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Kevin McParland (2007)

Kevin McParland

Kevin McParland – Field Director, Shining Life Children’s Trust.
Colombo, Sri Lanka.

November 2007: Kimmage, Dublin, Ireland. 

It is a starless Tuesday night and the rain is lashing the windows. Autumn has long since dissolved into a frozen, cold sod of a winter. I have smuggled an illicit blueberry muffin and comforting mug of coffee into the late evening surrounds of Kimmage library. Characteristic of my time at Kimmage, I have three days to research, write and then rewrite four essays.

March 2013: Rahatungoda Tea Estate, Nuwara Eliya District, Sri Lanka
Tea: The flagship Sri Lankan industry and the image of the tea picker on a picturesque landscape is one that has adorned many a tourist brochure. The tea industry is now at a crossroads in terms of stiff competitive global market conditions and fluctuating profitability. On a micro level, the communities living and working on Rahatungoda Estate are experiencing many of the issues common across the plantation sector in Sri Lanka – unpredictable household incomes, lack of adequate sanitation, drug and alcohol misuse, poor housing, infant malnutrition, no access to healthcare. Since September 2012, I have been working as Field Director of Shining Life Children’s Trust in Sri Lanka. Shining Life Children’s Trust works in partnership with small, local NGOs and community-based organisations involved with child-centred activities. We are committed to encouraging self-help, self-reliance and empowerment, believing that real and sustainable development is a process in which people change their own lives by their own efforts. I have been overseeing the implementation of a 6-month project in Rahatungoda focusing on the development of community services, including capacity building programmes with Women’s Societies and environmental programmes for women and young people. I am told by a group of excitable adolescents how they ensure a diversity of crops for year round consumption and sale, through cultivating organic vegetables using permaculture techniques. They manage community compost heaps, maintain community gardens and make effective use of limited space.

 

January 2014: Pupuressa Tea Estate, Kandy District, Sri Lanka

Thursday afternoon and I am sharing sweet tea and biscuits with 18 tea pickers and Women’s Society members in the small preschool on Pupuressa Estate’s Upper Division. For the last three years, Shining Life Children’s Trust has been working with three Women’s Societies, a local NGO and Estate Management to strengthen the role of Women’s Societies on the Estate. The Women’s Society members are recounting stories about what has happened over duration of the project. They tell me about the opportunity they have had to build a strong connection with the Estate Manager. He now attends some of their meetings and this has contributed to building a mutually respectful relationship. They tell me how as a result of a mobilisation-training programme for Women’s Society members that we facilitated in October 2013, they have been able to work with the Estate Superintendent to resolve previously enduring salary-related issues, and that skills crucial to improving their ability to engage with stakeholders, such as communication and collaboration, were attained through their participation in the Society. The members also express their satisfaction at having more engagement with District Health Officers, with health clinics now being conducted on the Estate. The women had requested that health clinics be conducted for common illnesses they experienced. The clinics enhanced their understanding about the connections between gender issues and health, monitoring infant weight, childhood nutrition and family planning. The reward of hearing about the small changes that have made a big difference is almost as sweet as the tea I am sipping.

June 2014: Colombo, Sri Lanka
I will be departing Sri Lanka soon. I think about Kimmage times – passionate debates about the issues of the day over tea with fellow students and moments of clarity opening up like a butterfly’s wings in course of a lecture. I think about wet evenings hibernating in Kimmage library, when you browse books on what seem to be abstract academic theories on sustainability, economic systems, social security and empowerment and ponder their place in reality. In my time in Sri Lanka, I have realised in a very real sense that it is only the actions people are taking, as individuals and communities, that reduce our vulnerability and strengthens our resilience to local and global forces. But my own capacity to absorb and act on these theories and experiences is rooted in the learning forged in the lecture rooms, library and common areas of a grand 19th century stone Manor in Dublin 12.

 

 

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