Felicitations For Ginette’s Mum

12 Jun

Dear Ginette’s Mum,

Naushan got bit by a dog!* Adam got locked in the bathroom at Unawatuna!**

Really, Ginette told me that I simply had to say those two things in my next blog, so I’ve obliged.

In Sri Lankan culture, the most important person after the monk is the mother. One of the more common questions children ask me here is, “Mother have?” I respond very positively: “Yes! Mother have!” and your daughter does the same.

Last Friday, the school felicitated Ginette by holding a brief ceremony after school where she was presented with a plaque and gifts from the children and school administration. A few of the older children also gave short speeches.

As an example of the high esteem in which mothers are held (as they should be, anywhere in the world), every one of those older children made sure to mention their great appreciation that Ginette’s mother bravely allowed her to come to Sri Lanka.

And I’d like to do the same here. Ginette’s mum, thank you for letting Ginette come to this country. For a New Zealander, whose country is second in the rankings of “Most Peaceful Country,” and whose foreign ministry deems Sri Lanka as a place of “high” and “extreme risk” and advises “against tourist and non-essential travel”, it must not have been easy on you to have your daughter gallivating (by bus, no less!) around a country that ranks near the bottom of those same rankings. (USA ranks just a few places higher than Sri Lanka, so I’m not really slummin’ all that much).

If I didn’t describe it clearly enough in my last several blog posts, Ginette made an enormous impact on the school–and it even has its own ripple effects spreading out across the Matara district, the deaf association, the Matara business community, and my own volunteer experience.

In fact, it’s easy to split my volunteer stint into two sections–B.G. and A.G. Before Ginette and After Ginette. This isn’t meant to be a self-criticism of my own efficiacy as a solo volunteer, but when I compare September and January, things generally looked pretty much the same. However, if you visited in February and then again right now, you’d see a very different school environment. And no, it’s not all due to Ginette–plenty of other people were involved as well, but she has done most of the hard work, endured most of the frustrations, lost the most sleep, and given up the most time which could have been spent teaching children so she could sit in her almost-daily morning meetings with the principal.

Whiteboards in every single classroom. 5,000 postcards distributed across Sri Lanka and internationally. Gorgeous, visually-simulating learning environments. New display boards in high-traffic areas. New uniforms for the school’s cricket, netball, and volleyball teams. Sign language classes for matrons twice a week. A Sinhala-English dictionary for every pupil. Teachers who are now no longer so afraid to ask for supplies. A completely repainted staircase with visual aids for blind and low-vision pupils and teachers. Regular meetings between school and hostel staff. A calendar with the Sinhala fingerspelt alphabet and 18 common signs hung in a hundred Rohana pupils’ homes. And all of those little things–cards, words of encouragement, lending an ear or eye. Most of all, it’s clear she has truly earned the deepest respect from Mr. Abeygunawardana, the principal.

That is why I am delighted she came–because she made a difference. I have learned a lot about hard work from your daughter. How things that can be done today really should be done today, not tomorrow. How making a simple list of things to do can be a most effective organization tool. How to know when there are some things that can’t really be discussed any further, and things that can still be changed, still be tweaked. How not to say no to a good idea at first just because it seems a little too hard. How to be resourceful with what you have. How to work like tomorrow’s your last day, and make the biggest impact today. It’s ironic that, in this unpaid volunteer experience, I’ve learned from Ginette how to be a much better paid employee back in the West.

She has helped me make a better, more complete and satisfactory contribution to the school. Because she came, I can now leave Sri Lanka knowing that I accomplished a lot.

You’ve raised a delightful, strong, and confident woman–someone that you and Ginette’s dad have much to be very, very proud of. This is a woman who doesn’t mind my bathroom humor, doesn’t mind hours-long bus rides through sweeping hillsides, doesn’t mind taking a day off if it means re-energizing yourself, doesn’t mind interpreting for me a thousand times every day, doesn’t mind talking in five languages simultaneously (that’s Sinhala, English, Sri Lankan Sign Language, British Sign Language, and New Zealand Sign Language), doesn’t mind poking fun at my father’s accent, doesn’t mind telling a deaf person exactly how to make the music for the school video sound just right, doesn’t mind playing hide-and-seek with a stuffed monkey in a posh hotel in Colombo at two in the morning.

I have truly enjoyed my last four months as your daughter’s friend, partner, co-worker, and housemate. We haven’t been apart for more than three hours since last February (aside from a solo trip to Galle I took one morning last month; and even then we were constantly in touch via text messaging). I’m thrilled she’s finally going back home–this is a place she speaks of so often I’ve had dreams of roaming the Taranaki hillsides dotted with dairy cows.

But it’s also very strange that she’s not here anymore. I feel as if my engine’s suddenly disappeared–but I’m not worried, because I made sure to learn from her example while she was here. I have my own mega to-do list, and I know that if there’s anything I can do right now, I should do it, and definitely not wait until tomorrow.

Because of Ginette, I now tell everyone who is considering becoming a volunteer in a foreign country: “if you can avoid it, don’t volunteer alone.” It’s hard enough being in a country all by yourself without a clue how things work here and there. Having a buddy there helps, big time.

But I’d also like to say that every volunteer should be so lucky as to have a partner like Ginette.

Ginette’s mum, you have my deepest gratitude. Thank you. I’m really going to miss that girl (pictured below in front of the airport not less than 12 hours ago).

* We learned only recently that Muslims in Sri Lanka don’t keep dogs as pets. In fact, they try to avoid them as much as possible. We’d protest, saying dogs were harmless. But Munsif said he was bit by a dog when he was 18. Fluke accident, we thought. Except that after Ginette’s farewell dinner last Friday night, Naushan, another Muslim friend, was stumbling in the dark across the street with three Sinhalese Buddhist men, looking for their bicycles. He, out of four men, happened to be the one to step onto a dog and get bitten by him. Poor him!!

** In our hotel room in Unawatuna last Saturday night, I closed the door to do my business, but afterwards, it wouldn’t open. I was stuck in there for about five minutes before I was freed. No big deal, except Ginette automatically started yelling through the door that help was on the way, forgetting that I couldn’t really hear anything, much less through a wooden door.

7 Responses to “Felicitations For Ginette’s Mum”

  1. sophie allen 12. Jun, 2007 at 2:03 am #

    awwww you guys!
    Love your love…! and may i say thank you for welcoming me so swiftly during the short month of may, into that brilliant, warm and open friendship you and Ginette share… i’m sure she’ll miss you zillions adam,
    Big love
    Soph x x x x x

  2. clare allen 12. Jun, 2007 at 2:34 am #

    Now you’ve done it!!!! I’m crying at work!
    What I beautiful testiment to lovely Ginnette.
    You are all stars. All of you! And the legacy of your amazing work will live on and on. Of that you can be sure.
    Huge love

    Hi sophie!

  3. Adamzmom 12. Jun, 2007 at 3:59 am #

    Accent? What accent????

  4. Bobby 12. Jun, 2007 at 6:07 am #

    Very touching. I want to say more but what else can I say. =) Sure is a loss to see Ginette off, but at the same time, an opportunity for reflection and appreciation. Can’t wait to see you next month.

  5. nerissa martin 14. Jun, 2007 at 7:18 am #

    What a perfect tribute Adam.

    I have to say that Ginette is the kind of person we all wish we could be, calm, totally organised, so capable and yet truly selfless. The memories of her pulling out her note book and adding yet more to her ‘to do list’ late into the night, even when she was exhausted remains with me. I also loved getting her joyous texts when the goals were achieved. She will be greatly missed by us all here.

  6. anne 15. Jun, 2007 at 11:50 pm #

    A lovely lovely tribute Adam – and so say all of us! We were sorry when Ginette left Oak Lodge but how great for Rohana that she took all her special gifts there and made such an impact. Ginette – enjoy a well earned rest … and please keep in touch!
    Anne x

  7. Ginette 03. Jun, 2010 at 2:29 am #

    Every now and then, I feel feel home sick for Sri Lanka. So, I come back to your wonderful, inspiring blog to relive the times we shared together. My experience in Sri Lanka was a journey of discovery, both personally and professionally, and without you Adam, this would not have been possible. Thank you again for your encouragement, sharing your passion and commitment and inspiring me to continue my journey into the Deaf world. Arohanui xxx Ginette