Monday, February 28, 2011

Going Home

Well... The study tour has come to an end and we are leaving for the airport for our 2:00 AM flight to London. We have seen more than just elephants, monkeys and co-ops. We have experienced generosity and friendship, we have seen passion and commitment and we have been inspired by the brilliance and hard work of the Sri Lankan's. From a co-op perspective, they have much to teach the rest of the world.
Photo: Members of study tour group in Sri Lanka

Before we left, our team of 10 Canadian co-operators re-affirmed our commitment to CDF by setting a fund raising goal of $150,000 by Christmas. With a match of 3:1 by CIDA, this will raise a total of $600,000 for this worthwhile work .

I feel honored to have spent time with this talented Canadian team and honored to have these new Sri Lankan friends.

I am heading home to a snow fall warning in Vancouver. I can't wait. I look forward to rejoining my family in Abbotsford.

Those of you who have followed this blog from across the country ... Thank you.
It is amazing how co-ops can help break the cycle of poverty.
Please consider giving to CDF. Make a gift today.
By: Barry Delaney

Friday, February 25, 2011

What our support means to a village

Today was a very important day on our study mission because we got to meet the beneficiaries of CCA and CDF's Tsunami relief efforts in Sri Lanka. CCA had provided the capital for a loan fund for Sri Lankans to access through the SANASA Development Bank to help encourage and accelerate the rebuilding process.

Near the town of Matara we visited a small village of 200 families. We were first met by the manager and board of their credit union. After introductions we were eager to move out into the village and see first-hand how some of the assistance from CCA was being used to improve the individual lives of the villagers.

With the warm hospitality that we have come to know and love we were invited into the homes of villagers who have borrowed money from their credit union to start small businesses, most of which are run out of their homes.

Throughout the afternoon we visited; a garment production business, a blacksmith, a goldsmith, rice paddy fields, a farm with buffalo, chickens, cinnamon, vegetables, and flowers, a dried fish production business and a brick maker. Some of these individuals have received and paid back multiple loans and continue to increase their own capacity very proudly and very responsibly.

One thing we have noticed about all those involved with SANASA, as well as the beneficiaries of the loan program, is that they don't look at assistance as simply charity or a donation to put a short term patch on a long term problem. They look at every dollar as an investment opportunity for long term development to continue their journey out of poverty. This perspective is a key strength which, combined with an unwavering commitment to co-operative values and principals, has made it possible for the Sri Lankan people to envision and begin to create a new and even better society in the face of war and natural disaster.

By: Mark Sparrow

Walking the long road together

Today we travelled from Kandy back to Colombo where we attended a meeting of the SANASA Federation.

Approximately 50 primary society managers were in attendance and we were greeted very warmly by the Chair of the Federation and the manager who also acted as our translator. We learned that they had been having a strategic planning session to discuss business challenges facing the credit unions, and in particular competition. They also told us about the many community projects taken on by each branch. For example, in one community they were focusing on youth engagement and financial literacy while another community branch built a stretch of road.

One of the SANASA group revenue generating projects is a printing press which they use to disseminate information related to the SANASA movement. We had the opportunity to visit the operation set up in the same building where we were meeting.

In the evening a round table took place with a consortium of partners from around the world who assist and partner with SANASA on a number of projects. Dr. Kiri, the revered leader of the SANASA movement, led the discussion. Also participating were representatives from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the United Nations (UN), the World Bank, the Embassy of the Netherlands, as well as an organization from India specializing in creating private universities in Asia.

Many topics were addressed, but one that came up more than once was Sri Lanka’s transition from a developing country and the different levels of support that are still very much needed. Too often donor countries pull out of a country once a certain indicator has been met, but a long term partnership, investment, and development strategy is required for continued poverty reduction. CCA's commitment to Sri Lanka and the SANASA movement was brought up many times in this discussion as a partnership that is working and that should remain to promote long term development.

By: Mark Sparrow

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

SANASA: Making a Difference

It is 2:30 am and I’m awake because my mind is full of everything we have seen here in Sri Lanka. I am so impressed by what has been accomplished by CCA and their partners, the SANASA Federation and Development Bank. In the last two days we visited two SANASA primary societies (credit unions) and one District Union. We are currently staying at the SANASA College campus.

The societies greeted us with warmth and appreciation for the Canadian contribution to SANASA and their communities. We saw that loans provided by the societies make a real difference to the standard of living of the members. In addition to offering savings and loans, they obviously put their members first by providing insurance schemes to cover funeral costs, a loan interest-free for 10 months, and an annual get-together for members. They have a pre-school and have recently opened a library as well. They don’t just fund the needs of their members, but they fill the needs of members and their community.

We were late for our next appointment because there was a traffic jam caused by an elephant wandering down the road!

Photo: Elephant blocking the tour bus.
We were privileged to celebrate the opening of the new office of District Union (similar to the Credit Union Centrals back home in Canada). Because of the elephant, the members waited for us in their 3rd floor meeting room in 32 degree weather. The Minister of Labour and Mr. Kiriwandeniya (or Kiri to his friends) where in attendance and made impassioned speeches about the SANASA movement, pride in their accomplishments, community involvement, future plans and Canadian support through CCA. An invitation was extended to our Canadian delegation to take the podium. I was moved to share how impressed we are with SANASA, accomplishing so much with so little and truly making a difference in their communities. I also thanked them for their generous hospitality.

Photo: Dedication plaque.

Our next stop we met the first Chairman of the SANASA movement; a gentleman in his 80’s who is passionate and proud of their achievements. We met with the current Board of Directors and found out they have monthly meeting in which approximately 150 members attend with more coming out to their AGM. One SANASA bank with 762 members had just over 400 members out to their AGM! Can you imagine?

We signed their 30 year old guest book with signatures from people all over the world. We found several Canadians had been at the society before us, including Jim Barr, a strong CDF Champion.

At the entrance of SANASA College (hopefully to become SANASA University in 2012, the United Nations International Year of the Co-operative) we were greeted by seven pillars representing the seven co-operative principles. Here they believe in the co-operative principles and know first-hand how a co-operative can change the future. The college teaches agriculture and farming skills alongside banking and insurance. I noticed the course schedule included “The Role of the Audit Committee” and Human Resources Management. Classrooms included an IT building where we saw 25 IT students being trained in a new banking system, as the SANASA Federation will be undergoing a bank system conversion soon. Finding a learning facility on a mountain-top in the middle of the jungle where banking, farming and IT are just steps apart was amazing and inspirational! The Campus also includes a Women’s College funded by CCA and a pre-school opened in August 2010.

Time to get some sleep. Tomorrow we head back to Colombo for more meetings and a dinner with a visiting delegation of women from India.

By: Nancy Cooper

PS – We squeezed in some “fun” time in Kegalle. We saw a herd of elephants bathing in the river and I actually held a 6 foot long python. My daughter will be so impressed!!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

CBC Interview –Mark Sparrow

On Valentine’s Day last week, Mark Sparrow, Business Development Officer at the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council, visited CBC Radio Information Morning Cape Breton to talk about his passion for travel and charitable work. In the interview, he speaks about being a participant in the Sri Lanka Study Tour and what he hopes to learn about CCA’s co-operative development projects, as well as his excitement about fundraising for CDF when he returns to Canada.

Listen to Mark by clicking on this link:
Study Mission Sri Lanka
(NOTE: This link takes you to the CBC Radio Information Morning Cape Breton home page. Click on the audio link below the the heading Study Mission Sri Lanka.)

Photo: Mark Sparrow


Ayubowan is a common Sri Lankan greeting that is spoken while clasping the hands and slightly bowing. It means "May you live long." We learned this piece of culture today from one of our presenters, Lalith “Leftie” Gunaratne, who is a trainer/facilitator who specializes in team building, employee training, business, and renewable energy in Sri Lanka. Lalith also has roots in Canada having spent a number of years growing up in the Toronto region before moving back home again.

This morning we travelled to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) Public Support Unit (PSU) office in Colombo. We were very grateful for the learning opportunity provided to us by Lalith who truly seemed to know everything that there is to know about Sri Lanka; its history, international relations, NGOs, government operations and policies that have worked or failed, the economy, etc. It took no time at all to grasp just how passionate he is about Sri Lanka and the opportunities for development and continued increase in the quality of life for all of it’s people.

Photo: Lalith “Leftie” Gunaratne at the PSU in Colombo.

Some memorable points of interest from Laliths’ talk included:

  • He created a solar panel installation business in the 80’s that brought solar electricity to many rural areas of Sri Lanka that previously had no power source, or who had to rely on transporting batteries to charging stations weekly.
  • Women played a key roll in the uptake of this new technology from household to household.
  • 80% of the population now has access to electricity.
  • Over 95% of Sri Lankans are literate.
  • In some areas of Sri Lanka many of the mothers move to take advantage of job opportunities in the Middle East, having to leave behind their family for long periods of time.
  • Some of Sri Lanka’s key exports are rice, tea, coconut, rubber, cinnamon, and other spices.

Photo: The CDF Study Tour group learning about Sri Lanka.

Next we received a briefing from Pierre Heroux who is a representative from CIDA and a Counsellor (development) & Head of Aid with the Canada High Commision. Pierre provided an overview of CIDA priorities and projects around the world as well as their development contributions in Sri Lanka. Canada has committed $6m for the next 5 years and has previously contributed $135m towards tsunami relief efforts. SANASA, a significant multi-stakeholder co-operative complex which is supported by CCA, received 9.6m through CIDA towards 3 different projects. There has also been $26.7m of humanitarian aid contributed by Canada through the UN, Red Cross, and other Canadian NGOs towards rebuilding efforts following the civil war which ended in 2009.

Photo: Pierre Heroux speaks to the group.

Some CIDA projects operating in Sri Lanka aim to identify vulnerable groups and provide microfinancing opportunities to empower individuals, provide vocational training (which would provide credentials that are recognized throughout the nation), as well as a national language program. Things are starting to look hopeful. Since the end of the civil war the economy has been growing at a rate of 8% per year and indicators such as tourism are up.

What a morning! And what an exceptional learning opportunity for all of us! We are so grateful to Lalith and Pierre for taking the time to speak with us. The group is energized and looking forward to spending some time over the next week with organizations who have benefited and grown because of the contributions of CCA, CIDA, SANASA, and partner organizations in Sri Lanka.

By: Mark Sparrow

Welcome to Sri Lanka

We landed at 5:30am Friday Sri Lankan time and we already feel like we belong here. The drive from the airport was about an hour long and we saw the best and worst that Sri Lanka seems to offer – school children in their uniforms, smoggy air with a lot of traffic and lush surroundings with overwhelming hospitality from the people (Sri Lankan’s are passionate about their country).

Photo: CDF Study Tour Group in Sri Lanka

After a quick shower we settled in and had a delicious lunch with Sama from the SANASA Development Bank. Getting to know each other, we discovered over lunch that when Paul eats spicy food he sweats more water than Niagara Falls, Trish has a loud laugh and that Julie is deathly afraid of snakes (she should be, because Sri Lanka has more people die from snakes bites than anywhere else on the planet).

Photo: House of Handicrafts.

In the afternoon, we visited a co-op that sells handicrafts for 65 rural artisans. This work is supported by CCA and they showed their appreciation by serving tea and traditional sweets.

Photo: Sweet Sri Lankan treats.

On the way home we lost a member of our team. Mark was missing. As we drove away, we were worried, but not so much that we would stop. Good news though . . . he was asleep in the back of the bus!

By: CDF Study Tour group

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cape Breton to Colombo: Opportunity of a lifetime

Today I will be patiently waiting with intense excitement at the J.A Douglas McCurdy airport to board the first of 4 flights that will take me from Sydney, Nova Scotia to the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka by early morning Friday to take part in a volunteer co-operative study mission. 

To say I am looking forward to it would be a massive understatement on a number of levels.  Having caught the travel bug early in life, traveling in general has sort of become what I live for.  Traveling anywhere, with anyone, at any given time always provides that blend of spontaneity and change of scenery where, as soon as it’s over, I’m left hanging onto my seat looking forward to the next opportunity to hit the road and see what else there is to see and do.
There’s also the fact that I’ve shoveled my driveway about 9 or 10 times in the last week and a half.   Old man winter seems to be particularly interested in seeing that Cape Breton Island has a season that’s up to his standards this year.  I will welcome the heat and humidity with open pores for any chance to escape the cold.  Not even this screen capture from my iPhone can get me down at this point:

Thunder and lightning?  That’s nothing!  We’re Canadian, we sneeze thunder and lightning!   Bring it on Colombo.  But hopefully it will turn in our favor and look a little more like the Sri Lanka that earned the nickname the Pearl of the Indian Ocean:

The mission, called Journey out of Poverty, involves bringing together 10 co-operative and credit union employees and developers from across Canada to travel through Sri Lanka visiting a number of co-operative and credit union organizations in order to learn how the Sri Lankans are utilizing this model to alleviate poverty following the 25 year civil war that recently ended in 2009, and in rebuilding communities following the devastating tsunami that hit in 2004.
I have always hoped for the opportunity to take part first-hand in some kind of international development work in a meaningful way.  I’ve been active in fundraisers and awareness campaigns for various NGO’s through my volunteer work with Junior Chamber International, such as; JCI Nothing but Nets, Save the Children Canada, and efforts to raise awareness of the UN Millennium Development Goals, but I will likely never meet the people those efforts have benefited, or understand exactly how they live and witness and learn about the issues that affect them daily right there in their own communities. 
That will all change over the next week, all thanks to the good work the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) and the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF) continue to do in providing these opportunities for Canadians to explore how the co-operative model of business is used in developing countries to address various issues including poverty alleviation.  The co-operative model of business instills ownership, empowers individuals, highlights the importance of training and education, promotes democracy and concern for community, and is rooted in the values of self help, self responsibility, and equality.  It’s hard to imagine how any group of individuals who enthusiastically adhere to these values and principals wouldn’t soon find their way on their own journey out of poverty with the right supports.
From what I have read about the Sri Lankan people they are a very warm and hospitable people, so although my surroundings will be foreign to me, as a Cape Bretoner I am expecting a familiar sense of welcoming.  

Sri Lanka has a beautiful and vibrant culture inspired largely by ancient Buddhist traditions, sprinkled with Dutch, Portuguese and British influence throughout the country so I’m expecting a visual overload, not to mention the food…curry, curry, and more curry! 

But more on that later…I’ve got errands to run!
By: Mark Sparrow

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Seeing is believing

Two more sleeps until I make my way to the Toronto airport for the long flight to London and then an even longer flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka.  I am very excited when I think of actually experiencing the Sri Lankan culture. And even more exciting is the fact that our group will be visiting credit unions and co-ops.  I truly believe in people helping people, which is the basis of CCA’s important international development work.  During this Study Tour we will get to see how successful CCA has been in Sri Lanka putting CDF funding to good work. I very much look forward to this trip (although I think Sri Lanka may be even more humid than Ghana if that's possible - I'm sweating just thinking about it!) 

My past CCA Coaching Program trips to Ghana in 2008 and 2009 were very rewarding.  We worked with credit union managers and were able to see the effects of the programs that CCA offers. Women who had attended the Women’s Mentorship Program were able to come back to their credit unions with new knowledge and skills.  And through the Coaching Program we were able to share our Canadian credit union experience with both credit union managers and boards.

Photo: Susan Tustin and fellow CCA volunteer Brian Thorne at Berekum Teachers Credit Union in Berekum, Ghana.

One can only imagine the devastation that occurred in Sri Lanka after the Tsunami in 2004. I am eager to learn more about how CDF funded many relief projects and how CCA worked with long-time partner SANASA to help people slowly rebuild their lives. By being able to see this work first hand, we hope to be able to return to Canada and help raise funds to ensure CDF and CCA can continue to help communities help themselves in Sri Lanka and around the world.

By: Susan Tustin

You too can visit CCA's work in post-Tsunami Sri Lanka by clicking on the links below to see four amazing video stories profiled through CCA's Cinema:

Friday, February 11, 2011

Seven days from today . . .

Seven days from today, I will be in Sri Lanka with my ten fellow volunteers seeing the good co-op and credit union development work that takes place in-country. The strategic purpose of this trip is to open the eyes of these Canadian volunteers, so that that we can return home and raise funds for the worthwhile work of CDF. CDF funds growth and development programs based on co-operative values, to help people and communities around the world work their way out of poverty. 

I am excited about the journey and the outcomes. I know from past experience, having travelled as a volunteer with CCA to Ghana, Malawi and Thailand that the co-op people we will meet will be amazing and inspiring. My work colleagues at First West Credit Union are supportive of this adventure and they seem anxious for me to leave and not too concerned about when I get back.  I like to think that is how credit union people behave when they care about you!

My family is different of course. My wife and I have seven children, with the three youngest ones aged 2 yrs, 4 yrs and 7 yrs. My younger kids want me to take some pictures of the elephants that I will see. Even though I explained to them that I am working with co-ops, that this is not a safari, they are adamant that the elephants are everywhere. I will see what I can do.

Photo: Elephants at Ampara, by Ingrid Fischer CCA Africa Director, formerly stationed in Sri Lanka
My bags are not packed but I do have a mental list, which means I will leave several important items behind. Oh well, I know that we will be in good hands and that the hospitality that we will receive will be great.

Please check our blog and I will keep you all up-to-date on the trials, tribulations and learning that our team encounters on this great co-op journey in Sri Lanka and beyond.

By: Barry Delaney