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Friday, 5 July 2013

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NO CANCER - FROM DONDRA TO PEDRO

Walking from one end of the country to the other end would have been seemingly difficult for you and I. But one man changed that whole aspect of thinking and is actually doing it as we speak and read this.


At Adamís Peak

Beginning his journey from Point Dondra on May 30 to cover more than 500km in 45 days and reach Point Pedro is no walk in the park for Major Ruvan Ranatunga (Rtr). This walk which he calls the Long Walk of Hope, is truly about bringing hope to so many of those who are losing faith in it while fighting to stay alive just for a few more years and days from the dreadful nightmare that is known as Cancer.

I had the opportunity to join him and few other companions, midway at Talawa and walk with him for 10km and get the feel and experience of what he's doing first hand and also find out how and why he began this.

"It has been a long time dream to walk from North to South and East to West. It felt like an excellent thing to do. The entire concept of walking from end to end in this country brings you a cross an amazing terrain to start with from flora fauna, elevation changes, climate changes that are very diverse. In the same manner the diversity of people you meet from end to end is amazing and that I've already felt. The walk through at various stages you meet - from the coastline to the southern Sinhalese, the fishermen, then you come to the plantation area to the low country tree areas, the farmers, gem merchants, miners, gem mining community when you get close to Rathnapura and when you cross the line you get the plantation workers and then in between you meet the Muslim tradesmen who have come and settled down in the Mawanella area etc. So up to this point onwards, that diversity has been felt, in a very big way, so it was all part of the dream."

Day 1 - the beginning

Day 1 was pretty hectic...we went the day before (from Colombo), stayed overnight in Matara and drove off to Dondra. At that point I had my family there, my brothers, couple of school friends and a couple of my students from the military. It was great as they were all people I touched upon along the line and they were near and dear to me. From CCC foundation there was Suren and Maya along with the media. There would have been 16 plus.


Major Ruvan Ranatunga with the family who offered tea and wali thalapa

We started off at 8.30am (not a decent but it was a good time to start) and walked up to 2.30pm passing Werahena and at that point we stopped for lunch and we decided to call it a day. Day one was very short but the fact that we started was the main highlight. Day 2 was Kamburupitiya. The entire journey from Day 1 to 8 plus days included me, Indunil and Nishan (we call him Dila). My friend Amila (a student actually from the army) joined me and then there were some who would come and go. And for Sinharaja there was this gentleman from the Wildlife Department - Jeewaka, who I sought advice from on how to cut cross Sinharaja. We had a mutual friend called Chaminda who works for Animate and who really helped me out in getting the maps printed out. Jeewaka was someone who friendship just triggered was taken up with project and he began walking with us. There were seven of us walking across Sinharaja.

In Rathnapura we had to say goodbye to Dila as he was not feeling well and we were just planning to climb Sri Pada at that point.

When I asked Major about the 18 days of rain, Major Ruvan broke into laughter and said it started from Day 1 - it just rained and rained and rained and it always used shine on the other side of the mountain or river a little far away from us. This (June 24) is the fifth day about decent weather.

When I asked him if there were any setbacks from people, if they were harassed along the journey, he said "honestly, very honestly the negatives I left behind". "For once in my life, in a journey I chose to ignore all the negatives, take on the positives and move on. If you ask me if I have a negative moment, I'd say I don't have one, it's been a great journey."

His son Randa who is 9 years old, joined Major whenever possible and mostly every weekend. When I asked him how many more days remaining he said, "Tricky question. Wife's calendar, I don't have much time. Originally planned 45 days, I have plenty of time - so I have in between. I have kept about 35 days for the entire thing, a day or two here or there. But on a journey like this you can't plan for everything. I have one time, two locations and one date - May 30 at 8.30am from Dondra I start and I finish at Pedro - as simple as that."

I started the entire thing. I got the ball rolling. When I said I was walking across from south to north I said it very passionately and positively with a lot of drive. I said and I put my feet where my mouth is and I walked. So equally if people say they pledge support and various things, I like to see their wallets being placed where their mouth or thumb has been placed on my Facebook page.

How it all began


Showing the pictures he took of  the girls at the place where we had breakfast

I spoke to a friend of mine (batch mate of mine from school), who is a doctor at the Cancer Hospital, met him one morning when I dropped my son off at school. And I told him I'm planning to do something and if I want to do something simple for the Cancer hospital, what can I do. He said I could refurbish a ward for 600,000. Then I said, I will raise you a million because I think I could find 500 friends who would give me 2000 each if I ever did a trip across the country. Then I was thinking, I wanted it to be a long lasting thing because refurbishing a ward would be just one thing and that's the end of that but I wanted to do something that would have an impact on what people would be doing and I believed in supporting people. And I looked around to see how I can help somebody do something or finish something they started. And then I heard about CCC Foundation (Courage Compassion Commitment) and I met Jetha and Suren after the Royal Thomian through my brother and he spoke about what he was doing for cancer. Then I logged on and checked out CCC and Trail, because I do believe if I was walking from South to North, I would want both benefitting from what I am doing rather than one place. From South I chose to support the CCC foundation for their 188 room transit home to provide rooms for children with attached toilet, sleeping facilities for parents and children and then of course Trail which was building this pediatric cancer ward in Thelippalai.

There was another rationality to this as the CCC house was there for people who were coming from far away so they needed support and the rational thing behind the Jaffna project was to stop people coming from far away and support to build the facility there so they don't need to be travelling. Third thing was trying to bring a sense of purpose and focus into the matter rather than to the things around it. So when I say 50/50 and someone was to donate to either Maharagama Project or Jaffna project- you can't choose, you either donate for cancer or you don't. You can't say I'm Sinhala and I want to give only to Maharagama or say I am Tamil I only want to give to Jaffna - if that's the case then this LWOH is not the place for them. If you want to donate one rupee - then 50 cents to South and 50 cents to North.

Many people who he contacted for help and support were not too keen to lend out a hand. In their mind, they couldn't really believe that someone really wanted to do something just like that.

When I spoke to CCC Foundation, Suren said the project sounds awesome but that they don't have people, resources or staff to organize things for me. I told him, not to do anything but to give an account number where I can put the money and that I will do the rest. I designed my own logo, set up my own page, started talking to people and that got people talking to friends and so on. So it was just a snowballing effect.

Getting it sorted

The mechanics of getting things sorted out was the issue as I wanted to get these two groups (CCC and Trail) together to work together as I wanted to the money to be split either way. Then I got the red tape from the trustees but they were willing to work out.

CCC Foundation set up a separate account for this purpose under their own name and with the provisions for the funds to be divided. Then Trail opened up a profile for me exclusively for this purpose with provisions for that money to come in and split between the two. Then somewhere along the line, Anything.lk got involved and wanted to take it up as their CSR project where they are doing the communication and maintaining my FB page (this happened two weeks before the departure). From nowhere everything just gelled in and with the support of media and articles coming up, LWOH became happening.


Nishantha with Major Ruvan

Supem de Silva and the team said they will give a plan for me and they were the ones who gave the gear (adventure equipment and administrative assistants). This was an absolute zero budget event. Up to today, we have not paid money to stay anywhere; accommodation was there whenever we needed it. For us it has been cost free our part of the cost was our day to day to what we eat.

One request I had from the meeting I had with CCC, was that they (CCC) had a hotline which was a new initiative to reduce the suicide incidents and mental well being surrounding that. So I said I will definitely take it with me. And from Day 1 we stopped at boutiques, post offices, rural banks or wherever we thought the community meets, and spoke to the women folk rather than the men fold as they are the ones caught up in these issues more often than men. They were appreciative that there was something like this and even when I spoke to the priests at the temple we sheltered at, they too took it positively and were very happy. We added that instead of monetary contributions for the cancer programme, the favour you can do in this journey is spread this 133 and in a way are doing something for the walk.

So people, if you want to help this guy who is equipped with his trusty trekking pole, big green backpack that basically has EVERYTHING in it and of course his friend Indunil achieve what he started, you are more than welcome to check out http://www.trailsl.com/?page=profile&mode=walker-profile&walker_type=1&walker_id=1751 or follow on his trail on https://www.facebook.com/LongWalkOfHope.

Two of the people who joined Major Ruvan on his journey had this to say:

Nishantha Rathnayake: I would say that I am proud to be part of the team in the 'Long Walk of Hope'. We all joined hands to make one man's dream a reality. The dream of crossing Sri Lanka, from Dondra to Pedro covering more than 500Km's in 45 walking days for raising funds in aid of cancer patients in Sri Lanka. Ruvan, a retired Major from the Sri Lanka Army, and the mind behind this idea is also a family man devoting 45 days of his precious time for this journey continuously away from his wife, little son and all loved ones. I joined in on this worthy cause from Rathnapura to Nallathanni via Sri Pada covering 3 days and the other one from Thambuththegama to Thalawa, covering 2 days. We had to walk to Nallathanni in the off season of Sri Pada with lot of difficulties under heavy rain, strong winds and mist.

It's was the most adventuress and interesting journey I've ever had in my life. In rural areas we met innocent villagers who showed us true hospitality, whilst serving us to the best of their ability. I would like to request all Sri Lankan's to give their support to us by helping to raise funds for the above project.

Piumie Pieres: I first joined up with Major Ruvan in Ratnapura to climb Adam's Peak. To say that I was unprepared - both mentally and physically - for this climb, would be an understatement! However, in hindsight, I now realize that this climb changed my life. This was a soul searching expedition for me and I came to realize certain things about my life, and myself.

The second time I joined him was in Talawa. I was fortunate enough to walk the unknown trails, off the beaten track, explore the backwaters of this ancient city. The people we met along the way were so kind and generous to us (and not to mention curious about us). City folk are so distant and disinterested sometimes, it is hard to believe that Sri Lankans are known for their hospitality.

However, in my opinion, the true Sri Lankan people are the ones we met, who unhesitatingly shared Kadala and King-Coconut with us, and invited us into their homes for Tea and Vali Thalapa. I was truly blessed to be included in Major's dream, to be allowed not only to actively help in his cause, but also to be shown a wholly different side of Sri Lanka. Thank you!

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