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

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