Rewards and Rambutan

A report by Robert on the Brighton College visits in 2012

At six o’clock every evening of the four-week trip, I sat down with all the pupils and staff for a drink (most had a Coke or a fresh fruit juice) at the Lucky Tuna on Unawatuna beach.

Every meeting started with the same agenda item – your highlight of the day. Each pupil was asked to come up with the moment of their day, however momentous or comparably insignificant that constituted a true highlight.
Away from parental control, with friends and a nearby beach on a paradisal island, one might have expected highlights to be about surf and sand and silliness. While there were silly things mentioned, most highlights were about their interaction with children that day- about how, when it came down to what really made them rewarded that day, it was their teaching of a child, their playing with a child, their making a child’s life that little bit better.
My goal in leading these two trips out to Sri Lanka was, on reflection, three-fold:

1) To open the mindset of the Lower Sixth pupils to the rewards of charity work, to the recognition of the real world and all its wonders and sadnesses, and to the fact they they, as individuals, could do something to better this world – even at 17.

2) To visit Extra Cover schools and tea plantations, seeing how current programmes and projects were faring, and possibly to find new schools with whom we could enter into partnership (see “Five New Schools?”).

3) To have a richly rewarding time myself

As the bare-bones itinerary makes clear, it was a busy time; and as one would expect there were moments when things didn’t go according to plan (when the bus broke down, when the beach dog scratched Hansy’s leg, when the Sri Lanka teachers had a different agenda etc.) but these were moments when we showed an inner strength.

It was a magical month – the best four consecutive weeks of my life I think. Every day was one of purpose, of fun and of deep reward. The challenge of the logistics, the sorting out of what 18 pupils and three staff were going to do the next day when plans had fallen though at the last moment, the need to be constantly “in loco parentis”, kept me on my toes, and there were times when I longed for a soak in a bath listening to Radio 4, but doing such work made me feel wonderfully alive, and proud to be of service to some of the most beautiful of people I have ever had the privilege to meet.

The rambutan is a fruit a bit like a lychee. It looks a bit like a bright red horse chestnut with soft spikes. You have to work with your thumbs to open the fruit up but when you do you reveal a greyish/ transparent fruit that is sweet beyond belief. Like rambutan, my month away was initially rather daunting to consider (I was already knackered after a grueling final term at College) but after a bit of work hugely rewarding.

As you would expect, the College staff who accompanied both trips were simply spectacular in their devotion to the pupils and the Extra Cover cause.

The Sri Lanka staff – from the mighty Suranga and Darshan our van drivers, to the school teachers, the hotel staff and of course Newton – the man who makes it all happen – were understanding and encouraging in equal measure

Next year? Of course. Changes to be made? None.

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