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Meet up in Ulla!

When we first visited Sri Lanka, in January 2005 just after the tsunami, Carsten Henningsen carried hand drawn artwork created by Janet Reynoldson’s second and third graders. We had been strangers, but soon the artwork and letters were traveling back and forth between Portland and Eastern Sri Lanka and it wasn’t long before we considered each other friends.


Here is one such friend, Ruwanthi, holding up a letter from the States.
The letter she is holding reads as follows:

“Dear Miss Ruwanthi Kalpana and friends.

I am feeling sad because I read your letters and my eyes filled up with tears. I am very sorry for your losses. All of my hopes go to you. Maybe we could be pen pals. Do you know what that is? It’s when you only keep in contact by writing. That’s the “pen” part. I am very happy you survived and your sisters too. Did it hurt when you got tangled in the tree? What grade are you in? My dad is a friend of Carsten. I absolutely love the drawings you guys sent to us. How old are you? Because we probably won’t meet this is what I look like. I have short brown hair, brown eyes, dark pink lips and long eye lashes. What do you look like? What happened to your sisters? I am 9 years old, 10 next February. I will always help you in your troubles.

All hopes,
Rebecca Memminger Goodfriend”

During her eighth grade year at the Arbor School in Portland, Rebecca and all her classmates worked on yearlong study projects of their own choosing. Rebecca decided to do a photo essay on the topic of displacement in Sri Lanka and its impact on children. With the war in the area around Ulla over, it suddenly became possible for our whole family to travel somewhat freely together. So, we made plans to travel to Ulla and, it being so close to Christmas 2009, this happened to put us in Ulla for the fifth year anniversary of the tsunami.

Ruwanthi and her sister had both stayed close to Community Friends, since they had asked to join the first micro-enterprise that we formed in Ulla. This was the rice flour collective. Of course the war made it very difficult for us to communicate with Ulla between 2007 and 2009, so when we arrived for the family visit not much was known.

That first day in Ulla was exciting for all of us. I set out to look in on the collectives with Deva and Seevali, while Rebecca journeyed out with her sister Raela and mother Kathleen. These were her first moments shooting pictures around the community. After hearing the initial reports from the collectives, the three of us asked about some of the young entrepreneurs, so we could get some first hand accounts of how the program was working. One of the school kids volunteered to walk us around the village and show us where each person lived. As fate would have it, the first house that we visited was Ruwanthi’s. And who should we meet there but Rebecca, Raela and Kathleen!

Picture 074

The two of them had found each other on their own and within a few short minutes made all the connections back to 2005. Ruwanthi was able to find Rebecca’s original letter which she showed to my amazed daughter. Somehow, the dream we had when we conceived of Community Friends, that we would build long term, direct relationships, with people whose names we know and vice versa, was suddenly realized before our eyes.


Thank you Rebecca and Ruwanthi – we are so proud of both of you!

Jay Goodfriend