Trail Sri Lanka: Celebrating the Sri Lankan spirit

“Oya kattiyada uthurata awidinne?” (Are you folk walking to the North?)

Not exactly the kind of question one is asked at 7.30am on a Friday morning. But it wasn’t your average Friday morning. At that point, a friend and I were making our way towards Ja Ela after starting off at Galle Face Green at 6am, a 26 kilometre journey. On foot.

Why would anyone do that, in this day and age? Walk? 26km at 6am? A journey which can be made in 45 minutes or less by vehicle?

We had joined the Trail Sri Lanka journey for the day, a spontaneous decision made the day before. I had been following the Trail Sri Lanka project from the time I had heard about it, because it appealed to me on many levels. One, was that it was hoping to raise US$ 2 million to build a paediatric cancer ward at the Jaffna General Hospital. Two, the idea of walking 670 kilometres over 27 days, from Dondra to Point Pedro, seemed like a fantastic way to see the country. Three, and I think the most important – awareness.

As someone who has been involved in charity work with different organizations for more than 12 years, I’m a firm believer that there is never a contribution that is too small. In fact, it is far better to have a hundred people donate Rs 100/- for a cause rather than one person donate Rs 10,000/-. That is why I think Trail Sri Lanka is such a great idea. By walking across the country, through the most urban and also the most rural areas, they are raising awareness about the need for the cancer ward in the North. People who see this group of people walking are immediately curious about the purpose of this walk. People who read about it think it is a fantastic idea and want to know how they can contribute. And there are enough and more ways – from joining the walk to buying a brick to even buying a coffee milkshake and have part of the proceeds donated to Trail Sri Lanka! Another positive about raising maximum possible awareness is that more awareness you raise, the more people you are accountable to. Almost everyone who contributed in some way will keep track of the progress of this project to see if the dream of building the paediatric cancer ward is realised.

When the effects of the walk started setting in later on in the day and I was limping along, people asked me why I couldn’t just have given the money and saved myself the pain. It’s true; I could have but the idea of joining this journey even for a day appealed to me, even though I had not even thought about joining it until less than 24 hours before the journey. I knew people who had walked the previous day and followed their updates via Facebook and Twitter. There was something contagious about the enthusiasm I was seeing and it had been so long since I had seen people, especially the increasingly apathetic young generation that I belong to, coming together for anything. At 5.15am that day Galle Face Green, there was so much energy in the air. A time when all these people would have normally been fast asleep, they felt so strongly about a cause that made them want to somehow come show their support. At 11.15am when I looked around at the people who were resting in the grounds where the journey had ended for the day in Ja Ela, there was still that amazing energy and vibe I had witnessed in the morning. I was exhausted and I had nothing but utmost respect for the group of people who had committed to walking the entire distance over 27 days.

As we made our way from Galle Face Green to Ja Ela, I saw that Sri Lankan spirit of generosity which has become so rare in the past few years, witnessed in all its glory last when the Tsunami hit back in 2004. I saw young and old people alike – on the road, in their vehicles, on the bus dropping coins and notes into the tills carried by some of the walkers on the journey. I saw old men in white sarongs giving out bottles of water to the people walking. I saw tiny kades setting up water and drinks stations with just around 8 to 10 glasses – probably all that they had. I saw people on the road encouraging the people to keep walking. What was most heartening about all this was that I know some of these people had no idea about what Trail Sri Lanka was about exactly – who was walking the whole distance, who was organising it. They just knew that these people who were walking were trying to raise money to build a cancer ward in Jaffna, and that knowledge alone seemed more than enough for them to come forward and contribute.

Being there, just to witness that, is why I am glad I walked that day.