Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Sri Lanka Workcamp a great success

Christopher Ng and Jack Wong hanging out with the students of Joseph’s College in Colombo, Sri Lanka

A group of 17 residents of Warrane spent the period leading up to Christmas this year in Sri Lanka helping to complete sporting facilities in a struggling school on the outskirts of Colombo.

The group spent almost three weeks working in tropical heat and high humidity building a new changing room and toilet facilities for a sports complex at St Joseph’s College, Wattala

One of the College residents who took part, Paul Cooper, explained: “The fellows who took part in the workcamp built the new facilities from scratch – levelling the site, laying foundations and building the facilities right through to painting.”

“Apart from some specialist work, like fitting plumbing equipment, the guys did just about everything including carrying bricks, laying them, mixing concrete and so on. We felt the heat – because there was no shade at all, we were exposed the whole time – but it was a really satisfying project and we enjoyed every moment of it.”

In addition to completing the sports facilities at the school, which is located in Wattala, a suburb of the Western Province of the country, several volunteers from Warrane, including Matt Saxby, Chris Ng and Chris Ho helped to create a website for the school (see it here).

“When it was done everyone agreed it was the best school website in the country”, Paul said, “better than those of the most prestigious schools in Sri Lanka.”

The volunteers also spent time each day teaching English and giving Physical Education classes to some of the students of the school.

Part of the satisfaction that the workers felt came from the generous response of the local community and from the school’s 1200 students and 55 staff members.

“They showed incredible gratitude,” Paul said. “They demonstrated their appreciation in many ways, but towards the end of our stay the entire school put on a concert for us, with all the classes from Grade 1 to 13 performing. It was incredibly entertaining.”

Another member of the Warrane group, Ananthan Ambikairajah, said he was moved by how grateful the locals were and by how contented they seemed, despite a certain amount of poverty compared with living standards in Australia.

“I was very impressed by how incredibly happy they were with the very little they have in the way of material possessions,” he said. “They were satisfied with having their basic needs met. It makes you think about what you really need and what you just want.”

“Some of the people entertained us in their homes. They really loved to talk and to be with people. There didn’t seem to be a lot happening with the internet and some houses didn’t even seem to have television sets.”

“There was also the fact that the work we did brought all of us who took part together. We lived in the same room and worked together for eight or nine hours a day. I made a lot of new friends and developed stronger friendships with the ones I already knew.”

The College group were told that the changing room at the sports centre could not be completed due to financial constraints. The facilities are very important not only for students at the school but also for students from nearby schools who also use the sports facilities at St Joseph’s.

The school principal, Fr Christopher Ranjith, explained that “the new facilities would help St Joseph’s ensure students are organised and that they can make full use of the sports centre and will hopefully encourage more students to get involved in the sports activities.”

“You go on a workcamp with an attitude of really wanting to make a difference in the lives of others, particularly of those less fortunate than ourselves,” said the Workcamp Director and Assistant Dean of Warrane College, Dr Timothy Shearer. “Yet, it never ceases to amaze me how you go away realising that you have learnt so many valuable lessons from them.”

Those who took part in the camp were Dr Timothy Shearer, Fr Richard Umbers, Tio Faulkner, Rohan Stocker, Ananthan Ambikairajah, Angus Heath, Rafael Kaufmann, Christian Don Rukantha, Pablo Diaz, Paul Cooper, Daniel Tarrant, Adhithya Ramani, Chris Ho, Matt Saxby, Pat Burfitt, Jacky Wong and Chris Ng.

Warrane is grateful to all those who supported the workcamp in various ways, including:

  • Dr Maithri Perera, Joe Perera and their family;
  • Fr Ranjith Andradi and staff and students of St Josephs College, Wattala;
  • The Pinto family and Infotechs (Pvt) Limited;
  • Don Rukantha and his family;
  • Jivanka Perera and his parents;
  • Arc@UNSW, Vivek Menon, Chalana Hewage, Nevin Alwis and other financial supporters; and
  • Matthew Lennon, Bruno Pignone, Computers for Young and Old and the other in-kind supporters.