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Organised at the SOS Vocational training & vacation centre, Malpotha, Sri Lanka from August 12-22, 2003.

Following discussions between Mr. Siddhartha Kaul, Deputy Secretary General - Asia, SOS Kinderdorf International and Ambassador Madanjeet Singh, Founder/President of South Asia Foundation, it was decided to conduct an 'Environmental Work Camp' for youth from the SAARC countries at the SOS Vocational training & vacation Centre in Malpotha, Sri Lanka. The camp was based on the concept practised regularly by the youth of SOS Children's Villages of Sri Lanka, which gives them the experience of living and working together in a rural environment, respecting ecological principles and living in harmony with nature. The experience is also designed to encourage teamwork and a spirit of cooperation between the participants.

SOS-SAF CAMP - There were 40 participants (2 boys and 2 girls from each country plus an additional 2 from India), plus the residents at the project Malpotha. A female and male educator accompanied the participants and was responsible for monitoring their performances, assigning 'points' and counselling as required.

The participants arrived in Sri Lanka on August 11 and travelled directly to Malpotha, having breakfast at a roadside restaurant on the way. On arrival at Malpotha and after a welcome by the resident youth and National Director of SOS Children's Villages of Sri Lanka, the participants were free to sleep, relax and generally 'unwind'.

The Camp began the next morning at 8.00 am after breakfast with a formal introduction by the National Director. After a brief period of 'adjustment', they got into the spirit of exercise and cooperated excellently.

Each morning after breakfast the team leaders assembled their members to inform them of their duties for the day, which included cooking and cleaning. This was done on a rotational basis, so that all of these responsibilities were equally distributed. The leaders would select which of their two members would cook and each time two different members would have the chance to cook for the participants. They would also be informed at this time of the accumulated points tally and their respective team's position. Also the leaders would be privately informed of who in the teams were gaining points and which ones were causing them to lose points, so that they could try to motivate those that were letting the side down. The National Director and Project Directors would also counsel the youth that appeared to be either slacking, or having trouble cooperating with their teams.

The teams performed excellently and completed extensive clearing of overgrown areas in 'Green Valley' and 'New Land' (two other small SOS projects related to and in close proximity to the Malpotha farm). They also prepared vegetable and herb beds for planting, weeded other cultivated areas, planted vegetables from nurseries, made compost, dug pits for soil erosion control and filled large animal fodder bags with the earth from the pits to prevent the erosion of soil from the stream bed in Green Valley by buffering-up the banks of the stream with the loaded bags. The interaction and cooperation between the participants were, for the most part, outstanding and the bonding between them very apparent.

The participants had a break from the routine work and were taken on an excursion to Nuwara Eliya - a resort town at an elevation of over 2,000 meters above sea level, where they toured a tea factory. After this they visited the SOS Children's Village, Nuwara Eliya, where they were hosted to lunch and had a chance to be with the children and youth of the village. Entertainment by the residents of the Village was provided and the participants also joined in the singing and dancing. On the way back to Malpotha, they visited the Hakgalla Botanical Gardens.

Two lectures on conservation, environment and related subjects, including the importance of Organic Agriculture were organised for the participants with slide shows to illustrate aspects of the lectures. The impact the lectures had on the participants was apparent from the questions they asked and the discussions that followed.

After the day's work, many of the boys would organise themselves into two teams for a game of cricket or play badminton. Others write plays or skits to be performed by their teams at the final night concert. Discipline was easily maintained by deducting points for bad behaviour, non-cooperation, sloppiness and other transgressions.
Mr. Siddhartha Kaul Deputy Secretary General, Asia, of SOS-Kinderdorf International was the first visitor to the camp. He spent two days - August 15 and 16 - actively interacting with the youth and saw how the camp was progressing.

The concert on the last day was an excellent means of displaying the creative and acting talents of the youth. After this the teams were informed of their scores and the individuals were informed of theirs. A prize was awarded to the winning team (which they shared with everyone else) and the cash awards equivalent to the points scored was announced and were presented to the individual participants the next day at Nuwara Eliya, so that they would have the cash for shopping on the way back to, as well as in Colombo.

The return to Colombo was through an alternate route via Kandy, where the participants visited the Temple of the Tooth (famous as being a repository for a tooth relic of the Buddha). They also visited the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawela before arriving at the SOS Children's Village, Piliyandala.

The following day's programme included a farewell ceremony at the residence of Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar, Chairman, SAF Sri Lanka, where the presentation of souvenirs took place after an introduction by the National Director and a short address by Mr. Kadirgamar. Participants then went on a shopping spree, had lunch in the city and went sight-seeing. Farewell was tearful. Participants promised to keep in touch and expressed the hope that they would meet again. The National Director, in his farewell message, promised to recommend that the next camp consist of some, if not most of the same participants. The message was received with great cheer and the participants hoped that it would give them yet another opportunity to experience more of the good times with each other.

The camp was a huge success in that it succeeded in bringing together youth from seven countries to work and play together as teams, as well as individuals. The exchange of information regarding aspects of their respective cultures, the experience of working on the land in a rural environment, the acquisition of respect for the environment and the close ties that the participants developed between each other, all undoubtedly helped the youngsters expand their consciousness, knowledge and understanding.

Siddhartha Kaul
Cedric P. de Silva
Chetna Sharma
SOS-Kinderdorf International
Asia Office

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