Life In Arugam Bay: Southeast Coast Of Sri Lanka
Anthony Perez and Meredith Jones are two of our devoted staff members who live and serve at STN Sri Lanka. Not only are they both incredibly selfless, but each has a deeply rooted passion and love for the people of Arugam Bay. Anthony and Meredith are extremely invested in the community here in Hawaii as well as Sri Lanka. We are incredibly honored and grateful to have them on our global team and are stoked for our teams to join them this summer!
The journey leading to Sri Lanka and defining moments that inspired the pursuit to serve in Arugam Bay:
Anthony: My journey began here in Hawaii as I began exploring and pondering what international trip I felt strongly about going on. There were a few countries I had desired to travel to but I felt pulled elsewhere. Initially, the hope was to go with Surfing The Nations to Egypt and Morocco, but for numerous reasons, I was unable to make that trek. It was a time when I genuinely began to question if I would ever embark on an international journey with STN. My heart was inordinately invested in going on this trip, which made it difficult to let go of. Spring of 2015 is when Sri Lanka appeared on my radar. A close friend I had been volunteering with had been given a 100 Sri Lankan rupee and for no specific reason, he decided to give it to me. I held onto this and it became something I coincidently stumbled upon, almost daily. As months went by, my desire to travel to Sri Lanka began growing. Sri Lanka and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were the two I was earnestly considering. Amidst my uncertainty in where I felt I should go, a dear friend of mine, through a serendipitous act gave me a Sri Lankan flag. It was then I decided to begin preparing for my journey in the fall of 2015. Before I left, I knew this was a country I wanted to invest in and explore long term. Even though I had no prior knowledge of the culture, language, or country as a whole, it was clear I had a passion to experience and embrace every opportunity it presented.
Meredith: I’ve always had a desire to travel but hadn’t considered taking a trip like this and was focused on my life in Hawaii, I desperately wanted a change of pace but didn’t quite have clarity on what that change would look like or encompass. I knew deep down that I was supposed to call my sister but, at the time was very reluctant to do so. After wrestling arduously with this, I made the decision to follow through with it despite the fact that we hadn’t talked for some time. Our conversation brought immense clarity and enlightenment. The spark I needed to fuel to my desire to be a part of something much greater than myself had been ignited. This was a defining moment that inspired me to venture outside of my comfort zone; which included pursuing a journey to be involved with the humanitarian work in Sri Lanka led by Surfing The Nations. Though I had previously heard about Sri Lanka from family friends, it was never somewhere I had contemplated on traveling to until this point in my life. Being that Surfing The Nations already had a base there, it was the perfect opportunity to learn and grow in the position I was placed in. While walking hand in hand with a couple of the children from the village we were staying in, I had the sudden epiphany that this is where I wanted to be involved and make a lasting impact. Though going back was not set in stone, I never gave up on pursuing the possibility of returning. After visiting again the following year, I decided to actively pursue the adventure-filled journey of staying in Sri Lanka long term. I actually became the first female to live on an international base.
Embraced opportunities to grow personal passions
Anthony: For me, I had never surfed prior to my time in Hawaii in 2014 but it quickly became something I found deep enjoyment in. Surfing has become one of my deepest passions along with repairing surfboards and making surf fins. Every moment I am given the opportunity to repair a board brings me to a place of utter serenity and allows me to truly tap into the deep passion I continually develop for this wondrous sport. There is also a desire within me to share the knowledge I have gained with others who are wanting to explore that same passion. I came across countless boards that were damaged, broken, and “unsurfable” but no one really had the resources, time, or knowledge to repair them. I was given the opportunity to teach several kids how to surf and not just repair boards for them, but equip them with the knowledge and skills of how to do it on their own. The first trip I had the most amazing time. The kids all had their boards, which were pretty beaten up and they wanted me to fix it. I responded, “No, I’m not going to fix it for you but I will show you how to do it.” About four of the boys came over and I was able to share my passion for fixing boards while watching and instructing them. It’s unique to have the ability to utilize that skill as a way of providing for their families. Surfing is such a tourist attraction in Arugam Bay so there is a constant need for boards to be repaired. Anytime I am in the water, I have the opportunity to refer people to these boys so that they, in turn, can use this skill as a means of providing for their families.
Meredith: I’ve found that my passions have grown, specifically in business and training programs. Since I was in high school, I’ve always had a heart for teenage and middle school girls. I really desire to start having girls’ nights because there are no events specifically for this age group. This is a passion I have really seen come to life during my time in Arugam Bay. I love having the ability to engage in conversation with them while also creating a fun and peaceful atmosphere. This is an age where although these girls are fun and silly, there are huge changes and monumental things happening in their lives so it is vital that they have someone to share these things with who is also going to encourage them. It’s an opportunity to talk about their dreams and be a source of comfort and safety as they navigate through these pivotal years of establishing and finding their identities.
Ways surfing has impacted and transformed lives in Arugam Bay
Anthony & Meredith: There is a four-year-old boy named Veenu who was extremely closed off and timid when we initially met him. He would cling to his mother or sister to avoid engaging with us at all costs. Quickly, it became our priority to love on and encourage him, regardless of timidity or shyness. I would consistently go out of my way to yell his name from their side street just so he knew that I was aware that he’s there, regardless of whether I could visibly see him. The times I could see him, he would run into his house and pop his head out making sure I didn’t leave his sight. Veenu is also an incredibly tough kid who loves to play fight which has become a way for us to connect and show our genuine care for him. I spent a year of persistently acknowledging and playing with him, despite the times he didn’t seem to be the fondest of it. Veenu recently began attending the surf and swim lessons we offer but did not know how to swim. Even though he never really engaged with us on land, once he got in the water he really had no choice but to trust us. Not only did the trust we built with him in the water begin to translate on land, but Veenu started to open up more. All of a sudden, we found him consistently engaging with us and holding our hands as we walked to the beach. This was an instance in which surfing completely impacted my heart, and I was able to tangibly see how big of a tool it is. If Veenu wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn how to surf and swim, I think he’d still be closed off, shy and timid. Now he loves to swim, pick up shells, and ride on the boogie board. This is just one of the countless lives that have been radically impacted through the sport of surfing. It’s truly amazing to see how surfing breaks down every barrier and allows us to build genuine relationships with these kids.