If you’re visiting Sri Lanka and are intent on seeing something other than the 1,600 kms of coastline that the island has to offer you’ll probably find yourself considering a visit to Polonnaruwa, the town famed for it’s 1,000 year old ruins that were declared a World Heritage site in 1988. I’ve been there a couple of times and have always enjoyed my visits, most recently in May 2014 after we’d completed our Sri Lankan Airlines and LSR Coast to Coast cycling and hiking adventure. We’d had a few days rest at the east coast beach resort of Passikudah and had to get back across the island to the west coast in order to fly home so we decided to take our time over the journey as Lamia hadn’t seen either Polonnaruwa, Sigiriyia or Dambulla, all places worthy of at least a few hours of any tourists or photographers time.
Our day at Polonnaruwa was good (see our photos below to get an idea of what you might experience there) but the reason for this article is to tell you about what happened after we left the ruins. It was something of a last minute decision by LSR to take us to the children’s home in Polonnuruwa and to be honest we wished that we’d known about it a few weeks earlier so we could’ve raised some funds to take with us, as in the end all we could offer the children was £20 worth of biscuits as we didn’t have any spare money to get anything more substantial and even if we had there was no shop in the area selling ‘real’ food like rice, cooking stock and veg in bulk (unlike England there’re aren’t supermarkets around every corner in Sri Lanka, they’re only in main towns). Hence we’re telling you this now, so if you’re planning to find yourself in Polonnaruwa sometime in the future and want to help the kids, you’ve got the time to work out how much you can afford/how much you can raise.
A little money goes a long way in Sri Lanka. I helped a children’s home there a few years ago and found that around £300 worth of food, which I was able to buy in a local supermarket with the help of LSR staff, fed about 40 children for a month. So even £80 or so can support a children’s home for a week, if that’s what you can spare.
You probably know how it is if you donate to a charity in England, or anywhere else in the West. Most of them do great work but up to half of what you give them is spent on admin costs. That is, staff wages, office supplies, that sort of thing. I also find it a little unsatisfying handing over a cheque, or making an online payment, and then not knowing what my money is being spent on compared to taking the cash with me on holiday and then using it personally to help people directly. The smiles you’re given as you hand over the food lets you know that you’re doing something very great indeed, and then there’s the added opportunity to get some interesting and memorable portrait photography done…
We arrived at the Polonnaruwa children’s home about 15 minutes after leaving the ancient ruins. The kids were playing on the front porch; they’d finished their school lessons and were filling in time before dinner. We’re both keen photographers so whilst I went off to buy the biscuits Lamia set about taking some photos.
As you can see the children are well cared for and hopefully our visit was as satisfying for them as it was for us. Next time we’re in the area we intend to stay longer and also raise more money beforehand so that we might buy a load of food and take it there with us.
Here’s a final memory of our visit, of our LSR guide, Siri, chatting with the children and interpreting for us.
If you’re going to visit Polonnaruwa and are thinking of supporting the children’s home get in touch with LSR first of all (http://www.lsr-srilanka.com/contactus.php), they arrange everything we do in Sri Lanka and we’re always very satisfied with their service; they also know the ropes about where you could buy food in bulk and how best to help the children’s home. If you book a tour with them you can also use the van they provide to transport the food (the best value rice comes in 25kg sacks, not something you’ll be able to tuck into your backpack!).
And here as promised are the photos of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa and surroundings. As you can see, it’s a beautiful and interesting historical place. Combined with a visit to the nearby children’s home it’s a superb, very rewarding day out.
To find out more about the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, see http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/201
If you’d like to know more about LSR, please visit www.lsr-srilanka.com
and if you’d like to discover more about the service offered by Sri Lankan Airlines - www.srilankan.com