tables stood proud, the gas cooker glimmered but the cracks in the wall and the dirty water marks from the tsunami remained. In the afternoon we returned with cans of poly filler, blue and white paint and paintbrushes in our hands. Strolling in like Carol Smiley and Laurence Llewelyn Bowen we set about changing the room!

Although we were limited in time we were adamant that we must contribute something to the painting. As we set about our work late on the Thursday evening we were surrounded by a group of about 12 locals who watched in amazement as they witnessed the unfamiliar sight of two white people painting in their local shop. After several attempts at taking the paintbrushes away from us, they soon realised that we were committed. They seemed to feel shocked that white people (in particular a female) were offering their services to them beyond the financial value. We managed to explain that we wanted to help and that it was our pleasure to be of assistance to them. We left late in the evening and returned the next day to find it all complete. For the first time since the tsunami we saw a place in Weligama that looked unaffected by the disaster. Not only were the cracks in the wall gone (making it physically safer) but psychologically working in a bright, newly equipped and painted restaurant was going to give them a more positive outlook on there future, something to be proud of and hopefully attract more business. As a last gift to the business we purchased a new ceiling fan. The last one was damaged by the tsunami and held many dreadful memories of when Ranjit's mother clung on to it, fighting for her life as their shop filled up with water. We felt that this gesture was a sign of moving on.

The fishermen helping distribute the equipment
Ranjit and his father happily receiving the equipment

Back in business!

Business 3

Business 3 was supporting 6 women who needed 6 Beralu Kottiyes and enough thread to begin making and selling lace to a local factory as a means of an income. Their machines were destroyed by the tsunami. Since then, the ladies had spent their days sitting outside the tents recalling the horrific events of the tsunami. Our aim was to help them regain some structure and independence in their lives and for them to begin to make a living again. They will sell the lace to Leela Lace Centre before commencing their own business in the future.

This project has proven to be the easiest for two reasons. Firstly, it only took two days for a carpenter to make these 6 machines and secondly, because these women are so knowledgeable and skilled in the process of lace making, the organisation of all the accessories was done in one morning. We visited the lace making women on the 17th of February to initiate the project to find them sitting listlessly outside their tents. We left them on the afternoon of Friday the 11th of March sitting outside their temporary houses (organised through Karu, our translator) with their new machines, set out on their new benches, busily working on their first composition of lace since the tsunami. The ladies were eager to demonstrate the lace making process to us and show us how well the machines worked. It's amazing how such a simple machine can produce something so intricate. As their families gathered round, children observed the technique used as they sat next to the experienced women on the benches. These skills will be passed on to the children and these machines will be the tools for their futures also.

The ladies busily working on their new machines, while family and friends observe

Catamaran Project

On Wednesday the 9th of March 2005, after a 4.00am start we arrived in Weligama in the morning. We gathered the troops, including Karu, Nadeesha (the skipper) and Damith (a senior of the group) and met with the owner of the Catamaran we were going to buy. After signing all the necessary paper work we handed over your donations to the previous owner who in turn gave all the documents (i.e. registration book, transaction of ownership papers etc.) to the fishermen. Hands were shook, spirits were lifted and smiles were present. We had a boat! Now all we needed was an engine to power it. We made our way down to Matara, one of the larger towns near by to pick up the 30 Horse Power Suzuki engine we had purchased the previous week. After various renditions of Shaggy "It wasn't me" and Bob Marley songs, sung by ourselves and the fishermen we returned to Weligama bay to watch the docking of the fishermen's new 10 man Catamaran boat. As the boat cruised into view and the waves of the fishermen were seen from afar, a feeling of pride and happiness overtook us as we realised our friends and family back home had made these fishermen's dreams possible.

Ownership papers are finalised
The Catamaran is pushed to shore

In the afternoon we visited the fisheries office in Weligama to make the transition of the boat complete and official. This was done to ensure that the Catamaran was equally owned by all 10 fishermen and could not be misused by local authorities or immoral entrepreneurs.

The society of fishermen is formed and the Catamaran is legally theirs

As the evening drew in and the sun was setting and all the paperwork was out of the way, all that was left to do was watch the sun disappear into the horizon, as we sat with the fishermen on their new boat (later named that night "Ten Brother"). Looking out at the ocean, we discussed their plans for the future, their dreams, hopes and ambitions and about the opportunity this boat had provided. They investigated every inch of the boat with precision and pride, tugging on the ropes, pushing on the wood and testing the nets. As we sat in silence in complete awe witnessing this group of people being so empowered, passionately maneuvering around the Catamaran realizing for the first time the true implications of owning their own boat, we could not help but feel moved. The following morning as we strolled along the beach side road, watching the early morning waves lap on to the shore there was no doubt in our mind that this Ath Welak boat was the most beautiful boat in the bay, not just aesthetically but for all that it stood for and represented. Not far from the boat, four of the fishermen had set up a wooden frame with the newly bought Suzuki engine attached and were "running it through" and testing it in preparation for the first fishing expedition on "Ten Brother" that would take place the following morning.

That evening we accompanied the ten fishermen to the temple in Matara. We had been asked to go with them to witness them make an offering of fruit to the Hindu gods in return for a blessing of hope and success for the start of their new business venture. This is a tradition often undertaken before the first day of a new enterprise. Before entering the temple we observed a woman ritually prepare the fruits, by washing them in holy water and arranging them in a way that could be presented to the gods. Three Malai's (a necklace of flowers) coloured red, blue and yellow were placed on top of each of the three fruit offerings to represent each of the gods. These were later to be tied on to the mast of the boat.

The preparation of the fruit.

We then followed the fishermen into three different temples which signified three of the Hindu gods. In each temple a different prayer was recited and then holy water was poured into their hands which they sipped and then splashed their faces with. After each recital, a coconut was burned and held in the hands of one of the fishermen. They circled the flaming coconut around their head three times and then smashed it to the ground. They do this in the hope that they will be successful in what they do as they are in breaking the coconut. Participating in the ritual made us feel honoured and welcomed into this society of brothers.

The fishermen pray for a blessing
Nadeesha holds the burning coconut

After being invited to help the fishermen on the boat the following morning, on their first fishing trip after the tsunami, we rose at 4.00am to set sail. This particular day was decided upon by the fishermen as it was an auspicious day.

As the boat powered into the horizon, the silhouettes of the fishermen sitting on the watch ladder, engrossed by the possibilities ahead made the darkness of morning seem even more beautiful.

We reached our chosen fishing destination by about 6.30am and soon after spotted a shoal of fish ahead of us in the water. All leapt into action; nets were passed quickly into the water as we rapidly circled the fish, men lunged into the ocean and frantically splashed about in an effort to scare the fish in the direction of the nets, and neighbouring boats watched on in anticipation pointing and shouting "Malu, Malu", which means fish in Sinhalese and "Sudu, Sudu" which means white! After the net had been dropped into the water encircling the fish, they were hauled in. This process took about half an hour. (Usually this process doesn't take that long but it could have had something to do with the inexperience of the two new members on board that day!).

The hauling of the nets

Although it was not a huge catch the fishermen were elated at having caught their first catch in their new boat. We drank tea and ate cake and began our return to land. Laughter, jokes and happiness filled the air as the waves splashed against the side of the Catamaran as "Ten Brother" came into shore.

These are a few of the local shops in Weligama from which we purchased some of the equipment from:

Expenditure Sheet

The conversion of Sri Lankan Rupees (R/s) to Sterling pounds (£) is done at the exchange rate of 180 R/s to £1.

Business 1

Item Cost in Sri Lankan Rupees Cost in Sterling Date of purchase Date of distribution
Large knife 289 R/s £1.60 26/02/05 27/02/05
Water barrel 1450 R/s £8.05 26/02/05 27/02/05
Gas cooker, regulator and hose 2340 R/s £13.00 26/02/05 27/02/05
Nippon blender 2600 R/s £14.40 26/02/05 27/02/05
Pans, pots and cooking utensils 3875 R/s £21.52 26/02/05 27/02/05
Gas cylinder 4310 R/s £29.94 06/03/05 06/03/05
TOTAL 14864 R/s £88.51

Business 2

Item Cost in Sri Lankan Rupees Cost in Sterling Date of purchase Date of distribution
Curry pots 500 R/s £0.50 26/02/05 27/02/05
10 chairs 2000 R/s £11.11 26/02/05 27/02/05
Gas cooker, regulator and hose 2340 R/s £13.00 26/02/05 27/02/05
Nippon blender 2600 R/s £14.40 26/02/05 27/02/05
2 tables 3550 R/s £19.72 26/02/05 26/02/05
Gas cylinder 4310 R/s £29.94 06/03/05 06/03/05
Ceiling fan 2400 R/s £13.33 10/03/05 11/03/05
Paint, polyfiller and paintbrushes 3725 R/s £20.69 10/03/05 10/03/05
TOTAL 21425 R/s £122.69

Business 3

Item Cost in Sri Lankan Rupees Cost in Sterling Date of purchase Date of distribution
6 Beralu Kottiyes 3600 R/s £20 27/02/05 06/03/05
Material 800 R/s £4.44 06/03/05 06/03/05
Thread, pins and accessories 1440 R/s £8.00 06/03/05 06/03/05
135 Beralu handles 2733 R/s £15.18 06/03/05 12/03/05
4 wooden benches 6000 R/s £33.33 06/03/05 12/03/05
TOTAL 14573 R/s £80.95


Item Cost in Sri Lankan Rupees Cost in Sterling Date of purchase Date of distribution
Thermos flask 435 R/s £2.41 27/02/05 27/02/05
Petrol cans 1000 R/s £5.55 10/02/05 10/02/05
Torch 1400 R/s £7.77 27/02/05 27/02/05
Battery 4000 R/s £22.22 27/02/05 27/02/05
Mobile phone 6500 R/s £36.11 27/02/05 27/02/05
30hp Suzuki engine 194500 R/s £1080.50 28/02/05 09/03/05
Small tackle items 1400 R/s £7.77 09/02/05 09/02/05
Nets 16250 R/s £90.27 09/02/05 09/02/05
Petrol 7000 R/s £38.88 10/03/05 10/03/05
Catamaran boat 450000 R/s £2500.00 09/02/05 09/03/05
Ice boxes 5000 R/s £27.77 Will be 15/02/05 Will be 15/02/05
TOTAL 683485 R/s £3819.25

The total cost of all the equipment bought was £4111.40

On top of the expenditure shown on the above tables, money was spent on a translator, transport, administration costs (internet café) and other project related expenses. Before commencing the project we were unable to accurately state what these costs would be. However, we can assure we have done our utmost to keep these at a minimum.

Future Programmes

Due to an overwhelming amount of support we have received far more donations than first expected. Primarily and most importantly this has allowed to successfully complete all of our projects: Businesses 1, 2 and 3 and the Catamaran project. The excess money gave us a bit more lea-way to do things such as purchase the paint for Ranjits business and cover the lace making machines with cloth (to protect them) that wasn't budgeted for originally. However, it did leave us with a relatively large sum of money. Fortunately, we were in a position to recognise other projects that were in need to be established.

Ath Welak has instigated another extremely important project in the Weligama area, that we are adamant in financially supporting. It will be run by the Sri Lankan representatives of Ath Welak, Mr and Mrs Mundy. They have decided to embark upon this project using some of their own money and build a two storey community centre for the fishermen to safely store all their equipment, repair boats damaged by the tsunami and rest after night fishing. As this project will greatly benefit the fishermen we are supporting and many others in the area we feel this is an extremely worthwhile project to contribute our excess money towards. As this project was initially founded by Ath Welak, the project will be named "Ath Welak Plus". We are planning to donate a total of £ 1,400 to the building of this centre. We have been fortunate enough to visit the local authorities (the Urban Council Chairman) with the Mundy's and have secured a plot of land on the beach front where the centre will be built. It is also under discussion that in 6 months, the British charity Project Trust (the organisation with whom we originally came to Sri Lanka with) will send two volunteers to work in the Weligama area and develop this project further. We believe this demonstrates how successful we feel the project will be. It also greatly complements Ath Welak's relationship with the community to be associated in the future with Project Trust volunteers.

Heather and Cyril Mundy (Ath Welak Plus co-ordinators): cyrilmundy at mail dot ewisl dot net (insert @ symbol and dots to create correct email address)

The land where the centre will be built

We have also located a smaller project set up by another ex-project trust volunteer in the Batticaloa District (East coast) that is struggling financially. With a small donation this project will allow boats damaged by the tsunami to be repaired and many more fishermen to begin work again. We are extremely confident that this project is worthwhile as it has been set up similar to our own, relying on donations from the UK and has been organised very professionally by someone with a great insight into Sri Lanka, in particular Tamil areas, as she has been undertaking a PhD there. Knowing her personally and having followed the projects progress there is no doubt in our minds that a small contribution from Ath Welak will allow this project to be completed very successfully.

Rebecca Walker writes a little about her project:

"This is a project designed to work with a group of fishermen and their families in Batticaloa on the east coast who have been badly affected by the tsunami. All have lost their homes and some (often all) of their family members. The idea of the project is to provide financial support for the families to build temporary shelters, buy necessary kitchen and household items and also to help the fishermen get back to the sea. This is done whilst working on a local and personal level directly with the beneficiaries and aims not only to help the fishermen to begin to rebuild their lives, but also to develop strong working and personal relationships between myself and the beneficiaries as we work together.

I am a PhD research student based in the north of Sri Lanka and have been working in Sri Lanka since October 2004 with communities displaced by the civil war. This is my third time in Sri Lanka having worked as a volunteer teacher with Project Trust for 12 months in 1998/9 and for a local NGO in Jaffna in 2002. Since the devastating tsunami struck on 26th Dec 2004 I have been fully involved in relief and rehabilitation work in the north and the east and am committed to working alongside affected communities for the duration of my fieldwork (a further 12-14 months) and beyond."

Rebecca Walker: bexjwalker at hotmail dot com (insert @ symbol and dots to create correct email address)

We hope that you feel that we have successfully located two projects and that you consider them worthwhile. We have tried to pinpoint projects similar to our own and ones that once again we can ensure that the money goes directly into the communities and not misplaced through INGO's overheads. If you would like to follow the progress of these projects after our departure from the country, please email us, Rebecca Walker or Cyril and Heather Mundy and we will update you on how the projects are progressing. We trust the organisers of these projects implicitly and would not be contributing money if we weren't 100 % confident in their ability and of the projects success.

Vote of thanks

We would like to extend our (Luke and Hannah) and all the recipients' heartfelt thanks to the following people who without their assistance Ath Welak would not have been possible.

We (Hannah and Luke) would like to convey our deepest gratitude to all the donors for giving us the opportunity to establish our own project. Without your donations and support none of this would have been possible. We are so honoured that you entrusted your faith and showed belief in us. We can only hope that we have fulfilled this belief successfully by not only completing the projects financially but by representing you all to the community in a positive way that will bridge cultural gaps. Thank you for giving us this experience and allowing us to represent you. It has been a pleasure working with you all. Thank you!

Hannah West
(Project co-ordinator)
Luke Heslop
(Project co-ordinator)

A thank you letter which one of the fishermen requested you all see. They all asked us to express their gratitude to all the donors. They are so thankful to you all. (Click to enlarge)