SUBA UDE provides physical, creative and emotional projects for displaced persons living in welfare camps in Sri Lanka. We focus on psychosocial needs beyond food, shelter and medicine.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The volleyball is broken, what do you do?

As I write this on yet another balmy, underwear-suction-cupped-to-my-ass evenings in Sri Lanka, assemblymen from Singer are constructing 12 sewing machines outside the office window.  We have organized sewing cooperatives in our camps and will be opening sewing centers in all of them this week.  Along with these brand spankin' new sewing machines, we will be giving out 48,000 meters of thread, 600 buttons and 45,000 ruppees worth of plastic chairs and work tables.

Our other big projects this week include the construction of playgrounds in 2 of our camps and the launch of our after-school activity program.  Wanna interviewed 18 candidates today for 6 activity-leadership positions.  "I never pictured myself being the person to ask someone 'The volleyball is broken, what do you do?" she said, "their answers ranged from 'I'm gonna pick that thing up and patch it myself' to 'we don't have one, but our carum balls table is broken, can you fix it?'."

These leaders are pivotal to the sustainability of our project.  We can't just drop off sports equipment and art supplies in the camps, we need to facilitate leadership and "build capacity."  Through a cash-4-work program, IOM will be paying 1 person in each camp to lead activities every day after school.

We invited 21 folks to our first teacher training workshop.  We gave an equal opportunity to attend the workshop to all persons interested in learning how to lead activities and empower youth.  Last week we brought men, women and youth from our camps to the IOM office, got them drunk on tea and biscuits (cookies) and sat them down for a marathon workshop.  The workshop was largely conducted by a local NGO, Rural Friends (a.k.a. Institute for Environmental Community Development). Another local NGO, Women in Need (WIN) opened for them. Women in Need is a Sri Lankan NGO that provides free counseling and legal advice to victims of violence.

From this group, we invited 7 folks to attend a second workshop later in the week led by World Vision.

In addition to our in-camp teachers, we are contracting with the Matara Cultural Center, to provide traditional art, music and dance classes in each of the camps for the next 3 months.

All in a days work for the suba-ud crew.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

This Ain't No Pinochio

Click to watch the puppet show slideshow (quicktime movie)

Click and read article about puppet show (pdf document)

$250 went a hell of long long long way last night. The show was an amazing success! It was epic.

So it started at 3. The puppeteers arrived at Matara Maha Vidyala Playground camp and started with a workshop, teaching the kids about the tradition of puppeteering in Sri Lanka and how marionettes work.

Then an Italian magician put on a show, delighting the children pulling stuff out of hats and making things disappear--your grade-A color-by-number hocus pocus. Then Israel Aid came and led an hour of dramatic/physical therapy games. The kids were in heaven, just rolling with laughter.

While the kids were going crazy, Stephanie took off to do some guerilla marketing. She grabbed a stack of flyers and ran through the streets, shoving them into hands, screaming (in Sinhala) "PUPPET SHOW TONIGHT!" Up and down the streets, she found an audience everywhere- waiting at the bus stop, in the bar, at the gas station, at the family vegetable stand (where she stopped to join-in on a board game and declare herself an Olympic champion to my 10-year-old opponent who of course beat her senseless)… She ran into a classroom full of children who, when they heard her speak Sinhala, burst into fits of laughter (imagine a dog reciting Shakespeare- that's what it is like to hear a foreigner speak Sinhala), she jumped in front of buses full of school kids, chatted up old mama's carrying baskets on their heads, stopped by a camp at a Buddhist temple and on and on until Save the Children found her and her translator lost  on the side of the road and gave them a lift back
to the camp.

When she got back, it was 6 pm, an hour before show-time. The entire camp was partying. Music was blasting, volleyballs were being spiked all over the place, a Korean NGO was making balloon animals and an enormous dance party was raging.

At 7 when the sun-set, we turned the music down and everyone brought the plastic chairs out from their shelters over to the amphitheatre. All the children sat in front on tarps- the same tarps used as walls for their "homes." This is a very large camp.  The theatre is on one side, the shelters on the other.The kids sat with their backs to the shelters. We have no doubt that when the curtain rose, they all but forgot the life behind them.

For 2 hours, a cast of marionettes, including a fire dancer, rocked out. We couldn't understand a word of it but managed to laugh our heads off. For the price of 2 Broadway show tickets, we gave 400 people an evening of laughter and fun. As the marionettes took their final bow, an ice-cream truck pulled into the camp. We gave ice-cream cones to 200 children (for $30!).

At the end of the show, the road manager leaned over to us and whispered, "now this is relief."

The poster from the event

Photos from the event

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


The Suba Ud Crew travels by tuk-tuk

Boat at sea

I wonder where that fish could be…

Residents at the market

Tsunami Drawings

Wanna draws with the kids

A Budding Artist, Devinuara Camp

Fooling around with the little ones

Heather collages

Dillini’s cut outs. He explained them to us as (bottom left to right) boat, temple, ruins, tree (above) house



The kids paste their cutouts, and sport their collages

Heather’s karaoke class #1 : The Devinuara kids learn “Get up, Stand up”

The girls teach us Singhalese dances

Props to the boys from Colombo, who brought shoes, lunch, and cricket sets for residents in 4 camps

A young smile, Devinuara Camp

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

If you can’t run with the big dogs…

What the hell are we doing here? Existential quandaries aside, here’s your answer :

In international developmentgalese, a foreign language we are becoming quite fluent in, we (Stephanie, Wanna and Heather) are creating a self-sustaining participatory psycho-social program within the IOM (International Organization for Migration) supported IDP (internally displaced persons) camps in Matara region (check out this map... we are on the bottom).

They call us Social Mobilizers (Mobil+Organize).
Social, because we love mixers, ice breakers, name tags, karaoke and friends.
Mobile, because we cannot sit still.

Upon visiting these 6 camps, it was very apparent to us that displaced persons were totally lacking name-tags and social diversion like karaoke. To address this problem and assist them in reestablishing a sense of normality, we are introducing a plan of sustainable stimulating activities. We are training resident teachers to provide physical, creative and emotional outlets in the form of sports games, performing and visual art activities, livelihood projects and community events.

Our goal is to create this program and leave it running itself within the next 3-weeks. So, we are not just handing out volleyballs and markers. We are creating a system of resource distribution that is based on the notion of capacity building or as our boss says: Teaching them to fish and giving them fishing net so they can eat for a lifetime. This has very literal implications here in Sri Lanka, where of the 30,000 registered fishing boats only 10,000 remain. The ultimate objective is to enable the camp residents to be active agents in reestablishing their communities. We stole that line from the 750-page UNICEF handbook “Technical Notes: Special Considerations for Programming in Unstable Situations.” We recommend this handbook to all of girlfriends going through a breakup.

With a budget that will only last us one month (or one night out in New York), we are putting our multi-tasking skills to the test. We are spending a great deal of time in the camps surveying needs and creating a relationship with the residents. We don’t want to be just another group of foreigners with clipboards who take notes, nod compassionately and zoom away in their Land Rovers. We are learning names, practicing Sinhala, dancing with them, jumping rope with them, putting up tents with them, playing music together, playing volleyball and cricket, drawing, singing and most importantly- listening.

We are also creating a livelihood project where we will distribute sewing machines to each camp. We are planning community gatherings, as the neighbors to the camps are very segregated from the IDP’s. On Friday the leading marionette company in Sri Lanka will come to one of our camps to teach the children how to make marionettes and then they will perform a full-length show.

In the next few days we will have our first teacher training, a city-wide marionette show, the construction of a playground, the distribution of thousands of dollars worth of sports equipment and the implementation of a livelihood project once 12 sewing machines arrive from Colombo.

To keep up with the production, we have taken to spiking our chai and overindulging in refined sugar. A girls gotta do what a girls gotta do.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Livelihood Begins

After a fast and furious 4 days of visiting and surveying camps, we identified seamstresses and embroiderers within them. This week, with funding from I.O.M. sewing and embroidery machines will be placed in the I.O.M. camps in Matara. We're in process of fulfilling an order from the hunger site for these bags, which are predominantly only carried by monks here in Sri Lanka. We love these bags, stylish, durable, and for a good cause. We'll post info when they're on sale. Proceeds will fund the similar projects for displaced persons currently living in these camps, supporting a self sufficient livelihood. Your purchase will aid these people take a step back to their lives and help them get back to work. This will facilitate a move closer to a sense of normalcy, and to a new life.

Dodanduwa Fishing VIllage

On our way south from Colombo, we stopped at small camp of fishermen families. With the kind donations from Brighton College, we brought them much needed mosquito nets, matresses, and a bag of eggs and onions for each tent. Most importantly, we brought volleyball, and the the village children came running. They began playing and laughing before the net was even up, and continued into the pouring rain.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Cheers Mate!

One of our earliest and most generous donors, brighton college has generously supported us from the beginning.

Sunday, March 06, 2005


Steph and Heather pay homage to the Buddha after a Suba Ud meeting.

JUNGLE GYM FEVER: Steph researching playground equipment for camps.

IT'S SHOWTIME!: Heather and her young friend playing around outside of his temporary shelter.

BACK TO SCHOOL: Children eagerly line up to receive new school workbooks.

INFLATABLE FUN: Heather entertains the troops with some fancy balloon tricks.

On this Isle of Serendip

In Sinhala, the common language of Sri Lanka, "Suba Udaesanak" means"good morning"- the universal greeting to a new day. As survivors ofthe tsunami begin to wake up to this new day, they are being greeted by a complete lack of purpose and activity.

After the tsunami ravaged Sri Lanka, the coast was left a graveyard, littered with skeletons of houses. The survivors were led to camps inland away from these ruins. As the government and international NGO's work feverishly to re-build, the displaced people sit in their camps and wait. While visiting these camps, we noticed a cloud of malaise hanging over the people.

Project Suba Ud aims to provide physical, creative and emotional outlets for children and adults living in displacement camps in southern Sri Lanka. We focus on psycho social needs beyond food, shelter and clothing by supporting individual and community endeavors. During the next few weeks we will provide playground and sports equipment to each camp and facilitate group arts and sports activities. We will also work with displaced tailors to develop a small international craft production business. Finally, we will invite the local community to engage with those inside the camps through activities such as film nights, guest performances and sports games.

On this Isle of Serendip, we have discovered that of which we were not in quest. We came here to dig some ditches and lay some bricks, but have discovered a greater opportunity to help the survivors heal. Thousands of miles across the oceans, we hope you'll join us on this adventure.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

About Us

STEPHANIE BLEYER lives in New York City. After bicycling across the United States and Cuba to study and promote socially progressive issues, she moved to Nairobi, Kenya where she taught Caopeira to street-boys. She recently worked in San Francisco planning events for Native Americans. Stephanie speaks limited Swahili.

HEATHER GOODWIN is a California native currently working as a Creative Designer for film and television. For 10 years, she has instructed children and adults in Yoga, Mountaineering and Art. She credits her years of travel in developing countries to her commitment to helping people regain hope and pride. Heather is conversational in Spanish and Sinhala.

WANNA CAMCAM is a visual artist from the Philippines. In 2004 she designed, produced and distributed resource kits for the homeless staying in Los Angeles shelters. The success of these kits led her to Sri Lanka to further merge her creative talents with humanitarian efforts. She speaks English, German, Tagalog and French.

MICHELE LOTT, a native Californian who's worked in film advertising, illustration & graphic design for the past 17 years, volunteered this last year with Common Ground (multi-resource program for the HIV+ homeless), and Big Brothers/Big Sisters art mentoring program. After receiving Suba Ude's announcement email, she arrived 3 weeks later with donations and supplies. She speaks conversational French and Spanish.