Down through some of Colombo’s most affluent districts that nestle around trendy Havelock Town and the tiny streets of Narahenpita district is an area called Kirillapone. It is not an easy place to get to and can be easily missed, as on two sides are the Dehiwala and Kirillapone canals, and on the others big roads lined by seemingly impenetrable housing blocks and light industry.
This area is a focus for the project I’m working on. Some of Colombo’s poorest residents live here, in the shadows of the mighty developments that are growing up around them. Last week I held the first of many focus groups in Kirillapone. We were expecting 20 people, and had prepared as such, but over 70 turned up. And, despite the difficulties of facilitating such large groups, the heat, the mosquitoes and the language barrier, all were fully engaged throughout and were hugely grateful to be part of an EU programme.
South Asia Partnership has a long history in this area and has supported residents to develop slum housing into more habitable places. The area is very welcoming and exciting, and a contrast to the many gated, patrolled areas of their more affluent neighbours. Here community life and Sri Lankan culture is very evident on the streets. Social and physical ties, support networks and relationships make up the fabric of the place and bind it together like super strength glue.
I returned to the area yesterday evening to drop off some documents. I was remembered and assisted as I wandered around to try and find my bearings, and taken into a house of one of the families I’ll be working with. I told them I thought the area was very beautiful, and the pride on their faces was heart-warming.
This aspect of pride of place, it strikes me now, can be lacking in the big cities of more developed countries. But it is an important factor of strong communities and leads to high social capital. Kirillapone will be an interesting place to work.