Sunday, 31 July 2011

In New Zealand for insurance, earthquakes, death of a friend and Turangawaewae.

a tangible place - where my energy comes up through my feet and my heart and my head can come away from this place with clarity, vision, and newness.

The southern alps from the Okarito trig. A Turangawaewae for me. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I need to return to NZ every year or at the outside, every 18 months.The South Island of New Zealand is my Turangawaewae. With the type of work I do, my gas tanks empty after a year or so and I need to replenish my wairua (spirituality) and aroha (love). When I return I feel a wave of peace as the mountains embrace me, the sea soothes me, the rivers energize me, the forests oxygenate me, and, my friends and family reaffirm who I am.

They give and I give. Spontaneous reciprocacy. Manakitanga is a Maori concept defining the relationship between caring and sharing. That is what my life is about when I return to the South Island.

For those of you unfamiliar with Maori concepts, Turangawaewae ‘is the place where I stand.’

‘The place where my ancestors stood.’

‘ The place that gives me power.’

Te Ara describes it as the place - a tangible place - where my energy comes up through my feet and my heart and my head can come away from this place with clarity, vision, and newness. My footstool.
My Turangawaewae.  A photo of me whitebaiting on the Hokitika River  a few years back.

Turangawaewae is all about place, a place to ‘stand tall.’

Auckland, or the North Island is not my Turangawaewae, but the northern island of Aotearoa.

So when I arrived in Auckland in mid-July, I felt a little on foreign soil.

I was selected by the IFRC (International Red Cross) through the NZ Red Cross to be keynote speaker at IBANZ, the annual conference of Insurance Brokers Association of New Zealand, and my whole visit was sponsored by Lumley Insurance.. This was a daunting task!

The person who was my guide and mentor in a jungle of insurance brokers and insurance industry people in Auckland for three days, was Pete McArthur. Pete is from Christchurch, lived in Nelson in the South Island and has a generousity of spirit and wisdom,

Left: Bob McKerrow (l) and Pete McArthur

So Pete in many ways, was like a Kaumatua, a chief or wise man to me. I may be an experienced speaker, but it is quite nerve-wracking preparing for a group of people you know little about. I had to give quite a comprehensive 45 minute presentation to over 500 insurance brokers who were paying big money to learn. They get learning points towards retaining their certification so as a result of the Christchurch earthquakes, the NZ insurance industry was in a tailspin and looking to learning more about other earthquake recovery operations and ‘leadership under adversity.’ Pete was convinced I was the man to pass on my earthquake/disaster recovery experience in such a way, it would help the insurance brokers in their day-to-day work.

I loved the way Pete, with his colleague Kristin, (pictured above) worked patiently and firmly with me ensuring that my many of years of experience were distilled and crafted into bullet points, and pitched in such a way, would achieve maximum impact by passing on crucial lessons learned. In the photo above, Pete told me to lay copies of all my overheads on a table, and we kept the good ones and rejected ones that were peripheral. It was great to have a coach and mentor and the moral of the story is, there is always someone more experienced around, who is willing to help. Don't be too proud to receive advise and support.

One of the key messages of my presntation centred round:

Seek “breakthrough initiatives” to accelerate recovery and build back better and avoid a culture of risk aversion. Business as usual will not suffice in unusual situations.

The next was on:

The right person in the right place at the right time was another (See how place or Turangawaewae creeps into my vocabulary)

Building back better was another key messages that I elaborated on considerably. 

I was very impressed with John Lyon (3rd from the left) who is the CEO of Lumleys NZ. He is an Irishman from Dublin and introduced me as keynote speaker. John was appointed CEO of Lumley in May 2008 and is responsible for strategic direction and operational performance of the company.  In the photo are Sophie Lister, Kristin McNamara, John and Karl Armstrong.
I also gave presentation to Lumley Insurance in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Lumley Insurance kindly gave me a NZ$ 10,000 cheque for my speaker's fee which I gave to the New Zealand Red Cross Christchurch Earthquake Fund.

It was also a pleasure to give talks to NZ Red Cross staff at national headquarters in Wellington and to staff and volunteers working with the Christchurch earthquake operation. 

Aoraki Mt. Cook another important Turangawaewae for me. I started climbing here at the age of 18 and re-visit often. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Left: a photo of Brian Taylor (r) and me (l)

My daughter Aroha and I visited Prue Taylor, who is the wife of Brian Taylor who was killed in the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February this year. Prue was at home with her son Hamish when we arrived so it was good to share feelings and strong memories of Brian over a pot of tea. Prue is Principal at Christchurch Girl's High School and had to deal with the death of her husband, a damaged school, and traumatised students and staff. What a strong and dignified friend.Prue is! I was at their engagement 45 years ago.

It was also a joy to catch up with my daughters and grandchildren in both Auckland and Christchurch, and spend quality time with them. We toured the earthquake affected areas of Christchurch together, walked along the beaches at sumner and North new Brighton and had some great parties and dinners.

I wrote this posting before I got back to Colombo on Friday 22 July, and when I went to work, there was a copy of a book, written by my nephew, Mike Brown, my elder sister’s son.

When I was director of the NZ Outward Bound School, Mike came as a 20 year old and worked for some months as a volunteer. He is now a very succesful academic and a senior lecturer in the sport and liesure department at Waikato Univeristy., and a top level triathlete. 

Here is a little about Mike's book A Pedagogy of Place -Outdoor Education for a Changing World by Brian Wattchow and Mike Brown.  I found it a fascinating read.

A ‘pedagogy of place’ refers to an alternative vision for outdoor education practice. This timely book, A Pedagogy of Place, calls into question some of the underlying assumptions and ‘truths’ about outdoor education, and in turn offers alternatives to current practice that are responsive to local conditions and cultural traditions. In this renewal of outdoor education philosophy and practice, the emphasis is upon responding to, and empathising with, the outdoors as particular places, rich in local meaning and significance.

Current outdoor education theory and practice is influenced by cultural ideas about risk and adventure, and by psychological theories of personal and social development. However, in recent decades the professional discourse of outdoor education has made a noticeable shift to include education for the ‘environment’ and ‘nature’. This has resulted in a mismatch between theory and practice: traditional notions of proving oneself ‘against’ the challenges of the outdoors are antithetical to the development of an empathetic relationship with outdoor places, which growing concern with today’s environment demands.

The braided Waiho River drains into the Tasman Sea. The waters of the Spenser, Burton, Callery and Franz Josef Glaciers make up the mighty Waiho.

This book will be the first of its kind to articulate a renewal of philosophy and practice for outdoor education that is in keeping with the educational needs of today’s young people as they grapple with considerable social and ecological changes in a rapidly changing world. The authors draw extensively on international, national and local literature and provide compelling case studies drawn from the Australian and New Zealand contexts.

So there ends my posting on my ten day trip to New Zealand. I feel rejuventaed for another six months or so
because I visited a tangible place - where my energy comes up through my feet and my heart and my head can come away from this place with clarity, vision, and newness.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Building a better future in Sri Lanka

I have been in Sri Lanka a year now, and I am delighted with the progress of the Red Cross programme for people displaced by 25 years of conflict in the north and east. My colleague Mahieash Johnney wrote this article about our work. 
After six months, Murugaiya Aruldas has built his family a new home.

Walking into your own new house owned is a very special thing, and a momentous event for a family. The smell of fresh paint, polished floors, new curtains, and the celebrations that may accompany the move makes most think of this special moment in their lives.

Murugaiya Aruldas certainly understood that feeling as he walked into his new house in Ampalkulam, Kilinochchi last week. A house that was built by his own hands in a land where war ravaged for over 30 years.
Previously the family has lived in a home made with coconut leaf.

Kilinochchi was known as the capital of the rebels during the war period and Aruldas was one of the victims who had to flee in order to save his family from the conflict. He is a father of three. He has two daughters and a son who is the youngest of his family. His eldest daughter is missing.

Post Conflict Recovery Programme

The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), German Red Cross, Australian Red Cross, Japanese Red Cross Society and the Norwegian Red Cross launched a post-conflict recovery program to help people like Aruldas who suffered during the conflict.

This programme is either primarily in support of people who were driven out by the conflict in Sri Lanka and have not yet returned home, or those in the process of resettlement. The program also provides support for host communities and those who have been displaced for longer periods. The initial primary target area for the programme is Kilinochchi and Mulativu districts.

In its initial stages, the programme will assist in the construction 2,000 houses in both Kilinochchi and Mulativu districts.
Murugaiya Aruldas with his wife and younger daughter. His older daughter is missing.

Action so far

Since the programme was launched in June 2010 – with funding from the German Red Cross – it has grown in scale and allowed the National Society to refine it operations, allowing it to provide more houses for more families.

At the same time the programme is supporting and working with the re-established Kilinochchi branch of the SLRCS. From its new Field Coordination Office in Vavuniya the SLRCS team, consisting of experienced former tsunami recovery staff, is managing the single biggest reconstruction effort on-going by any humanitarian organisation in Killinochchi and Mulativu.

So far 350 homes have been built and the project is on schedule to deliver houses for 2,000 families by its conclusion.

Aruldas’s house is one such completed project. On the day, he opened his house Red Cross Officials were invited for the ceremony.

Aruldas, sitting with his wife, says the end of the war offers the chance of a second life for his family. “Even though the war ended we were clueless as to what we are going to do with our lives. We knew we had to forge ahead,” he says. “The question was how are we to do that? It was then we heard about the Red Cross programme. They gave us our first payment in November 2010 and within six months I had managed to finish the construction of the house. After the final touches to the house today, we are moving into it. I am a happy man”

The success of the programme has been based on getting the beneficiary involved in the rebuilding process, where the beneficiary makes key decision on building the house.

“The programme has been such a success, due mainly to the fact that the Red Cross is engaging in a partnership with the beneficiary in order to rebuild their lives,” says Dr. Mahesh Gunasekara the senior coordinator of the programme. “Not only do we help the people to rebuild their houses, but we are providing them support in water and sanitation facilities, health and care and also on livelihood support.”
Red Cross staff and volunteers turned up to help mark the completion of the home building.

 Looking ahead

Even though the programme is running smoothly, and supporting more than 20,000 people, the actual needs on the ground are greater than the Red Cross can provide.

The Director General of the SLRCS Tissa Abeywickrama says: “There are a lot of people in Kilinochchi and Mulativu that need help. Over 120,000 people need financial support. These people were battered by war, famine and very recently floods. We need to support more but it all comes down to our own financial constraints.”

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Surfing in Arugam Bay - P.S. I love you

As I write this letter,

Send my love to you,

Remember that I'll always,

Be in love with you.

Treasure these few words 'till we're together,

Keep all my love forever,

P.S., I love you.

You, you, you.

I'll be coming home again to you, love,

And 'till the day I do, love,

Thursday. 28 July at Arugam Bay

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

From flood recovery to clean water in schools - Sri Lanka

This morning we are in Pottuvil, eastern Ampara district. Stopped at 3 villages yesterday afternoon in Wellawaya, Monaragala district to see progress of houses we are funding under flood recovery programme. Here Keti, IFRC programme coordinator, talks to a family who are benefitting from Sri Lanka Red Cross housing programme.

It was a nine hour trip from Colombo to Pottuvil yesterday. We stopped at Wellawaya for a few hours where we met Sri Lanka Red Cross field staff who are supervising the flood recovery programme where we are supporting SLRCS building hoiuses, latrines and livelihoods for thousands of people affected by floods in January this year.

Keti Khurtsia, our new programme coordinator accompanied me anfd it was good to introduce her to another programme she will be supervising.

It is an owner driven housing programme where the SLRCS give cash grants in tranches. The villagers fire their own bricks from quality clay in the villages and are totally in control of building their houses. Most of the recepients are poor day labourers, who have a small plot of land to grow some crops.

Villagers fire their own bricks for these Red Cross funded owner-driven houses.

Today, we drive north to Olluvil and Nindavur where we will be opening water supply and latrine programmes to many schools. SLRCS/IFRC have a very large hygiene promotion programme in this area which support a 252 km water supply project which provides water to over 75,000 people at a cost of US$ ten million. Funding came through the tsunami operation.

What impresses me about the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) is how they are really working at ‘grass roots’ on key risk reduction programmes. In Pottuvil with a population of over 20,000 people, the large town water supply was built and funded by SLRCS/IFRC. The Finnish Red Cross have built an excellent base hospital for the district and yesterday we see a well planned flood recovery programme bringing houses, latrines and livelihood programmes to many thousands of flood affected people. This local picture is repeated all over the country where Red Cross is changing the lives of people through clean water, hygiene promotion, latrines, improved medical facilities, dengue fever and malaria eradication programmes. Our programme in the north for internally displaced people who suffered under 25 years of conflict is such a joy to see, as people’s lives return to normal. Where once only gunfire was heard, the laughter of children drowns out all other soiunds in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

It is wonderful to be part of this.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

I've got a ticket to ride

I think I'm gonna be sad.
I think it's today.


The girl that's drivin' me mad
Is goin' away.
She's got a ticket to ride.
She's got a ticket to ride.
She's got a ticket to ride,
But she don't care.

It was Yuki's idea. I got back from New Zealand on Friday and she said, "Why don't we take your new Programme Coordinator Keti Khurtsia, and Woody's friend Pete out to Mount Lavinia by train on Sunday.."
It cost 10 US cents for a 15 km train ride, one way, and what 'a ticket to ride.'
Yuki, Elena, Keti, Woody and Nikko. Pete somehow avoided the group photo.
And then there was the sign that gave sage advice. Engineer Woody spotted it. My goodness, Engineers spot all liabilities, defects, signs and wonders.

" Daddy, are they chickens in that box?" Niikko and Woody looking at a box of chicken's that got on at the last station, without tickets we think.
Finally at Mount Lavinia station. We've found Pete, on the extreme right, still celebrating Australia's victory over South Africa in rugby yesterday.
At Mount Lavinia Hotel, which was made famous for being a key part in the movie 'The Bridge on the River Kwai.'

Keti with one of the doormen at Mt. Lavinia Hotel, a true relic of the Raj.

From Mt. Lavinia looking north towards Colombo.

I've got a ticket to ride............ and She don't care.....
"Bob, that's your apartment over there," says Yuki.
                                                              Colombo Railway Station
Nikko enjoying the journey on Woody's lap.

Sri Lankan's are among the most generous people in the world. On the train, a blind man plays a mouth organ. Even the poorest travellers give him a coin.
A train trip to Mount Lavinia is a wonderful day out. Here we are back in Colombo.

Friday, 22 July 2011

From Bamiyan Afghanistan to Buduruwagala in Sri Lanka

My journey has taken me from Lumbini in 1975, the birthplace of Buddha, to Bodh Gaya where he attained enlightenment,  to Bamiyan to see the huge sculptures in rock of Buddha, before they were destroyed by the Taliban, and recently, I stumbled across the astounding Buduruwagala Sculptures in Sri Lanka, a photo above.

The seven colossal figures carved out of a rock face at Budurawagala are reached by a side road to the west, five kilometres south of Wellawaya, on the road to Tissa, are simply stunning. Tragically after the destruction of the Bamiyan figures, the largest carvings of Buddha are now in Buduruwagala, Sri Lanka.

The rock itself resembles a kneeling elephant with its head bowed and the end of the folded trunk in its mouth.

Neither chronicles nor stone inscriptions provide any information on the exact period of these east-facing statues. However, it has been determined that they date back to the 10th Century and the Mahayana Buddhist Doctrine, and belong to the latter period of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. It is believed the Buddha statue was created during the reign of King Valagamba. 

The name Buduruwagala means "stone images of the Buddha," and at 51 feet here stands the tallest in Sri Lanka and perhaps in the world, since the Bamiyan figures no longer exist in Afghanistan. The sculpture at Buduruwagala is in lower relief unlike the other comparable Buddha statues in the country at Aukana (46 ft), Saseruwa (36 ft) and Maligawila (36 ft) and for all of which it may have served as a model.

Taller Buddha in 1963 and in 2008 after destruction. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

At Buduruwagala the Buddha statue is in the centre with groupings of three figures on each side. Only the portion above the waist is finished, the lower part being in rough condition. The raised right hand shows the fingers in abhaya mudra position, the posture of kindness and freedom from fear. What remains of the his robe‹fragments of the original stucco and the traces of orange colour‹suggest the images were all once painted.

By the right foot of the statue is a hole carved in the shape of the flame from an oil lamp. From this hole percolates an oil that smells of mustard which was used by adherents to anoint their foreheads before presenting themselves to Tara Devi or Vajrapani to solicit cures for their ailments through sathiyakriya, the use of the power of truth.

The central figure in the group of three to the Buddha's right still retains much of its white finish. This is the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara who, in Buddhist mythology, granted succour to the helpless, and was named God Natha during the Kotte Period. The lower part of the figure is clothed with a robe and ornamentation, and in the centre of the crown is a figure of the Buddha in meditation.

The female figure to his left, in low relief and the typical thrice-bent posture, is Aryathara (Tara Devi), who was believed to have the power to prevent earthquakes, floods, epidemic diseases and other calamities, and who was particularly helpful to women.

The figure to the right of Avalokitesvara is prince Sudhana. He is also in the typical thrice-bent posture. His is the ability to steer the young on to the right path of good behaviour.

The central figure in the group of three to the Buddha's left is Maithri Bodhisathva, the fifth Buddha for this aeon. The figure has a crown, ornamentations and a robe.

To his left is Vajrapani (God Sakra) who is holding the hourglass-shaped Tibetan thunderbolt symbol, the dorje, made of quartz. This indicates the sculptures are of the time when the worship of Bodhisatvas and statues was introduced by the Mahayana Sect, and is an unusual example of the Tantric side of Buddhism in Sri Lanka..

The figure to the right of the Bodhisathva perhaps represents Sahampath Brahma. The part above the waist is very smoothly worked, but the rock below is roughly hewn. It is possible that the lower parts were once covered in painted finery.
I can strongly recommend a visit to the Buduruwagala Sculptures.

This visit to Buduruwagala also helps me connect the research I did during three longs winters in Kabul 1993-96 on Faxian, Xuanzang, and Yijing who were among hundreds of Chinese monks who made pilgrimagesmto India  andf sometime sri Lanka, during the first millennium CE. The detailed accounts of their journeys make them more famous than others. These travel records are important historical resources for several reasons. First, they provide meticulous accounts of the nature of Buddhist doctrines, rituals, and monastic institutions in South, Central, and Southeast Asia. Second, they contain vital information about the social and political conditions in South Asia and kingdoms situated on the routes between China and India. Third, they offer remarkable insights into cross-cultural perceptions and interactions. Additionally, these accounts throw light on the arduous nature of long-distance travel, commercial exchanges, and the relationship between Buddhist pilgrims and itinerant merchants
Faxian route in 337-422?

So it has been a pleasure to continue my journey through Buddhism, the Silk Route and the Chinese pilgrims to this part of the world.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Visiting friends and places affected by the Christchurch earthquake

My plane touched down in Christchurch at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning. I was last in Christchurch a year ago.

I was welcomed by a magnitude 4.4 earthquake 11 minutes after I arrived. I couldn’t believe it. Flicked on to Geonet and saw this:

Canterbury has been shaken by a 4.4 magnitude aftershock today.
The quake struck at 11.11am, 10 kilometres east of Christchurch and at a depth of 11km, GNS Science reported.
It was felt in eastern Canterbury.

After lunch, Gavin and Ruia drove me in to the Central Business District (CBD) and just a km from Bryndwr where we live we started seeing damaged walls and fences, then some vacant sections, where once proud family homes stood. Many badly damaged houses have been removed. The closer we got to the CBD, the more the damage.. My old pub, the Carlton,was a vacant site, removed after it was badly cracked and structually unsound.

Landmarks in my life were missing as I drove around Central Christchurch. Diggers, cranes and excavators were busy demolishing buildings and disposing of debris. Hotel Crown Plazza in the background. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Brian Taylor, a close friend of mine for 30 years, was killed on this site when the CTV building collapsed on 22 February. The building has been demolished and the slab at the right side of the photo is where the building once stood. I stood awhile, said a prayer for Brian, and thanked him for all he did for me. I talked to Prue, his wife today, and we discussed how yesterday would have been his birthday. Photo: Bob McKerrow

A bunch of flowers on the fenced off wire cordon at the CTV building, brings colour to a solemn scene. photo: Bob McKerrow

Juddy (Robin Judkin's) shows me the gaps and cracks in his house which sustained much damage during the February earthquake. His hillside section has a faultline running through it and there is an errie feeling of 'what next.'  Juddy has been severely traumatised by the damage and the uncertainty that awaits him, and other Christchurch residents. Gavin, Ruia and I walked along the beach with him, and climbed up to his hill-top house and enjoyed a pot of tea and bisciuts. Photo: Bob McKerrow 
Although having a damaged house, a section that may crumble away in the next quake,  Juddy was able to find some humour. As we walked along Sumner beach  we came to a decapitated Shag Rock, he said " let's try and do the first ascent of Shag Rock," now headless and renamed by Juddy as 'Shag Pile.' So Judkins asked me to join him on the first known ascent of 'Shag Pile," a difficult climb on shattered rock. Juddy led up a steep gulley, almost to the summit, which we reached, almost together. From the top of Shag Pile we could see Ed Cotter's shattered house, pictured below. Bizzare humour for bizzare situations.
What is left of the home of my old friend Ed Cotter, teeters on the cliff edge above Shag Rock, Sumner. Some houses plummeted down during the February quake, and many of these abandoned houses sit precariously at the edge. Photo: Bob McKerrow

On the left a wall of containers  act as a barrier to falling rocks from the hillside. The houses and buildings on the right are abandoned and very unsafe, Photo: Bob McKerrow
Avonside which is in the Red Area,  has suffered from liquefaction, subsidence and people have no alternative but to move. It will revert back to park lands. Photo: Bob Mckerrow

It was fascinating to study first hand the effects of liquefaction in Christchurch yesterday which is a phenomenon in which the strength and stiffness of a soil is reduced by earthquake shaking or other rapid loading. Liquefaction and related phenomena have been responsible for tremendous amounts of damage in historical earthquakes around the world.

The photo above is taken inside a building where I am showing the old and dried layers. In my hand I have my back foot on the layer from the Feb EQ, and my other foot is standing on the new wet layer, which spurted out in the recent June earthquake.
Tomorrow, Monday 19 July, I will be meeting NZ Red Cross staff and volunteers who are part of a large team providing grants and crucial services to earthquake affected people in Christchurch and environs. The NZ Red Cross have raised 100 million NZ dollars.

On Friday in Wellingtom I met Junita Douglass at the NZ Red cross HQ. She runs the cash grant programme in Christchurch and i had a chance to talk about the details with her. We had previously met in Aceh Indonesia where she worked for the Bristish Red Cross on livelihood programmes.
Photo: Bob McKerrow