CHARIS volunteers and Sri Lankans working together to dry washed gravel (left) and build houses. Photos: BRYAN CHENCHARIS volunteers and Sri Lankans working together to dry washed gravel (left) and build houses. Photos: BRYAN CHEN

Ten volunteers from CHARIS recently embarked on a journey to teach and build bio-sand water filtration systems and assist in house building efforts in Sri Lanka.

During the June 12-18 trip, they also spent time forging friendships with the locals, many whom had received financial assistance from CHARIS (Caritas Humanitarian Aid & Relief Initiatives, Singapore) to improve their lives.

CHARIS has been working with the Diocesan Centre for Social, Economic and Development Education in the Diocese of Galle, Sri Lanka (SED Galle), led by Fr Michael Rajendram.

Fr Michael and his team were hoping that the project in Deniyaya and Hambantota districts, about three hours’ drive from Galle, would improve the communities’ access to safe drinking water and sanitary facilities

In the district of Hambantota, the volunteers helped teach two villages to build bio-sand filtration tanks, in the hope that they could replicate this system in other villages.

The volunteers worked alongside the women, both young and old, in the washing of the gravel and sand. While the process of washing the sand can be tedious, it forms an essential part to the system as the materials form a natural filter in which water is made potable.

The community also learnt from the volunteers how to assemble and fit together the bio-sand tank using PVC pipes and a large tank.

The next worksite was in the hilly region of Deniyaya. There, the team helped to build houses and tried their hands at laying bricks for the walls.

Every now and then, the team was treated to tea and food, mostly contributed by the locals, who gave much from the little they had.

The Singapore participants told CatholicNews they found the trip rewarding in many ways.

“This trip to Sri Lanka allowed me to witness the universal language of love,” said Mr Gabriel Chek, 23, a student at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. He added that it helped him appreciate the blessings which he takes for granted in Singapore, such as clean water and shelter.

Team leader, Ms Sivamalar Kulasegaram, a teacher in her 40s, shared that she was impressed with the gotong royong (mutual aid) spirit among the villagers and the staff of SED Galle, working together to improve the lives of the community. She said she was especially touched by the way Fr Michael dealt with the villagers in a gentle and loving manner.

According to CHARIS, the team’s greatest takeaway from this trip was witnessing the camaraderie of the local community with their common goal of wanting to improve their lives and their environment.

For more information on CHARIS or to participate in its mission trips, visit

By Sally Low

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