|Sunday, 14 April 2002|
On horseback for peace and charity
by CHITRA WEERASINGHE
They see the silver lining of hope and prosperity in that dark cloud of conflict, despair, frustration and destruction, that had thus far engulfed and hampered the progress of the people living in northern Sri Lanka. More so the children.
And they, Christine Anderson and Nihara Jayatilleke Rutnam, two young women who are determined to assist the people in the war ravaged north, will do that by going to Jaffna on horseback.
Is their proposed journey to Jaffna on horseback a gimmick?
Give it your own interpretation. There are a thousand different ways of doing things in a scheme of assistance. You have only to make up your mind about how you are to do it. And remember even a gimmick could, like a lottery, provide relief to the needy. What did their husbands and families say about this, their crazy or call it what you may, decision to ride to Jaffna on horseback?
My husband said: " 'Christine it's dangerous.' My son was non commital", said Christine.
"Mine was most enthusiastic and offered me assistance," said Nihara.
The green light having been given to them by their husbands, was sufficient inducement for these two women to go ahead with this, their ingenious idea of a 'Peace for Children' journey on horseback. They wasted no time and by mid February had drawn up their itinerary and intended project plan which was, according to them "just a basic one and concentrated on a small area in Jaffna.
But as time moved on and people got to know about it, became enthusiastic and offered assistance, this small project "got bigger and bigger by the day."
With an understanding, enthusiastic and ever willing to help husband and no children to keep her confined to the four walls of her home, Nishara appears to be the ideal companion, assistant and friend- in- need to Christine on this, her dream mission.
One of the first things, Christine and Nihara say they did was to get in touch with the relevant authorities of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) who arranged for them to go to the uncleared areas of the Vanni.
That took them to places like Mankulan, Kilonochchi, Mullativu, Paranthan where they were able to see the conditions of the roads assess the situation there and also identify the areas needing assistance.
Christine says she was encouraged by the response they received.
"We went there with our eyes wide open. The welcome we got was unimiginable. Even with the appalling conditions there, the people had a smile on their faces."
And Nihara remarked: "I knew things were bad there, but that it was that bad I did not imagine in my wildest dreams. And that is how, though initially I wanted to do a small project, I was convinced we had to do something more substantial for them."
Last month Christine and Nihara spent three days in the Vanni and two days in Jaffna.
In Jaffna they were assisted by officials of the GTZ ( German Technical Co-operation) who provided them with transport, a driver, accommodation and meals.
In the Vanni they were assisted by the SLRCS and "Dr Jayalath Jayawardena, Minister of Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Refugees who gave them " his unstinted supported."
During that tour of Jaffna and the Vanni they identified three projects they would wish to embark on. They are the schools, the Children's Ward of the Base Hospital in the Vanni and nine refugee camps in the Vanni. As for the schools, there are six on Delft island, two in Kayts and two along the A9 highway.
During their assessments, they found that the projects they planned had their own unique needs. For example, one school had no water nor toilet facilities. And there was a boy who desperately needed spectacles. Some schools had no furniture; one school could not offer the students even a snack and if the children did not receive a meal they did not attend school.
Christine and Nihara intend meeting these requirements by way of sponsorship/funds and so have spoken to the international schools here requesting them to adopt a school in any of the identified areas, at least for one year.
The horses which Christine and Nihara are to ride on are being given to them by generous race horse owners who have stables in Nuwara Eliya
We were originally to do our entire journey from Colombo to Jaffna on horseback, but we were warned that logisticwise it was not possible and we will, therefore, be travelling on horseback only from Vavuniya to Jaffna covering approximately 90 miles, said Christine.
And so they leave from Colombo by car to Vavuniya on May 11 at 3 am. They will stay there for two days and then proceed from there on horseback to Jaffna on the A9 highway and arrive in Jaffna on May 18.
They will, of course, stop at various places to give themselves and their horses a breather.
Christine said they will be taking with them a horse transporter to carry two spare horses.
They will have four horse keepers from each of the horse owners
stables; a farrier who will shoe the horses; a veterinary surgeon and co-ordinators.
They will also do a test ride from Vavuniya prior to their ride to Jaffna
on that great day so as to ensure that all is and goes well.
An ingenious idea by two determined women to assist the people in war ravaged Vanni
Christine, a British national is a mother of a 14-year-old boy attending the British School in Colombo.
She came here along with her son in April last year, when her husband opted to join a company that was assisting Sri Lanka in setting up a textile printing establishment in Avissawella.
How was she to spend her time in Lanka while her husband was hard at work; and her son spending most of his time in school?
She joined a horse riding school. She was familiar with horses; had been riding them when quite young; and the last horse she owned was when she was 15.
Having thus re-commenced her favourite sport and being good at it too, she participated in the Mt. Lavinia Beach horse race competition held in October 2000 and won that race. "And a nice cup too," she said.
What has that got to do with riding a horse to Jaffna?
"I conceived the idea of doing something that could benefit Sri Lanka and my determination to do so on horseback was the result of a flippant remark by a person that I was riding horses here because I had nothing more profitable to do," said Christine. "It was then that I thought of doing something useful for this country by riding on a horse for charity.
For this purpose I would go to different regions of the island distributing essential items. I discussed my idea and intentions with my friends Chandran and Nihara and Nihara while agreeing it was an excellent idea, said she too would like to join me." said Christine.
Initially though surprised and fearing the worst, both her husband and
son are now happy and supportive of her horse riding expedition.
Nihara Jayatilleke Rutnam, a one-time career woman turned housewife since her marriage to Chandran Rutnam, Chairman, Lionair and Film Locations Services Ltd., says she met Christine at a riding school in the suburbs of Sri Lanka and both of them rode together.
"I was also a participant in the Mt. Lavinia horse riding competition along with Christine but I was thrown off the horse 15 ft away from the winning post, she laughs. It was in February this year that Christine told her about a journey she was to do in this island on horseback.
" I said I liked to join her and suggested we concentrate on one area. Since peace in this country is of paramount importance and peace in Jaffna in the offing, why not help the children there, I suggested and Christine thought it a fine idea," said Nihara.
Produced by Lake House