The Warehouse Project

“Towards a culture of mutual respect and self-esteem”

By Shabna Cader
No matter how many times you think that families in the Northern and North Eastern parts of Sri Lanka need our help, we should not forget those who are just as needy, within the locality that we live. We must not forget that, within Colombo city limits alone, many of our people don’t have three square meals a day, do not have proper toilet facilities, not even a proper place to cook a meal. Throughout the past year, we seem to have overlooked these families that live a near-destitute life, as we struggled to help others elsewhere. It’s about time we pay attention to the calling of those around us. It’s time we lent a helping hand to that neighbour who lives in a one-room shack, to the student who is shunned because she’s ‘different’, to the ageing mother at great pains to keep her family from near starvation.

We come across many people and families who need our support and help, every day of our lives, who we either choose to ignore or simply do not recognise their impoverishment. The truth is that, virtually half the poor in Colombo alone, do not get their daily intake of calories and that, more than half of Sri Lankans live on less than $2 per day. If, for even a single moment, you thought that you cannot manage to live on your current income in comfort – think again! These people need your help right now.

Situated alongside old railroads, somewhere in the middle of the impoverished and the empowered lies The Warehouse Project (TWP) that is more than just empty space – it’s a culture….an urban fix. I came across TWP on Facebook, and was merely browsing through the page’s status updates, when I realised it was a project on reviving the lives of those less fortunate, within the city of Colombo. I know that many don’t often think that those who reside in Colombo would need aid to revive or for a better life, but that’s something we all often tend to overlook. There are enough and more families who need the support of people like those behind TWP.

“The idea and initiative behind TWP is simple” said Kirby de Lanerolle, “a year ago my wife- Fiona, and I looked back on our lives and how we were well-brought up – we decided to use our knowledge, our resources and skills to give back to the community. We, individually, have had sound childhoods, and interacted much with our neighbours, and have rightly blended well as children with those around us. Unfortunately, you don’t see that happening often today. TWP was initiated so that there would be a place where the gap could be bridged”.
Irrespective of class, creed, gender, colour and age, TWP is ready to kick off interaction through art, sports, drama and theatre. Set in an old colonial warehouse, that initially did not even have a roof, the team behind TWP have embarked on a path that vows to bridge the wide gap that exists between strata of society.
Gone were the days when children and youth would step out of their homes and open a conversation with their neighbour. The divide between the various strata society is so vast, that, very often, those who attend international schools don’t speak Sinhalese, don’t relate to the community at all, don’t associate with their neighbour’s kids, their domestic help’s kids either.

At TWP, just about anyone can let go of those differences; through the various projects that have been lined up, children, youth and even the aged can work together, interact and help each other, sans rivalries, on a level playing field. Different units (projects) like Borderless and EAT allow people to meet on equal grounds – give them more exposure, help them to learn, expand their interests, and get to know about people living around them in their community and vice versa.

As we all know, Colombo loves to go out of town and help people around the country, but of course, we need to understand that the initiative to help people can start right here. “There are so many young people who love to go places and lend a helping hand. They, most often, do not have sufficient resources and do not know how to begin such projects, so we’d like to let them know that they can do so through TWP. They need not have to go out of town to help people” said Fiona. So why not focus right here?

“Helping people out makes others suspicious, so we’d like to clarify that there is nothing political, religious, racial behind all this. As humans, we want to help fellow humans, and by doing so, we interact more and learn from each otherin the process. What we’re doing here is man’s humanity to man” Kirby affirmed.

EAT – The EAT programme was initiated to provide the nearby community with three meals a day. Currently, just over 40 are fed by TWP every day. Many of them live in houses devoid of space for a kitchen, which is why a space is being built at present within the warehouse itself. A roster will be arranged giving families a specific timeframe during which they can cook their meals. By the end of the year, TWP hopes to feed 100 every day.
“We hope to provide for more and more families eventually, but also try to encourage those who can work and are able-bodied to stand on their own two feet” added Kirby, not failing to mention that they would teach such individuals to fend for themselves, move on with the programme, and be of value to their community. Such individuals will be retained within the programme for a year, and thereafter, to build a life of their own.

Borderless – This programme is about bringing the community together through art, culture and theatre. The first workshop is set to be launched in September, and will run its course, once every month, for two years. This is especially designed for the youth who, through their interaction with one another (those they wouldn’t necessarily come into contact with) would learn about the society and community. The cross social and cultural interaction would benefit each one, without anything being spoken and no input by any adults.

“It is interaction without much enforcement! Forty-five students are already registered for it. TWP will also be bringing in popular and talented people such as cricketers, actors … who are role models to young people, so that they can learn from their experiences. We would therefore, be able to nurture their talents, facilitate and help the children in that way” said Fiona.

LIVE – This is the upcoming Healthcare programme. “We’re currently in the process of formulating the concept. The idea behind LIVE is to have doctors of various fields, such as dentists for example, come in on a regular basis and check on the dental health of the community. We hope to strike up deals with different opticians, for example, so that checkups can be done if spectacles are needed, they will be provided immediately for free etc” Kirby explained.

The TWP is also affiliated with the Ministry of Social Services – as Kirby mentioned, there is no partnership as such, but he has been appointed as advisor to the minister, and is currently working on how to help the community further, with the ministry’s support.
“People say, projects have time limits, and with regard to TWP, we always disagree; as long as we’re here, and occupy the space, we will carry on what we do. The people we help will keep changing – kids we help today, we want to be able to help, if they ever need us, as they grow older. So, from time to time, the projects will differ and broaden in scope” added Fiona with a smile.

If you would like to know more about TWP, check their page on Facebook or contact Mel on 0779 158 442, and how you can get involved and support your own community. The colonial warehouse also has ample space to hold events, parties and fashion shows, from which, the proceedings will go to serve a better purpose – reviving the community, starting in Colombo and hopefully, others elsewhere, eventually.
The Warehouse Project is located at Block 26 Tripoli Road, Colombo 10.


No place for the timid

Sri Lanka’s lawless road network

By Peter Marshall
One thing all visitors to these shores notice, especially when coming from the West, is just how dangerous the road network is in Colombo.
Most tourists’ first taste of traffic is via a tri-shaw. At first the novelty value blots out any danger (an open carriage hurtling through the streets with suspect breaks and nothing to restrain you, should you crash other than the back of the drivers’ skull is not allowed in many Western countries).

Not that taxi’s are better. Once the danger to your blood pressure has abated, caused by your driver failing to find your address – unless you are staying in a well known hotel in which only half of them will fail to arrive at your destination – and the obligatory lateness that seems an unavoidable part of the bargain with many (though by no means all) of the city’s cab drivers. Then of course, comes the question ‘do you know where it is’ from the driver, even when the tourist has.

A: Given him a well known landmark, or so he thought and…
B: Only just arrived in Colombo themselves and somewhat shocked to find the taxi driver expecting them to be more clued up as to navigating the capital than they are (in some cases this may be true). I recently told a taxi driver that in London, to get a license as a black cab driver you have to pass an exam called ‘the knowledge’, in which a potential driver is quizzed ruthlessly on routes around the city, in the manner of the fastest journey time from A to B, the shortest distance, best route at different times of the day etc. before they are issued with a license to operate. The taxi driver to whom I was talking laughed, presumably guessing how many Sri Lankan drivers would pass such a test (some would have trouble locating the testing centre I’ll wager). Once these annoyances have been put behind the tourist he then has to travel in a car that neither has seatbelts, or does have seatbelts that do not work (I have yet seen a Sri Lankan wearing a seat belt – a proven life saving invention).

Thereafter we come to the traffic itself. Colombo, and even some of the highways on the island have perfectly good surfaces, equipped with the required signs (most of the time) and have working traffic lights – and if not a very professional traffic policeman will direct traffic in the mean time. So why taking a journey across the city at times akin to running through a minefield with cross country skies attached to your feet. Okay perhaps a slight exaggeration, and to be fair the majority of the above is not always the case with all taxi drivers, though even a bad minority often do stick out in the memory.

The problem of course, is one of driving habits and discipline. I had no need to take a local driving test to get my Sri Lanka licence although Sri Lankan friends say it is about as hard as tying your shoelaces.
The number of times I’ve been driving only to have the car in front of me do the most dangerous, unexpected thing is beyond a joke. The other day I indicated to turn right and accordingly pulled to the central dividing line to await a gap in the traffic. I was about to make my turn when a car decided this would be a good moment to overtake me on my right side.

I used to live in Ghana, West Africa, where traffic discipline is much the same, though at least in Ghana you have less traffic to worry about; between other cars, buses (who make it perfectly clear it is their road and will stop for nothing and nobody), vans, trucks, trishaws and motorbikes, not to mention the occasional marauding cow, create a scene in your car mirrors akin to what fighter pilots at the height of the Battle of Britain must have seen during a dogfight over the south of England (with a not dissimilar kill rate probably).
As the father of two young boys who we have strapped into the rear seat via belts and child safety seats, two things strike me as obvious.

One is how vulnerable children are when you see them roaming about the cabin of the family car with no thought of restraint from parents, and worst still, the sight of an entire family on one unstable motorbike, with father on the front, mother at the back and their offspring in the middle, minus any kind of head protection what-so-ever.
Of course, there is an economical element in many cases. As an example of the family on the motorbike, if a man has a job too far away for public transport or a journey by foot, in many cases it may not be within his financial means to buy a car - the motorbike being the only practical option; though I’m sure a couple of extra crash helmets would be possible to protect the two tots in the middle. As with many things in this part of the world, safety can be a luxury that some can simply ill afford.

However, the disregard for wearing seat belts (an offence in the UK and many Western countries) and the poor driving discipline observed (both by visitors and the police, the latter showing scant regard) are hard to excuse, especially when children are put at unnecessary risk.
Another parallel between Ghana and Sri Lanka I was quick to notice was how such friendly, well mannered and gentle people as Sri Lankans, can suddenly morph into aggressive, diehard speed junkies as soon as they take a seat in or on anything with an internal combustion engine. I thought the road manners of Londoners was pretty bad but compared to Sri Lankans they possess the etiquette associated with graduates of a Swiss ladies’ finishing school.

It is a very rare thing to have a local driver allow you to join the flow of traffic without having to practically force your way in and should you show any degree of courtesy to a fellow motorist you’ll stand more chance of seeing snow falling around your car than receiving any sort of thanks from said driver.
Some of these perceived problems are, as mentioned, down to financial reasons whilst others could certainly be tackled, though as in most cases of this nature, whether drink driving in the UK or bad driving habits in Sri Lanka, some government intervention is needed.

Making it compulsory that everyone riding a motorcycle (preferably less than six people and the family dog at a time) must have head protection, and not wearing your seat belt (a safety feature which I myself owe my life to after a car crash when I was younger) should also be an enforceable requirement. I have to say one thing that did annoy me is being pulled over for a routine check by police (who were as is the custom, very polite and professional) and yet I see people driving in the most dangerous and reckless manner with the nearest policeman doing nothing

Simple road skills could be improved by increasing the standard of the driving test, or by a set of directives given out by government perhaps in combination with posters or TV adverts vilifying dangerous drivers (I’ve looked at the statistics for deaths on Sri Lanka’s roads and though certainly far from the worst in the world, they make depressing reading). Let’s face it, we speak about basic things e.g. bad lane discipline where people drift from one lane to another in an attempt to weave through traffic, speeding motorists who seem determined to overtake anyone in front of them, driving recklessly such as pulling out into fast moving traffic causing these vehicles to break suddenly to avoid collision, overtaking on blind corners, undertaking on the left side on a normal one lane carriageway and the ubiquitous practice of not checking mirrors, sides accurately before making a manoeuvre and simply relying on others to take evasive action to avert a crash. In many countries (those fare rather better in terms of road deaths each year) this is considered pretty straight forward stuff, so why the police have allowed driving standards to deteriorate to the current level is beyond me; If people start amassing police fines for poor driving technique you can be sure they will very quickly take a great deal more care about the way they drive.

Of course, the conditions on Sri Lanka’s roads is a popular topic amongst ex-pats and thus will be noticed by visitors to the island which will not be a plus for the tourism business. But I think all would agree that cutting the rate of senseless deaths on the nation’s roads (in many cases by relatively simple measures if enforced properly) is a worthy endeavour in itself.


Generation T – Sri Lanka: The Ultimate Guide to Tea

By Peter Marshall
Tea, seems, to be back in vogue. From tea tasting and tea parties, to tea cuisine, absolutely everything to do with tea is back in fashion. From London fashionistas such as Nicole Farhi and Lulu Guinness to celebrity couples like Seal and Heidi Klum, everyone is indulging in afternoon high teas.
Striking whilst the iron is hot, Sri Serendipity Publishing, based in Galle Fort, is set to release the book: Generation T – Sri Lanka: The Ultimate Guide to Tea, letting you know everything you ever wanted to know about the popular beverage and then some.

This medicinal leaf has helped to put-up ‘the pearl of the Indian Ocean’ on everyone’s tourist map – in January 2010 Sri Lanka was voted the number one place to visit in the world by the New York Times. Exotic places to stay like Tea Trails (named on Conde Naste’s 2006 and 2007 Hot List), where guests are absorbed into life on a working tea estate, whilst enjoying five-star luxury, will teach you everything you need to know about the perfect brew. The island’s tea country offers a refreshing type of holiday and there are plenty of new and different experiences opening up: you can pay a visit to St Clair’s Tea Castle, the largest tea shop in the world, bathe in tea at the Heritance Tea Factory hotel or even paint with tea in an art master class.
The book reveals new and exciting things to do in the Tea Country, including unusual places to stay like tea planter fantasy villas, weird and wacky things to do like watch the annual tuk-tuk challenge through the tea terraces and visit eccentric artists who turn tea bush roots into furniture and create tea-picking dolls out of old saris. The book introduces you to beautiful hikes through lush plantations and the best places serving up a good afternoon cuppa to whet your whistle with a big slab of chocolate cake. For those who enjoy a taste of luxury, sampling Sri Lanka’s most expensive Silver Tips tea at $13 for a 50 gram box, at St Clair’s Tea Castle and the Tea Fortress near Kandy, with its 22 carat gold teapot, is a must.

The book is packed with interesting information on the tea industry, seen first hand through a tea picker’s eyes and top tea factory tours (including, of course, where to find the most scrumptious cake). Meet the characters that make this area really come alive: the original Mr Tea who talks tea varieties and the night watchman at Warwick Gardens who recounts over 50 years of tea tales.

The book also contains mouth-watering recipes created with tea, showing just how well tea works as an ingredient – a whole new cuisine taking the world by storm. Top chefs are taking tea very seriously, like Britain’s Heston Blumental who is exploring the culinary potential of the leaf at his world famous triple-Michelin-starred restaurant in Berkshire, UK, now including tea cuisine on his menu - Green Tea Trifle with Bacon and Eggs anyone? Or how about afternoon tea and scones at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in LA? Generation T also allows you to enjoy learning how to cook unique recipes created by Vajira Gamage, the head chef at Tea Trails.
Tea cuisine may be new to many, but everyone has heard of the health benefits of tea. The book claims to dispel the myths and tell you the real story about which tea promote, health and beauty. So why not pick up a copy, it might just be your cup of tea.