By TONY FOSTER
IT was Sunday September 4 and we were driving back from Galle to Colombo in Sri Lanka and our son Stephen said to me “Dad I have to go up to Kandy on Tuesday would you like to come with me?”
I said: “Steve I have been to Kandy twice before and I really do not like that drive up there.” Four hours to travel 106 kilometres does not do a lot for me and you are going up and back in the one day, that means eight hours on the road.
To give you an idea Sri Lanka is about the same size as Tasmania but with the population of Australia, can you imagine Tasmania with 22 million people where Mudwalls Road between Campania and the Midland Highway looks like a dual carriageway divided highway compared to the roads in Sri Lanka.
Stephen our eldest son is a Foreign Affairs diplomat currently based at the Australian High Commission in Colombo and this was our fourth visit and most probably last as he finishes his three year posting in December before he takes up his next posting early in the New Year in Baghdad, Iraq.
Getting back to the trip from Galle back to Colombo, this road nearly as bad three hours to travel about 100 kilometres so plenty of time to talk about issues in the region and of course cricket.
I said: ” Steve what do you have to do in Kandy for the day that would make me want to go up there with you? ”
He replied: ” I have organised for the Australian cricket team to come and play cricket with some street kids from Kandy and I thought you could help me out.”
All of a sudden the eight hours on the road seemed not so bad – a chance to meet some of the Australian cricketers and do something for a most worthy cause.
Child Action Lanka the charity that provides direct assistance to about 150 children in Kandy works to assist and transform the lives of disadvantaged children in Sri Lanka. Many of the children live and work on the streets as beggars, as such they are often socially excluded and deprived of opportunities and respect. Hunger, neglect, exploitation and abuse are just a few of the many challenges faced by these children everyday.
Arriving in Kandy I realised this was no easy feat organising such an event , pulling together the various organisations which of course included very strict safety precautions for the Australian cricket team .
So we were all prepared well in advance of the arrival of the cricketers, children ranging in age from two years to 16 years all with their Australian flags waving ready for what would be probably the biggest day of their lives.
The bus arrived and it was worth the trip just to see the faces of all these children at that time. Out of the bus came the whole contingent of Australian cricketers and coaches, some 26 in all. Not one of them wanted to stay at their hotel and miss this opportunity, how good is that? As the players and the coaches came in to the ground they walked through a guard of honour from the kids and all were presented with a frangipani lei which most of them managed to keep around their necks during the day.
After the official ceremonies were out of the way it was time for some cricket. So we split up the Aussie team in two and added six or seven Street Kids to each and the game was about to begin.
“Dad can you go square leg umpire I will umpire behind the bowlers stumps? ” Steve says. No problem Steve, love to, ” I said.
What an amazing hour and a half followed. Our cricketers bowling, fielding, batting, catching, applauding and high fiving with the street kids of Kandy, it brought a tear to my eye.
We of course were playing with a tennis ball, but one funny instant one of the kids was bowling to Michael Clarke and Michael let the ball hit him somewhere on the body. Michael immediately falls to the ground writhing in pain – it was great to see the Australian captain being so much a part of the fun and banter. I was talking after the game to a young boy who had a bat and faced Mitchell Johnson. “How good was that I asked him?” “The best day of my life,” he replied. There is a fair chance he may still say that in 20 years time.
So much is said and written about our sports people these days. Quite often it is bad publicity but I will remember this day for many a long day as I witnessed a group of young Australian cricketers. They are young, mostly in their 20s, some in their 30s but what wonderful ambassadors they were for our country that day. They wanted to be there ,so genuine about all they did leaving everlasting smiles and memories with kids , most of whom have no families or parents but do have a future thanks to Child Action Lanka.
Thank you Michael Clarke and all your team. You made me feel very proud to be an Australian.
If you would like to know more about Child Action Lanka go to www.childactionlanka.org and by the way there is some You Tube footage there of the day.