Cadets visit Sri Lanka

Below is IFS Caroline Dent and FS Kirsty Troys report on their recent trip to Sri Lanka with cadets from 344 (Fulham) Squadron.

"Sri Lanka 1st to 14th April 2008

After a long 3 months preparing to go, we were off. Arriving at 344 Fulham & Hammersmith Squadron on Monday 31st March ready to sort and re-pack kit for the next day. It was the first time we had both met the full team that we were going with, so was very exciting. Quiet at first, as soon as we started talking we didn’t stop. Once everyone had sorted out their kit, we all went and chilled out, ate pizza and prepared ourselves for what was going to be an amazing two weeks.

Thanks to London Wings AWO Mundy who picked us up on a large yellow bus to take us to the airport, it wasn’t long before we were all singing (quite awfully) excited that we were leaving.
Arriving at the airport nice and early, with hours to wait around and spend money, we invested in some iPod speakers. These came in very useful throughout the whole trip! The plane journey was very long, with everyone sleeping and eating and talking it was a chance for us to get to know everyone.

We arrived at 7am on 2nd April, with a whole day to relax and catch up with sleep. The heat hit us as soon as we stepped off the plane. An air conditioned coach picked us up and took us to our first hotel. Very nice indeed, with a large swimming pool and a 10 metre walk from a beautiful beach it couldn’t get much better. Mucking around in the swimming pool, sunbathing and sleeping was enjoyed by all and finished off with a lovely dinner before packing ready to move on.

Our first encounter with elephants was one we won’t forget. Seeing them in an orphanage where they get fed and cared was moving. One elephant even had a leg missing that had been blown up by a land mine. After feeding them and watching them we went into the river and helped wash them and sat on their backs as they squirted us with water.

We then all had rides on them, walking around the surrounding streets. It was amazing how gigantic they were yet how gentle. Later that night we went into a town after visiting the temple of the tooth, which was sacred. We watched a show full of dancing, fire eating and all sorts which was good fun.

The next day we set of for a War Cemetery where we had been asked by the British Commonwealth to take pictures of every headstone for them so they could find out how many British soldiers were buried there. After we had done this and had a walk around we had a minutes silence to remember those that were lost in the wars. The ages we saw were from 20 – 41.

Going on a safari in the pouring rain didn’t prove the best, but was still amazing. Seeing many wild animals up close, having to keep quiet incase they started to get agitated was quite worrying.
Up ridiculously early, we watched monkeys while we were eating breakfast, and then drove up to a tea plantation and found out exactly where we were buying our tea from. We saw people working and what poor conditions it was in. They all walked around in bare feet, and the manual work they were doing was hard, making you appreciate what we have got and what little we have to do to get money.

Quite what we expected, or not. Some shabby bikes unloaded off the back of a van, with a helmet each we prepared for mountain biking. It was already boiling and we hadn’t even started. Hours of biking, and over 1000m high it proved to get more and more difficult. Until the rain set in and we whizzed down each hill until finally finishing at the end soaking wet.

With the lovely hotels we were staying in, we were in luxury until we got into the expedition phase in the jungle. Primarily it was to get people’s Silver D of E awards so full expedition packs were on and we were raring to go. Doing an expedition in the jungle is slightly different. Although we didn’t gain much height, we covered a far distance and in the heat it makes it that much harder. Leeches attacking us every second, wading through rivers it was all very good fun. The leeches seemed to get everywhere literally (too explicit to write were they did get!). We did a high ropes course where there were many different bridges zip wires and allsorts amongst the jungle. Enjoyable for those not scared of heights!

After a long 3 days of walking and not washing we arrived at the finish happy to get a shower and some nice food. We had one last phase of the two weeks to do.

This was a community project on a school in a small secluded town. Having been travelling around the bigger cities, this was going to be slightly different to normal. When we arrived at our hotel, it was all very nice; clean with running water, TV, bottles of clean water to drink and shower etc. When arriving at the school, it looked dull, old and broken. Some of the kids came along to help, and as they didn’t speak very much English it made it all the more difficult to communicate. As they day went on we were sanding the grills, filling the gaps in the walls, painting the desks and chairs, painting the grills/ walls and other bits there was lots to be getting on with. The kids seemed so happy with us helping them, so we challenged them to a came of netball; which seemed to be the preferred sport they played. A few games and some tea we got back to work. On the second day we continued, and finished off with digging up the weeds and making the gardens look much better. After having a group photo with them one little girl came out the front to talk to us. Lt Col Anton Gash from the Military Attaché came and visited us whilst working, and said what a good job we were doing and how it was nice seeing people our age helping others the same age as us in to making something better for them. With no personal gain involved. Although she couldn’t speak English very well she had practised this speech for some time and spoke it very well. Even though it didn’t feel like we had made an immense amount of change to the school, she said we were a gift from god and how we had made so much difference in the school. A rest day, walking around town we prepared for the next day, ready to leave for the airport at 5 in the morning.

This trip wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for Flt Lt Tony Piedade of 344 Squadron, Sqn Ldr Liz Reid, AWO Bird, AWO Collins and CI Duffield. Throughout the trip we had qualified instructors with us, staying in places where food and accommodation was amazing, had a coach and a 2 different guides who were there constantly helping us and teaching us things about Sri Lanka; it would have cost a lot. Only £500 it cost us in total and this was because we were lucky enough to have money sponsors including Code masters, Southwest trains and loads more. If you want to find out any more about the trip visit [url:1ddvlsxx][/url:1ddvlsxx] and in the near future you can buy the DVD / book of our trip."

The photo shows the team at the school