‘Let Them Bloom, Give Them Water’ has helped these children to flourish like the flowers that once gave their name to Poonakary
- How Shaan Corea became Poonakary’s “Water Madam”
By Annick Sansoni
|Shaan Corea in Poonakary
Although at first glance, Shaan Corea may not seem to have a lot in common with martial arts phenomenon Bruce Lee, if anyone I have ever met personifies his famous quote “Be like water,” it is she.
What characterises water? Its obstinate course from a ripple to a wave, from a raindrop to the ocean, sometimes slowing but never wavering, knowing instinctively the direction that will lead it unerringly to its destination.
Shaan’s quest to bring safe water to the people of Poonakary has never faltered. Remembering the moment in 2017 when she first heard that remote land in the north of Sri Lanka had no safe water, she says: “It was something I could not conceive of or wanted to accept. How could there be no usable water in a country like Sri Lanka, especially in Poonakary which means ‘Village of Flowers’?”
Haunted by this situation, Shaan knew that she had to do something about it. One step at a time, like drops of rain slowly trickling into a stream, she held fundraiser after fundraiser and went resolutely from one school to the next, for 18 months, until 21 schools and over 4,000 students in Poonakary could drink safe water in school, every day.
‘Let Them Bloom, Give Them Water’ has helped these children to flourish like the flowers that once gave their name to Poonakary. Knowing that they can drink clean water at school, use the toilets, wash their hands, gives students extra incentive to attend school regularly. Properly hydrated, they are lively and active, eagerly participating in class activities, but also sports and other extra-curricular activities.
“Appé Lanka Water Madam! Good afternoon, Water Madam!” the children enthusiastically call out to Shaan when she visits the schools to attend the Water Committees that she has set up to teach the children and their parents how to preserve and manage the water purifying systems.
In partnership with the school principals, Zonal Education Department and Divisional Secretariat of Poonakary, these Water Committees deal with the day-to-day operation of the water purifying systems, but also teach the children how to behave as members of a team. Grievances are aired and solutions are debated and negotiated.
The whole process of meeting, note taking, writing minutes, learning to listen, speak in public, compromise and make decisions is taught in a live context. The youth representatives take their role very seriously, never losing the twinkle in their eye when they look at Shaan across the meeting table. “Very tasty water, Madam!” They laughingly tell her. “Very beautiful water.”
Shaan imagined arts workshops where artists Nelun Harasgama and Channa Ekanayake worked with groups of youth from Poonakary and Colombo on the themes of family portraits, water and the ecosystem. Sitting together on the floor drawing, children who had not been able to travel around their own country during the war initiated timidly what have now become firm and lasting friendships.
Watching a young girl fill not one, but two bottles of water from the school tap, Shaan went to hold her hand and listened to her explain that one was for her to drink at school, and the other was for her to take home to her parents, so that they too could drink safe water. Struck by this child’s determination, Shaan launched stage 2 of ‘Let Them Bloom, Give Them Water’ in the last weeks of 2019, to provide safe water to every one of Poonakary’s 19 Grama Niladhari Divisions, just before Sri Lanka, like the rest of the world, was to reel with the shock of COVID-19.
If it encounters a hill, water will go around it, or underground, it will find a way, somehow, to overcome what seems impossible at first. Despite the curfews and travel restrictions in force from time to time since early 2020, the entire population of the Ponnaveli Grama Niladhari Division can now collect safe water every day from the local well. The tiny pre-schoolers of Ponnaveli also have drinking water daily in school.
“Water Madam” has recently commenced work for the 1,918 people living in the neighbouring Grama Niladhari Division of Kiranchi and the remaining GN Divisions are lined up to become water secure, one by one, until all 25,500 people of Poonakary will have safe water daily.
Shaan has attracted many others to join her journey. Six years after the creation of Appé Lanka, a sustainable project organisation that aims to empower the people of Poonakary, artists, influencers, celebrities, philanthropic organisations, corporate directors and countless other trailblazers have participated to make what was at first a tiny trickle of hope into a steadily flowing channel of fellowship and shared successes.
Knowing that they can drink clean water at school, use the toilets, wash their hands, gives students extra incentive to attend school regularly. Properly hydrated, they are lively and active, eagerly participating in class activities, but also sports and other extra-curricular activities