In July 2018, my husband and I visited Sri Lanka for the first time. We were absolutely blown away by the culture, especially the kindness of the people there. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised by the genuine, warm, and respectful nature of the people who we came in contact with.

We were very fortunate to be introduced to David Cruise who connected us to some amazing opportunities including having dinner with former Sri Lankan cricketers; Chaminda Vaas, Roshan Mahanama, and Faveez Maharoof at Upali’s Restaurant in Colombo. We were also lucky enough to attend the Test Match between Sri Lanka and South Africa in Galle in the President’s Box and spent time with Asanka Gurusinha, thanks to David’s generosity. These are opportunities we’d never get in Australia.

It was a dream holiday for us and one of the most memorable experiences was our visit to the Cricket Live Foundation (CLF) in Moratuwa. Being a PE teacher in Melbourne, I was very interested in finding out more about CLF and seeing for myself how they used cricket as a vehicle to educate some of the poorest kids in Sri Lanka. We had seen a video on social media about the amazing story of CLF’s founder, Alex Reese and wanted to see for ourselves the great job he’d done.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to meet Alex as he wasn’t in Sri Lanka, whilst we were there. However, Alex connected us to Sanjeewa Silva, the operations manager of CLF, who met us in Moratuwa. We were expecting to be there for 30 to 60 minutes however, Sanjeewa spent over five hours with us, generously taking us around to three of their locations. We had an opportunity to meet and speak to the children, observe their classes and meet with their teachers after class who gave us a great insight into the great work that was happening and the challenges they faced.

No shoes

CLF was making a huge difference to these kids’ lives. Over 400 kids, who may not ordinarily get the opportunity to receive an education, were being educated. Cricket has given them an incentive to attend classes, but the real strength of the programme was the shift in mind-set of the kids. They were now thinking bigger, aiming higher, and realising they could put greater expectations on themselves!

The limitations they may have previously set on, what they could achieve were being smashed, and they were being empowered and filled with confidence through their involvement in the CLF. It was a real inspiration for us to see the great things that were happening here.

We also met the coaches of the Cricket programmes at CLF and spoke to them about the challenges they faced. In a passing comment, one of the coaches mentioned many of the kids didn’t have proper sports shoes to play Cricket. During one of the breaks, I mentioned it to my husband, and said I wanted to try and collect some shoes when we went back to Australia, to send to the kids here. I was determined to do something to help these people as I could see what brilliant work they were doing and the potential of these kids!

‘Soles of Sri Lanka’

We can’t all do great things like Alex had done in establishing CLF, but if we see someone doing something that makes a positive difference, we can all make an effort to support them to the best of our ability. Everyone can do that in their own way.

The rest of our day was fantastic and we left CLF feeling really energised and inspired. We tried to give Sanjeewa Rs. 500 to thank him for taking us around and spending the majority of the day with us, but he refused to take it.

When we got home to Australia, we started to get the word out immediately. I spoke at my school assembly, told our students about what I’d seen at CLF, and that I wanted to collect 400 pairs of new and used shoes in good condition for them to use. My husband got the word out through his work (Cricket Australia) and started a social media campaign, which is called “Soles of Sri Lanka” to spread the word about what we were trying to do. He also set up a Go Fund Me page to raise money to help us ship the shoes from Australia to Sri Lanka.

Shipping the shoes

The support we received was unbelievable! In less than four weeks we had achieved our target of 400 new and used pairs of shoes. The generosity of not only our family, friends, and work colleagues, but some complete strangers was overwhelming. It encouraged us to keep going! Even former CEO of Cricket Australia, James Sutherland contributed two big bags of shoes.

Within three months we had received donations of 1,403 pairs of shoes plus 200 kids’ cricket sets, plus a heap of cricket equipment, and clothes also. It was difficult at times and a lot of hard work was involved, but we just kept thinking about the difference it would make to the kids’ lives, and the joy it would bring to so many people; that’s what kept us going along with the incredible support of our family, friends and work colleagues.

Amazing achievement

It was then time to ship it all over to Sri Lanka. Over $ 3,300 was raised via the Go Fund Me page to help us with the shipping costs. We received a big discount from the shipping company Trico International and some great assistance from good friend Vernon Tissera who did everything he could to guide us through the difficult task of shipping the shoes to Sri Lanka.

We certainly couldn’t have done all of this without the help of so many people. It really was a team effort! In a sense, we didn’t actually do much work, just facilitated the environment for everyone to contribute. I’d estimate over 1,000 people have contributed to this cause in some way, shape or form. It is truly amazing what we can achieve as human beings when we work together. We hope this story inspires people to help others who are making a positive difference in the world!

The original article was published in The Morning News Paper 

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