Diaspora Lanka Report : 28 September to 31 December 2013 – Part 9

4.6 Formalizing relationships

Discussions with Prof Rajiva

Discussions with Prof Rajiva

Diaspora Lanka has hit a snag. Since July last year the Government Agent of Mannar (GA), Urban Council Mannar (UCM), the Assistant Commissioner Local Government (ACLG) and the Urban Development Authority (UDA), key partners for the past two years, now want DL to gain formal approval from the Presidential Task Force (PTF) before they will continue to work with us. Diaspora Lanka wrote to the PTF in 2011 seeking this approval. In a lengthy phone response, the PTF Secretary informed us that we did not need their approval for our activities because we worked through local agencies, and if project approval was required, the local entity would naturally seek that. Now the rules seem to have changed and DL is in the process of gaining such approval.

Activities summary from the last visit to Sri Lanka

• Presidential Advisor on Reconciliation Prof Rajiva Wijesinha and Jeremy met with Mr Divaratne, PTF Secretary, about the matter of formal approval. He would like DL to establish a formal relationship with the UDA to streamline and make more efficient our work with government. Mr Diva also rang the new GA, arranging an appointment for DL to meet him.
• DL met with the UDA Chairman who directed the UDA Head of Business and Jeremy to draft an MoU between the UDA and DL. The document was written the next day, discussed at a directors’ meeting and forwarded to the UDA’s legal section. A letter of request along with requested registration papers were also provided by DL.
• A follow up visit and phone calls were made requesting formal approval by the UDA and PTF.

Next steps

• Write to the UDA Chairman and request he inform DL of the progress of the MoU.
• Write to the GA of Mannar seeking his help in expediting the finalization of the MoU.

Reflections

Without the signing of the MoU by the UDA and written approval from the PTF, Diaspora Lanka’s more strategic work is currently in a holding pattern.

DL meets with Mannar GA

DL meets with Mannar GA

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Diaspora Lanka Report : 28 September to 31 December 2013 – Part 8

4.4 “Kulam” (pond) rehabilitation

Nedunkulam Pond

Nedunkulam Pond

Mannar Island had more than 70 ponds (“kulam”: sizeable water bodies) that were the natural drainage system for the low-lying island. Successive governments and residents encroached upon the ponds, filling them in for the construction of housing. The result has been serious annual flooding throughout the urban area. The remaining dozen or more ponds are mostly polluted and disused. The proposal was to rehabilitate the ponds and transform them into attractive recreational precincts in a town with little open and recreational space.

In partnership with the Urban Council, the volunteers conducted several community meetings with the many pond and foreshore project stakeholders. For the pond these were: St Xavier’s Catholic Boy’s School principal, staff and students, Hindu residents, Muslim mosque members and local residents. For the foreshore development these were: local traders, fisheries officers and fishermen, and Mosque trustees.

Several meetings were held with the staff and engineers of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) resulting in an agreement that Diaspora Lanka’s planners will be responsible for designs for the Nedunkulam Pond based on community wishes and that UNOPS will fund and undertake the earthworks, drainage and landscaping. If successful, this partnership will be extended to cover the rehabilitation of two additional ponds.

Consultation with Moor St Mosque community

Consultation with Moor St Mosque community

Reflections

The planners completed their pond designs, which were welcomed by most of the community. Regrettably, late in the piece, the school, which borders the pond, withdrew its support as it wants to capitalize on any lands nearby for future school expansion. The Government Agent of Mannar has decreed that all ponds in Mannar come under the jurisdiction of the Urban Council which wants the ponds project to proceed. The Lands Officers of the District Secretariat are willing to ensure the project goes ahead. Further negotiations are now needed.

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Diaspora Lanka Report : 28 September to 31 December 2013 – Part 7

4. Urban planning

4.1 Mannarin Marumalarchi 2022 (the renaissance of Mannar)

Prabakaran, Town Planner, NPPD

Prabakaran, Town Planner, NPPD

In late 2011, Diaspora Lanka and the Urban Council Mannar (UC) instigated a community visioning program to identify a people-centred plan for Mannar City for the next 10 years. Based on the major themes that emerged from the MM22 consultations, eight subcommittees were established to implement the plan: town planning, environment, eco-tourism, business development, education, community programs, women’s development and finance.

Reflections
Due to the resignation in June, 2013 of the staff person responsible for the MM22 project, there has been little follow-up of the committees. The most active committee has been the Town Planning group which has worked consistently throughout that time. For the Mannar Urban Council to really take ownership of this program, DL will possibly need to fund a worker within the Council. Steps have been put in place to build up the following subcommittees in the next few months: education, business and eco-tourism.

Identifying “foreshore” issues

Identifying “foreshore” issues

Next steps
• Write a letter to existing members to determine their ongoing level of commitment to their chosen subcommittee.
• Recruit new members to the three highlighted subcommittees.

How you can help
• Help support one of the three subcommittees by providing expertise in the following areas: town planning, eco-tourism, business development and education.

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Diaspora Lanka Report : 28 September to 31 December 2013 – Part 6

3.5 Vision Mannar

Vision Mannar is a district-wide business initiative that aims to develop boutique businesses based on Mannar’s famous products for tourist and export markets: mainly rice, dry fish, salt and palmyrah. Although Mannar was once famous for such products, the district did not benefit from this because of a lack of product development; branding and packaging; a reluctance to embrace new technology; and low standards in all stages of manufacturing and production. This project has many objectives – to value add to existing Mannar products, develop and promote high quality items for external markets, build the capacity of small and medium enterprises to produce export quality goods and to reduce regional poverty and high levels of unemployment (particularly for vulnerable groups). External funding of this project is essential.

Activities summary from the last visit to Sri Lanka
• Reviewed the extensive “Vision Mannar” proposal and budget completed by Diarne Kreltszheim, Diaspora Lanka volunteer, and Chamber staff in June last year. Also developed a modified and less funds-heavy version.
• Held several meetings with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to seek funds for the “Vision Mannar” proposal.
• Worked closely with Chamber staff to develop new projects and find funding.

Next steps
• Wait for UNDP feedback. The Government and UNDP are currently in negotiations about project and funding guidelines so until the outcomes are known, local resourcing decisions cannot be made.

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Diaspora Lanka Report : 28 September to 31 December 2013 – Part 5

3.3 Computerizing Mannar Villages (CMV)

Selection of students from Pudukuduirippu

Selection of students from Pudukuduirippu

To address the inequities between urban and rural areas within Mannar District and to provide a solid foundation of computer, IT and English ability for young people, two CMV centres have been established in Vidathaltheevu (Catholic) and Pudukudiruppu (Muslim) villages. Computer training and English language classes are being run for children and young people to serve as a basis for a brighter future. The CMV program is a corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative of ITP and is being coordinated by Kamal Raj and Al Hathir.

english class

English class at Vidathaltheevu

Activities summary from the last visit to Sri Lanka
• Volunteers Huyen Lai (Vietnam) and Mirjam Link (Estonia) ran a December vacation program for school-aged children from the two villages, combining English learning and fun activities.
• Children’s Day was celebrated in style at Pudukuduirippu with student presentations of poetry, stories, song and dance.

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Diaspora Lanka Report : 28 September to 31 December 2013 – Part 4

3. Business development

IT Platform staff meet Australian planners

Planners get to know the services offered by ITP

3.2 IT Platform (ITP)

Eight young entrepreneurs and five staff in their 20s have commenced a business to provide computer services to underpin development in Mannar District, stalled as a result of 30 years of war. The business outlet offers graphic and web design services, computer repairs and maintenance, printing and photocopying facilities and spare parts sales. Recently ITP has established two outposts under the Computerizing Mannar Villages program. Diaspora Lanka assists with financial support, sourcing business and technical mentors and funding training and professional development.

Activities summary from last visit to Sri Lanka
• ITP continues to improve its profit margins and shoulder an increasing share of the costs.
• Currently Diaspora Lanka’s contribution has decreased to 50% of staff/operational expenses.
• Some staff changes occurred due to other enticing employment and training opportunities.
• To meet a dire need for “motherboard” training, DL provided Rs 60,000 (AU$525) for a five day intensive training course for three ITP entrepreneurs.
• ITP provided back-up IT and printing services to all 15 Australian and international volunteers, supporting them in their town planning, tourism and English language programs.
• During December volunteers from Vietnam and Estonia conducted weekly English language and activity programs for over 60 youngsters, culminating in a showcase event.

Next steps
• Find cost-effective transport solutions to provide services to far-flung areas of the district.
• Raise funds ($500) for motherboard tools to repair failed computer motherboards.
• Review existing contract for financial support and negotiate a new contract in March 2014.

How you can help
• Assist ITP to develop its financial management, reporting capacity and a business plan.
• Contribute towards the AU$800 per month financial contribution to ITP.
• Raise AU$2,000 to purchase motherboard repair tools and a motorbike for distance travel.

The first IT Platform wedding

Intensive motherboard training

Diaspora Lanka Report : 28 September to 31 December 2013 – Part 3

2. Community advocacy

Diaspora Lanka is frequently asked to advocate on behalf of individuals, groups and organisations on a range of issues. We meet with the hierarchy, officers and staff of government, military, community and religious agencies and commissions to represent or support those who have a concern or grievance. Diaspora Lanka’s “there are no enemies” approach sees all parties as part of the solution.
3. Business development

lentil

Shanaka, Lentil as Anything, prepares for videoing

rice mill

Foundations of the rice mill being constructed

3.1 Rice to Riches: daily income for vulnerable women

This is a livelihood program through micro business development in Manthai West Division in Mannar District. It targets vulnerable women – both war widows and returned internally displaced persons (IDPs) – across three villages where relations between Catholics, Muslims and Hindus are strained. A milling operation (rice, rice flour, curry, chilli powders) will provide a daily income for women, helping them back on their feet.

project

Project committee members survey the progress

roof

Walls and roof completed

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Diaspora Lanka Report : 28 September to 31 December 2013 – Part 2

1. Helping out

david

David and family in front of their home

1.1 Heart operation

Frank and Stella Chen from Taiwan contributed AU$1,000 towards an urgent appeal for surgery for Mr David Arulappu, a deep sea diver and father of three school-going children living in Mannar. David is well known to Diaspora Lanka. An ECG confirmed serious heart problems. An angiogram revealed two blocked arteries:- one was 99% blocked and the other – 75%. Due to the severity of David’s condition, he was advised to have surgery in the private hospital system because the public waiting lists were long with no guarantee of an operation soon. As David is unable to work, he and his family have been surviving on the donations of church members. Many have donated towards his operation but local sources of funds are now exhausted, hence the appeal he made to us for the remaining AU$1,380.

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Diaspora Lanka Report : 28 September to 31 December 2013 – Part 1

diaspora 1

In this edition….
…A three-day “lockdown” workshop produces inspired urban design for Mannar’s town plan
…Visible progress made on the women’s rice mill project
…A community tourism strategy gets the attention of the International Financial Corporation
…Successful overseas volunteer programs in 2013 will generate further ones in 2014

 

The past three months in Sri Lanka have been a mixed bag, of frustration and hampered progress on some of our larger projects and encouraging headway on our more community-level ventures. The political backdrop of this trip was vibrant and at times volatile due to the holding of the Northern Provincial Government elections and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM). The Government was also preoccupied with preparations for the forthcoming return to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in March of 2014.

A highlight of this period was having 15 overseas volunteers work alongside local counterparts on a range of projects. Although our town planning initiatives didn’t quite go according to plan, Diaspora Lanka brought out 11 Australian planning professionals who assisted to fast-track the Mannar urban development plan. Two volunteers came from Estonia to work on a community tourism strategy and an English-based activity program, while two further volunteers from Vietnam and Australia focused on establishing an ‘English as a Second Language’ (ESL) program.

Other pleasing developments included the progress made on establishing a rice mill so that women made vulnerable by the war can earn a daily income and the establishment of the Computerizing Mannar Villages initiative for children and youngsters in two more remote areas of Mannar.

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