Walking to Unite and Heal
Social conscientiousness and loads of fun… Walking the talk of sporty fundraising
In February, Sri Lankans gird up their proverbial loins for a veritable fiesta of processions. First there’s the traditional Navam Perahera. A veritable plethora of sights, sounds and smells with cracking whips, caparisoned elephants and fuel burning in bright but primitive torches.
Then comes the customary Independence Day Parade, replete with dignified personages (or pompous dignitaries – take your pick!) and punctuated by glorified military gavottes and gallops with sophisticated weaponry on display.
In sharp contrast to such bread and circuses both religious and sociopolitical, a landmark pop-culture event last year offered an interesting alternative to the gainful deployment of human and other resources.
It was a ‘landmark’ in terms of the sheer scope of its geophysical presence, spanning the length of the island from Point Pedro in the arid north to Dondra Head in the oceanic south. It offered an interesting alternative to the customary cultural events that dot and dash the nation’s calendars like some social Morse code.
This event provided an insight into the Sri Lankan psyche and showcased a unique opportunity that the subculture of purposive exercise brings to sporting people. It demonstrated that when it comes to raising funds for charitable causes, more island–ers than may be expected are willing and able to ‘walk the talk’… literally.
The first islandwide initiative was a trail from the south to the north of Sri Lanka back in 2011. Two friends – one whose sister had died from a debilitating disease, and the other who had vowed to traverse the depth of the isle if and when the civil war ended – walked together.
That joint venture resulted in funds being raised, with each walker joining the duo being sponsored by corporate entities and individual well-wishers to build a cancer hospital in northern Jaffna’s Tellippallai. This time around, Trail 2016 saw the requisite finances flood in for the erection of a sister facility in the south’s Karapitiya Teaching Hospital in Galle.
Both ‘Trails’ adopted as their motto ‘Walk to Unite and Heal’ – a watchword that a cross section of Sri Lankans have adopted as their personal maxim. Folks from literally all walks of life put their best foot forward, so to speak, during the 28 diversely weathered days (40-50°C heat in the north and pelting thundershowers in the hill country) over a gruelling 670 kilometres. And rain or shine, non-participating Sri Lankans from diverse demographics turned out to watch the walk, and cheerfully support its worthy cause.
Schoolchildren lined the streets through which the Trail 2016 participants walked. Beggars parted with their entire day’s earnings. One walker (or ‘trailer,’ as these folks self-refer) tells the tale of a 92-year-old woman who dragged herself (trailing her walking stick) to press a bundle of rupee notes into his dumbstruck hands.
And no event of this nature and scope is without its accidents and incidents. There was a wild elephant attack at one start line. One ‘trailer’ was bitten by a stray dog. And a trail official was even hit by a train – to survive, with minor injuries! The ‘trailers’ had their admin and logistics teams providing able backup and support services throughout, including refreshments – all of which were sponsored, of course.
The profile of participants was no less note—–worthy. There was cricketing legend Mahela Jayawardene and his wife Christina adding to many other Sri Lankan cricketers and celebrities who committed to trailing, as well as musicians and sporting heroes, and the true stars – older folks in their 50s and beyond.
Then there was a 72-year-old gentleman – himself a cured cancer patient (he underwent surgery for colon cancer seven years ago) and now replete with colostomy bag – who not only trailed with the fittest of them but often breasted the finish line first!
Perhaps most commendable of all, including 18 ‘trail-blazers’ – an indomitable lot who walked the entire distance – were the ordinary people who walked, supported and sponsored Trail 2016, turning the event into a truly Sri Lankan ‘culture of sport.’
With US$ 3.5 million of a projected five million dollars raised for the Karapitiya Cancer Hospital, it looks like sporting-charity is a worthwhile event with a high return on investment. And given the camaraderie and lifelong friendships built en route, such exercises are here to stay… as part of Sri Lanka’s cultural and social calendar.
Compiled by: Wijith DeChickera