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Due to the resurgence of the conflict in 2008, Paavima and its
funding agents, MailMan Sri Lanka, felt it necessary for the safety of its
staff, volunteers, and clients to close its offices. That being said, the
founders are still active and not only keeping in touch with their
constituents, but helping to guide the adventurous traveller and volunteer
vacationer around the the south coast of Sri Lanka. Some of Paavima's
students have gone on to other careers, beyond the hazards of fishing the
dangerous waters of the south coast. Some are now working in the diving
profession, some in the shipping industry, and some in the hospitality
sector. Some have returned to their profession on the south coast, despite
its risks. All the students, as well as the Paavima volunteers, have enjoyed the
experiences of a lifetime while pursuing our mutual goals: providing
increased opportunity for employment and enhancing environmental stewardship
while furthering the understanding and appreciation of Sri Lankan culture,
natural resources, and people.
We at Paavima are often asked the question "What was the most
challenging aspect of your work?" Many have difficulty in imagining
travelling halfway around the world, only to immerse oneself in a foreign
culture in order to make a positive impact. We found it hard to comprehend
as well. Contrary to our initial beliefs, the greatest difficulty was not in
raising funds, organizing local support, or even finding enough volunteers.
The greatest challenge was to spread a message of hope: that human beings
can persevere. After years and years of half-fulfilled promises by
non-profits and non-governmental organizations, many in Madiha had given up
hope. Despite aid from dozens of countries in dozens of forms, very little
had changed for the people of our favorite village. The single most
difficult task for us turned out also to be our greatest accomplishment:
rekindling some human spirit that says that man is capable of bettering his
situation, despite overwhelming odds. We were not wildly successful at this,
but we have learned that change of this magnitude happens one person at a
time. It comes not through material donation, political revolution, or the
removal of hardship, but through the fundamental belief of one human being
in another. As such, Paavima continues to live on in the individuals it
touched and the bonds it formed, both in Sri Lanka and beyond.
All this being said, we are still here, looking forward to the day
when the war ends and Sri Lanka can return to sharing its natural beauty
and culture with the world. We still regularly respond to emails and are
happy to share with you our inside knowledge of the south coast. Should you
be interested in volunteering some time, diving (or learning to dive) in
untouched locations, exploring the gorgeous south coast, or eating some of
the spiciest food you've never had, please send us a note. We'd love to hear
from you. To other organizations looking to jump start a grass roots
non-profit organization in the field, please don't hesitate to contact the
Paavima team. We're there when you need us.
- Team Paavima
//////. WHO are we?
paavima.org is a not-for-profit independent group of volunteers comprised of international artists, PADI dive instructors, business people and philanthropic souls focused on bringing creative and economic support to tsunami affected villagers of southern Sri Lanka.
//////. WHAT exactly are we doing?
paavima.org came to Sri Lanka to help a community of fishermen and fish collectors devastated by the tsunami through much sought after dive training. Shortly after our arrival we realized that dive training alone would not be enough to make a lasting contribution of support and so, we set out to do the following:
//////. professional level dive training:
The villagers earn a desperate livelihood by collecting ornamental fish. Because of their dire situation they do so without any prior dive training, endangering their lives, hurting the reefs and compromising their future means of support. Respect for the environment is a hard concept to teach and one that is difficult to embrace when the most basic need of feeding one's family, the struggle to survive, is at the foreground of one's concerns.
By providing these villagers with professional level dive training we are offering them the necessary skills to continue to earn a living from the ocean while illustrating how a healthy natural environment could become a source of sustainable income. Our dive training program is already alleviating the dangers brought about by their former lack of awareness and is beginning to demonstrate how a healthy reef system could become a more dependable provider for them.
//////. eco-awareness & dive shack:
We have built the paavima's 'shack' to be an experiential education and capacitation center. As divers, we feel compelled to offer an alternate livelihood, other than unsustainable, unregulated ornamental fish collecting, which would be less damaging to the health of the villagers and to that of the ocean environment. Here at the 'shack' we are offering a variety of activities for tourists, from world-class dive training and eco-tours to stilt fishing and curry cooking classes. The donations asked in exchange for the participation in these activities go in their entirety to the benefit of the community. The 'shack' is in turn managed and staffed by the villagers themselves, allowing them to learn business, customer relations and other skills through experience. See more about the shack here.
//////. underwater art installation/memorial:
paavima.org is in the process of building an ecologically friendly and visually stunning underwater art installation that will serve as a place of remembrance for the many souls lost in the 2004 tsunami. The underwater installation has been designed by Salvador Quiroz and Vladimir Soto not only to be a beautiful memorial and place of healing, but also to become a dynamic and inspiring artificial reef that will allow the villagers to leverage their dive professionals' skills. See more about the memorial here.
//////. community English classes:
At paavima.org we're well aware that without some formal English training the community's ability to support any eco-tourism efforts is in jeopardy. Furthermore, an English education opens up significantly more employment opportunities outside of the village and enhances the villagers' income earning potential in general. The free classes are being offered with the generous assistance of the aid organization Malta SOS to adults and kids regardless of their present English-speaking abilities.
//////. cooperative aquaculture ventures:
We're exploring possibilities for the establishment of sustainable, ecologically sound and profitable aquaculture initiatives, which would be owned, and run by the villagers. With the assistance and scientific support of the University of Ruhuna we're investigating the viability of harvesting sea cucumbers, lobsters, conchs, and even setting up self-regulated and less damaging ornamental fish collection practices.
paavima is a Sinhalese word analogous to the English term 'buoyancy'. The project revolves around the ocean and in large part on diving as a means to bring assistance to a community in need. In diving, mastery of buoyancy is important and a skill one never ceases to refine. But also, we are trying to bring buoyancy, in the most positive meaning of the word (Webster's defines it as an optimistic and cheerful disposition) to a community struck by tragic and unfortunate circumstances, including the tsunami of 2004.