We Have Built a Bridge

Elliyadda is a small village safely hidden in a series of mountains called knuckles in the hill country of Sri Lanka. To get there from the main city of the hill country, Kandy, you must travel 22km on winding narrow roads. Residents of Elliyadda live a simple country life and depend on their animals and farming to make a living. Some of them work in tea plantations. All around the year, mountains in this remote corner remain green and lush and waterfalls never get dry.

Living in the lap of nature also has its own challenges and difficulties. Leaches, snakes, wild pigs, raccoons and many creeping things, and of course rivers and streams to cross. Such things are part of the lives of villagers and they seem to have adjusted very well to such conditions. When I first arrived here I was walking down a slippery path stopping every few minutes to inspect my legs for leaches. I call leaches mysterious creatures because until they appear on your body you can’t see them.

River called Hulu Ganga runs through this village. On the other side of the river, in the base of the mountains, over five hundred families have been living for hundreds of years. They have always had problems crossing the river as the water level rises with rain. Although there is a hanging footbridge about a mile north it is a long way through slippery paths for them to come to the village. For years the villages have made requests to the politicians and the government officials to construct some kind of crossing but all of these years nobody has helped them.

I went to visit the village after a request from another monk to see the situation. I crossed the river myself and got to the village and met with villagers. Their stories of struggle to cross the river touched me deeply. I felt sad that all these years nobody has done anything to solve this serious problem.

People told me stories of how they get trapped on one side of the river when the river swells. For many generations they have had problems carrying the sick people across the river to the hospital. Getting sick people across was a particularly bad experience for many of them. I heard the stories of people getting swept away by the currents and how some fought the current and survived. Just a few weeks before I arrived in the village, with heavy rains the water level had risen. There was a funeral service and many could not attend because it was impossible to cross the river. Some managed to take the long path and cross the hanging footbridge.

I left the village with a determination to solve the problem immediately. I came back to the village in a few days with an engineer and a contractor. We measured the distance across the river at the most appropriate points. The river was wide, about 150 feet. The bridge has to be 170 feet long to join the land. And the top has to be wide enough to drive a three wheel (a motor rickshaw common in Sri Lanka), so we made it five and half feet wide. We left the village promising the villagers to complete the bridge in three months. They were very skeptical because the politicians had made false promises so many times.

I left Sri Lanka requesting that the engineer prepare the permits and designs as soon as possible. Engineer, architect and contractor went into action immediately. With right contact in the government and the ministries, within two weeks the contractor had an estimate and approved plans and was ready to start the construction. After many faxes, emails and phone calls the deal was on. Without any deposits, payments or signed agreements and just a verbal agreement they started to prepare the sight and transport the material. By the time I made our first payment they had already finished half of the construction.

Bringing construction material to the sight was the most difficult problem. You must walk down hill on a slippery path for about half a mile. Villagers were hired to carry things on their back down the hill. The narrow path on a steep hill was dangerous to carry supplies; therefore we decided to pave the steep path with concrete steps. One young monk who is energetic and enthusiastic took the responsibility to manage the steps. All the money needed was available and within ten days the steps were done. People in the village were happy and enthusiastic because we employed them to build the road. They built their own road and at the same time got paid.

The person we hired to build the bridge also is affiliated with Central Engineering Consultancy Burrow (CECB) of Sri Lanka. Through my inquiries I found out that they are the best and most reliable people to work with. Our chief engineer and the main contactor, Mr. Patmasiri, is a good Buddhist and a friend of mine. He is also our contractor for the Tsunami housing projects. Because of such reasons, from the beginning I knew that I could trust them 100% to do a professional job and finish it in time.

I also appointed an independent engineer who represented us, The Triple Gem Society. Mr. Nimal Weerasekara, a civil engineer, was a childhood friend of mine. As though planed by my angels I ran into him in Kandy while visiting a different project. Before I left Sri Lanka he was a student of mine and we used to do a lot of small humanitarian projects in our area. At that time we got together almost every weekend to study Dhamma or do our little welfare projects. We met again this time after about twenty-five years. He immediately agreed to volunteer and supervise any and all my projects in Sri Lanka for free.

In June when I went back to Sri Lanka I visited the construction sight with our engineer Nimal. To my surprise almost half of the work was complete. Every thing is being done according to government standards and engineering specifications. Everywhere I went the villagers praised me, thanked me and expressed their gratitude. They were telling me how their lives are going to be changed forever because of the construction of this bridge.

I will be going back to Sri Lanka in September 2005 and I heard that the happy villagers are preparing a big celebration for the opening of the bridge. The Triple Gem Bridge will not only give the people of Elliyadda peace of mind and a better quality of life, hopefully it will also save innocent lives.

All the supporters of Triple Gem Society are part of this project and I am grateful to all of you because we paid for the bridge from our humanitarian fund. I would encourage you to continue your support so that we can continue such wonderful projects in the future.

May you be well and happy.