Return of the Muturs

IMGA0213IMGA0220IMGA0218There are so many stories to tell from this last week of travel. Some amusing and others heartbreaking. I feel the need to start with the most serious events of the week which consist of separate visits to a pair of very unfortunate communities. This is a report on one of these sites.

The morning after our homestays in Trincomalee on the east coast of the island (which Meg will report on later) the group met at the Trinco port to board a ferry bound for a sandy village called Mutur about an hour away. When we arrived there was quite a long line of people buying tickets and even more masses already huddled at the gate hoping to enter the controlled area and board the relatively small ferry. Our influential host of day was able to get our tickets and jump everyone else in line into the secure area and ultimately on to the boat. I wish I had a visual of the scene, but photos are strictly prohibited at security checkpoints. We were obviously glad to be able to go on this trip and thankful to our gracious host, but once again the rules obviously don’t apply to everyone in the same way.

The village of Mutur and the surrounding communities are on the other side of the bay. It would take about 3 1/2 hours to drive there or a 45 minute boat ride. Our ferry was packed and there were very few if any non-locals on board, and westerners visiting the area are practically unheard of.

Upon our arrival at the Mutur dock once we cleared security we were greeted by a wall of posters of the president which is obviously meant to intimidate. The majority of those living in the area are Tamils.

We’re transported through a number of small communities to a primary school that has been damaged by the most recent battles. We got out of the van and walked through the school yard. There are no doors or glass windows at the school. The roof in a couple of places has been severely damaged by mortar fire, the playground equipment is decrepit and generally falling apart though a few children were still managing to play on them. School isn’t typically in session this time of year, but there is one class of children around 7 years old being taught so we went over for a closer look.

Typically Sri Lankan school children wear astonishingly white uniforms, but this obviously was not an option for these students. These children and practically everyone from the area were removed and placed in camps due to heavy fighting that took place as late as a just over three months ago. Half of the people have returned in the last month, and power was restored only one week before our visit. It appears this one class was making an attempt to catch up on what it missed.

We spoke to them briefly and took a few pictures. We were told most had probably lost close family members in the fighting. They greeted us with all smiles, a few words in English and were totally adorable. The resources of this school were scant. The desks were made of wood grayed from extended use and weathering and rather splintered without a speck of paint or varnish. The legs were metal and quite rusty. While the resources available to these students were shocking to American standards, the spirit of the students and enthusiasm of the teacher could not be surpassed.

After we left the classroom we walked over to three young boys along with someone who seemed to be a grandfather in the playground to ask them a few questions. Our host is Tamil and translated for us. We asked if they were there when the fighting took place and the school was damaged, and they all were. “Do you dream about the fighting?” “Are you afraid it could return?” Yes and yes. They were all glad to be back home despite all of the challenges. It was definitely better than living in the totally controlled environment of a camp. These are just a sampling of the questions. It was was quite poignant. I have a video of most of this interaction.

Later we visited a secondary school in there area where we met with teachers, the principal and others connected to the schools. We discussed the situation, challenges and needs. Access to school supplies such as pencils and paper was actually a major concern. Meg and I introduced them to YLI and promised to provide any of our lesson plans that they would like including a selection that have been translated into Tamil. They seemed excited about that, and we exchanged contact information. We asked if anyone had access to the internet which is when we found out that they only have electricity for the past week.

The visit to Mutur and the surroundings was the most important site visit in regards human suffering that has taken place due to the recent battles. At the same time, there is room at least in this town for a bit of optimism. The people are at least starting to return. And when we asked those three boys what they wanted to be when they grown up, there answers were a principal, doctor, and engineer which amazed considering the circumstances. None appeared interested in being a soldier.

Check out the video at .



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