Saturday, August 22, 2009

Some More Photos

Here is a link to the most recent photos from our last week in Colombo.
Be sure to go through them all. There are some good photos from the 3 week experience.

If you would like any of them, please let me know and I would be glad to send them to you.


The Last Day

I felt that I couldn't miss this opportunity to comment no prices of items in Sri Lanka.

Yes, it's cheap. Most food is around 5 dollars and that's on the expensive side. And products to are a few dollars cheaper per item. And, because of their large garment production industry, you can get brand namew attire for half the price.

That being said, they LOVE to tax tourists. I think last night we ate a hotel, thinking the prices were good at around $6 for an Indian dinner. But then we got the bill. I couldn't believe that tax and tip added an additional 35% to the bill.

It was truly surprising to be here and see that. I think we were all surprised. BUt these taxes are only the greatest at the hotels. Normal places on the side of the road don't have these issues. And if they do, the price you see already includes tax.

So, here we are, on our last day of the program and travelling the City of Colombo, buying last minute gifts and enjoying our last day, i guess you could say, on the beach.

It's been a challenging yet wonderful experience.

When i finally arrive in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon, i will have time to write a reflection on the experience.

Taxes aside, it's a unique country with a lot of delicious food and a fascinating example of true co-existence.

Oh yea, i forgot to add that import tax on cars is close to 300%. Or maybe it's more. Regardless, it's expensive.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Religion in Sri Lanka

I don't think i really wrote about religion yet, but i think i finally got it.

Last night, i met someone who is Bahai. Yes, that religion that many have heard of because of the gorgeous Bahai Gardens in Haifa, Israel, but most don't know about. It was very interesting because the Gentleman had been to Israel a few times to visit the gardens and the Temple.

He said that Bahais believe that their previous religion was good, but that they also believe in Bahai. So, he was a Hindu, so he still believes in the Hindu Gods, but also in the Bahai God. And he also said that his children, at the age of 15 get to choose if they would like to be Bahai.
In a country that is mostly Budhist or Hindu with a small percentage of Muslims and Christians, it was fascinating to hear about a different faith. Especially since there is a great fear amongst some religious people about forced conversion. A practice that was common during the Portugeuse rule, but also somewhat practical today.
These are God fearing people. We stopped at a Buddhist Shrine along one of the roads so our driver could make a donation to the Temple. Because, that is the specific Temple to protect people on journeys.

Now, i know that we have prayers for everything in Judaism, but i just find it interesting how often you see Buddhist Shrines. someone actually made a comment to us, that the government is placing shrines in places that there are no Buddhist, almost to create a point of control.

For now, there is no religious conflict in Sri Lanka. There are extremists on all sides, but even within the Muslim community, they have contained intrareligious violence. Most conflicts within the Islamic neighborhoods are local issues that just happen to be between Muslims.
There is definitely freedom of religion here. And for the first time in my life, i heard someone speak about "The Worlds Largest Religions" and they didn't include Judaism. I think that's because there are literally like 5 of us here. Well, i'm sure that there are more than that because of all the iNGO's, but it is really different.
I am truly the minority of the minority of the minority.

So, that's a little on religion in Sri Lanka. After 2500 years, they're still going strong and making a positive impact.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

And the Meetings Continue

And we continued on with our meetings. MP's, Diplomats, government officials that represented the government and NGO's.

It was interesting to learn about the many parties and issues, but the main issue that separates parties is how to deal with the minorities and government reform.

The politicians here are smooth. Mostly foreign educated and knowledgable in different govenment systems. The opposition parties are still hoping to create a system that will strengthen the local governments. While our meeting with the government representative was limited to discussing the situation in the IDP (Internally displaced persons) camps.

We have entered our last few days and are running workshops for various NGO workers and members from Chambers of Commerce. Today, we spoke about Interfaith Dialogue and the importance of organizational messaging.

For the messaging session, it was amazing how creative some of the logos and taglines were for the fake companies. I think i've determined that for American companies to create simple, yet effective taglines, they should use people who have English as their second language. While many have a very strong vocabulary, it seems they are more likely to use a basic description with great language.

It seems like it's a good new strategy to use. Some of the photos of the logos are up on picasa (or will be shortly).

So, as we continue with our workshops, we are having a few last meetings with representatives from the US Embassy and others and are definitely looking forward to identify our work when we return.

As a quick aside, i ate an entire Red Snapper tonight. Literally. It was wierd having the fish look at me while i was eating, but it was even stranger when Daman ate the eyeballs of the fish.

The Media

There is an interesting thing that happens when you read government run newspapers. It begins to look a lot like 'The Onion'. Literally and figuratively.

We recently met with 2 different media agencies: a newspaper and a blog that is very much like the huffington post.

The blog we met with is called Ground Views and it is a compilation site of articles that discuss various issues that are taking place in Sri Lanka that is not written by the government. They are unique in the sense that it caters to English readers, but that they have a lot of readers in Sri Lanka. The biggest challenge they face is being shut down by the government as a form of censorship.

The newspaper we met with, i can't say its name. But the Editor in Chief is an extremely well connected man who has worked in the past for Presidents. He returned to run his newspaper because he felt, as a journalist, he had to continue to be investigative and impartial.
As for radio and TV, well, haven't really listened or watched it. The TV is mostly in either Sinhala or Tamil and well, the radio, who has time to listen to the radio when there's a TV in your van?

Media holds a special place in the lives of Sri Lanka. Just like in other countries, major newspapers are struggling and are having to find ways to adapt to the drop in advertising, as well as the rise of provincial/regional issues.

It seems that in all aspects of the media, there are those people that want to report the truth, but the government does have an issue with false news spreading worldwide.

So, as we continue on our trip, we hope to either have a TV or radio interview to discuss all of the various programs that we've been having. I'm hoping it will be interesting.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Fundraising Dilemma

It's been an interesting time, learning how organizations here fundraise, or don't.
The majority of the people give me directly to their churches or Temples, but don't give
directly to local organizations. They often depend on aid from international organizations
like the UN or large organizations that support the work of small projects.

It's quite different from the US, where 85% of donations come from 15% of the people. These
organizations now face a tremendous challenge regarding sustainability because if they lose
funding from one source, there is a huge chance that they will fold.

What makes it even more interesting is that there seems to be a lack of a connection with
the Sri Lankan diaspora. Although there are roughly 2.7 million living mostly in Canada,
the UK, US and Australia, they do not seem to be involved in with local organizations.
This is definitely different from the Jewish perspective where we give so much to Israel and
local organizations, as well as the synagogue and various other non-Jewish entities.

Hopefully, now that the war is over, funding will arrive in Sri Lanka for projects that
promote dialogue to help unite the communities.

At the end of the week, we will be leading a workshop on fundraising for young professionals
and members of various chambers of commerce throughout Sri Lanka. I look forward to hearing
from them, what the potential is for raising more money directly from their citizens.