RSIS Environmental Project Sri Lanka
Dated: 8th to 21st Dec 2018
The Round Square International Service project worked in collaboration with Project Orange Elephant which is a project set up to protect farmers and their property from wild Sri Lankan elephants. As part of the Environmental Project we had to plant orange trees in order to form a natural fence to keep out these wild elephants. It has been experimentally proven that the scent of citrus plants deters elephants, orange being a hardy crop was an ideal choice. Throughout the duration of the project we planted approximately 230 orange trees across the village. Other than protecting the farmers, these trees also provide them with an additional source of income thus providing a beneficial solution to the problem.
This trip wasn’t like any other service trip that I have ever been on. The holes that we dug to plant the trees, taught me my first lesson. Never Give Up. While digging these 2 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet holes, we came across rocks, 3-inch-thick roots, unbearable heat and excessive sweat but, we never gave up. I was pushed to my limits every day and every hour, but I barreled forward and was able to deliver what was expected of me. The friends I made in the group were my strength and lend me support whenever I needed it. We were there for each other whether it be providing an extra hand to dig holes or picking out each other’s callouses. I had never imagined that I could have made such great bonds with people from across the world, like Australia, Bogota or even Scotland. This project taught me the skill to form everlasting bonds and connections, my second lesson.
One moment that has been engraved in my mind would be when we went for a safari in Wasgumuwa National Park as part of our cultural experience. After a rather unsuccessful 2 hours of not seeing any elephant and just being entertained by our never-ending banter and numerous sightings of peacocks and chameleons we happened upon a clearing. Now, let me offer you the privilege to paint this image in your mind. Thirty plus elephants trumpeting and flaying their massive ears were gathered right in front of us. We could see the very scars on their thick leathery skin and almost smell the fresh, wet mud beneath their feet. Between these elephants were scattered numerous peacocks and peahens. Some with their magnificent array of colorful feathers on display. To multiply the beauty of this image, add massive mountains across the horizon and a sky filled with all shades of orange. And finally, the red sun setting beyond the mountains. This, as you might have guessed left the six of us in the jeep awed and watching in silence. Those 10 minutes were the longest and most treasured minutes of my entire trip to Sri Lanka.
This trip also taught me the difference between my needs and wants. All we needed and had was a bed, food and clean water, everything else was considered a luxury. I learnt that you don’t really need much to survive and enjoy life. I washed my own clothes, made my own tea, woke up by myself and even learned to eat my food without any spices. This, to me was life changing. After the trip I have vowed never to complain about any petty problems like the food I eat or the bed I sleep in or anything of that sort. I almost feel enlightened. This taught me my third lesson. To know the difference between your needs and wants.
Being part of this Project, I was also able to experience the joy of giving. The entire RSIS Sri Lanka team donated numerous items to the local school and students. Things ranging from footballs to clothes to erasers to toothpaste. I feel extremely lucky to be part of this donation drive as it let me experience firsthand the smiles of extreme joy or the looks of wonderment on the children’s faces when they opened their bag to find a sparkly pink pencil or a smiley eraser which otherwise would just pass of as any other ordinary stationary item for most of us. This taught me a lesson quoted by one of the greatest men in my country’s history, Mahatma Gandhi. Be the change you want to see in the world. By giving just a small football to the local school we might have just given some children the incentive to attend school. This is bringing change in its purest form.
Lastly, at our final dinner all the delegates formed a circle along with the project leaders. Holding hands and trying our best to not let that lone tear escape. One of the project leaders solemnly said,” The work, the heat, the injuries, those aren’t the hardest parts. This is. Saying goodbye.” Around the circle numerous teary-eyed individuals nodded in unison. Throughout this trip we had gotten so used to eating, sleeping and talking to each other that the idea of never seeing each other again really took us all by surprise. After 14 days, I was able to feel this connection with these people, people I had no idea even existed 14 days back. That goodbye taught me my last lesson. Cherish what you have while you have it. Those last hugs, those last smiles, those last goodbyes still bring a tear to my eye and a smile on my face as they remind me that nothing lasts forever and that you have to learn to let go.
Report by: Arnav Bangera