The United Nations, war torn Sri Lanka and home made pizza

by Brett Seychell on September 3, 2012

Post image for The United Nations, war torn Sri Lanka and home made pizza

The United Nations. Potentially the most noble of all employers.

‘What do you do for a living?’ I ask.

‘I distribute food in the World Food Program for the United Nations.’ Says Gerd, our host in Jaffna, on the northern tip of Sri Lanka.

That’s like signing a contract with heaven. It puts any ‘lion tamer’, ‘brain surgeon’, ‘astronaut’ or ‘world cyclist & explorer’ to shame in regards to the worlds coolest job.  I stand there in awe as Gerd, the shining, handsome knight, explains his role in the World Food Program (WFP) for the UN and how he logistically distributes food and supplies to in excess of 20,000 people in the poorest of villages throughout the war torn area of Jaffna through to Vavaniya. Kimmi is overwhelmed and enthralled by the excitement of it all, as his huge UN branded 4WD and its giant antenna powers over and shadows my little bicycle. My awe has a shade of green as Kimmi bathes in the glory that is Gerd, the compassionate, the humanitarian, the hero.

And what makes it worse, is that the bastard is a really nice guy.

We met Gerd through the ever inspiring and successful couch surfing initiative and he’d invited us to stay in his house for a few days. His wife was in Germany and his Japanese colleague/housemate was busy saving some other part of the world that week, so it was just him in the four bedroom manor, (if you don’t count the two security watchmen and the maid).

‘I’m glad you’re here!’ he says to me, with an ear to ear grin that looked as though he was just a little too high on life. ‘I’ve been looking forward to having someone to drink beer with and watch the Euro 2012 Cup on my big screen projector, and if you’re hungry, I can make a pretty mean pizza!’

I suppose I could oblige, after all, I was his guest and it would be rude not to.

‘Brett makes pizza too!’ Kimmi blurts out, deliberately forcing me into a pizza cook-off, without consultation, with our new wonder- host, only to benefit by getting to eat two pizzas. Kimmi sometimes states self fault by claiming that she speaks before thinking on occasion. But this time I think she knew exactly what she was doing.

Gerd had to save the world during the day, so we were left to our own devices. We had explained the purpose of our charity and that we were on the hunt for a self sustainable, income generating community based project that we could micro-finance, partnered with a long term, on the ground, grass roots NGO. It appears that from initially being quite vague and bordering on clueless, The Kindness of Strangers had become quite detailed and specific about our projects of choice. Gerd simply raised an eyebrow, gave a little nod of approval and like many excellent hosts, hooked us up with a colleague for a local experience that you can only get with local people. He organised a UN guided tour of the World Food Program, a local health clinic and several ‘off limit’ post war refugee camps.

‘Oh my God! He’s amazing!’ Kimmi screams with excitement, at the thought of the day’s activities.

‘Yeah, great.’ I sigh.

As we approach the heavily branded UN 4WD beast, purring at the security gate and fronted by two uniformed UN WFP distributors, Kimmi’s shirt catches my eye as she opens the car door and lifts herself in. And for a split second I pause with my hand on the handle, focusing on Kimmi’s ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ branded shirt in the car and my ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ branded shirt in the window’s reflection.

That’s the moment where reality struck me like lightening and the prospect of our potential dawned on me. It was as clear as the morning sun. We weren’t going on a tour with a group of holiday makers, we were on a field trip in the name of research, exploring opportunities for our next project. This was real. ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ had just matured. It felt like we had just had our inauguration into the NGO world by none other than the UN. And as we buckled our seatbelts over our own uniforms, a warmth crept into my heart and a smile on my face. Perhaps I was starting to understand Kimmi’s excitement. It just took me a little longer.

Drenched with information, we were mesmerised with the logistical intricacies of the rural health centre with particular focus on expectant and new mothers. The food distribution operational shelter impressed us with it’s Great Depression style ‘coupon and voucher’ system for food allocation. The ‘out of bounds’ refugee camps filled our film as we spoke in detail to local village elders about the torments of their tale of homelessness in a time of war, for the past 20 years and how the future, in a time of peace, still promises no new light.

The size and complexity of our minnow NGO was soon put into perspective in the world’s ocean of charitable organisations. The involvement of so many international, government funded, multi-million dollar corporations assisting the community in so many ways quickly put us back on our bikes. As much as we wanted to contribute, any independent project would be subject to weeks, if not months, of government application for approval. The multiple long term organisations in the area were all working towards the same goal, but not necessarily together. And as far as the people on the receiving end, well, they will just keep on asking and accepting regardless of what they need because it is all they have known for so long.

The brief moment that The Kindness of Strangers stuck its head into the big league was enough to know when we were outgunned. It would be more beneficial to let the big kids play together in dissolving Northern Sri Lanka of its poverty and health issues. Our few pence of contribution would only ever be swallowed up and lost in the giant pond.

We head back to the four bedroom manor to meet up with Gerd and throw some dough. As our separate sauces simmer on the stove and the TV warms with pre-match entertainment and commentary, we detail the awe inspiring day and the appreciation of setting up such a valuable experience for us. We also express regret that we were unable to feel that we could get involved with a project. Gerd empathises and genuinely understands who we are and why we cannot get involved. He tries hard to raise some more suggestions and opportunities for us, if no other reason but to make us feel better, to no avail. But that is just who he is. He just likes to help people. He is just that guy. And I cannot help but like him.

We settle in front of the giant screen projector as Germany kicks off. Kimmi takes a bite out of both pizza’s. ‘Wow! They’re both amazing! I can’t decide which one is better!’ she says, as the gleam in her eye catches mine.

We may not have saved the world today, but I think The Kindness of Strangers can claim victory over the UN in pizza making.

Sometimes you got to hold onto the little things!

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: