Visitors since January 2005: 903759

A life for children, culture and nature

With the construction of a cultural centre Michael Kreitmeir, the founder of Little Smile, wants to preserve cultural identity

(The following is an English translation of the article that appeared in the Donaukurier in Germany on June 14, 2012 which can be found here in its original)
Eichstätt/Koslanda (EK). For hours the man with the long black hair and the thick beard is sitting motionless under a mighty tree. You have to look very closely to see this master of meditation who – sitting in lotus position, one hand laid into the other – is almost melting with the nature around. Less than one meter away a small river is making its way through numerous rocks and stones. Anup Vega says farewell to this place, a piece of unspoiled jungle near Koslanda, and he does it in his own way – in deep meditation.

Since the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka in May 2009 and the associated extermination of Tamil separatists, the people from the small island state in the south of India seem to make war on nature. The sound of chain saws can be heard everywhere. In the meantime lumberjacks advance into mountain regions which so far were too remote and thus unprofitable. The price for tropical wood has increased enormously – a death sentence for most of the forests, also in the mountains of the Badulla province. However, all this – still – seems far away. Anup Vega (45), a Singhalese painter, has travelled throughout his country, mostly barefoot and only with a sketchpad and pencils. But today is a special day for him. He is convinced that his karma has taken him to Little Smile. When he passed by the children’s village, he noticed a tremendous power and energy. Michael Kreitmeir showed him the children’s village, the mountain with the boy’s home, the caves, in which once Buddhist monks used to meditate, the farm and finally also the nature reserve. Anup Vega is overwhelmed and happy. On his journey through the country he has seen so much destruction, so much greed and so little of Buddhist principles. Here with us he has the feeling of finally having arrived. And when he heard about the peace and cultural centre that we are going to open soon near the coastal town Gall, he was delighted.

4 days later the founder and director of the aid organization Little Smile, Michael Kreitmeir, and the artist and master of meditation, Anup Vega, meet in the planned culture centre near Galle about 200 km away from the nature reserve. Like an island in a rice field is the more than two hectares large hilly area, on which mighty trees and tropical bushes and flowers almost completely hide the temple and porticoes, pagodas and other buildings set up in the style of times long past. “I am in the past” – whispers Anup. When they reach the large hall at the top of the small mountain, Anupr stops and shakes his head again and again – his lips kept in silence, his eyes shining. He knows almost all temples of his country, but this hall is something so very special and what is so stunning is that it has not been built hundreds of years ago but just recently. A little later various artists and monks arrive. Things like writing on papyrus in the ancient writing, the art of traditional marionette theatre, the historical dramas or the ancient music, are in danger of being lost forever, washed away by the monotony of Indian TV soaps and Chinese consumer products. Even Sri Lanka searches for its superstar and loses his own identity with it.

“It’s the same with these old trees”, says one of the monks when we were sitting together later in the traditional hall, “when the roots are dry, the trunk – no matter how strong – will finally die.” There is no need for Michael Kreitmeir to explain why he has spent so much money and efforts in the construction of this centre. Here, everybody knows how sad the future of Sri Lankan culture looks like after 500 years of colonialism, after civil war and now the floods of alleged achievements of a capitalism that is just about growing new needs.
Everyone also knows that it won’t be easy to create sort of a refuge area for what is left of tradition and culture – so to speak a culture protection area. And just as you protect animals in nature reserves from poachers, the work here is to protect real culture from commerce and fast marketing, from the dictates of tastes and the tourism industry. It will be about transferring knowledge and skills to the next generation – but this next generation must be interested in receiving it. Therefore, a place like that is needed, where you can immerse in a different, a more profound world, in which no mobiles ring and no facebook or skype is needed to get in contact with each other.

Shortly after 6 o’clock in the evening it is getting dark in the tropics. Anton Weresinghe, the manager here, has lit an oil lamp. Actually, Michael Kreitmeir wanted to build a training workshop for electricians and locksmiths here after the tsunami. Due to the commitment to the victims of the civil war in Sri Lankas east, the construction has been repeatedly postponed. In 2007 when the director of Little Smile wanted to revive the plan, he learnt that numerous training workshops stood empty and that there were neither teachers nor interested trainees. At the same time Kreitmeir realized how rapidly inherited knowledge of the ancestors got lost. How can a small country such as Sri Lanka, surrounded by mighty neighbors like India and China, maintain its identity and survive as a nation, when it steadily loses its culture and traditions? When travelling to Little Smile’s aid projects throughout the country, Michael Kreitmeir never saw a place where culture was cultivated and transferred without any economic or political interests. And this is why the idea arose to establish such a place. 2009 Kreitmeier sent his manager from Koslanda, Anton Weresinghe, to this place. Since that time the creative force from Little Smile is focused especially strong on this centre. In August will be the inauguration, and once again it will all be about filling this centre with “new old” life, reviving knowledge and skills, strength and power of the Singhalese and Tamil culture. Kreitmeir is often asked what this centre has to do with Little Smile’s main objective, to help children in need? The answer is so easy: “What kind of world do we leave for these children, what are we transferring to the next generation and beyond when all trees are cut and all rivers are poisoned?” Form where do you obtain knowledge and strength for an uncertain tomorrow, how do you survive the storms of a constantly and day by day faster changing world, if you are not deeply rooted in your culture and the gathered knowledge of your ancestors? Just as love for children requires love for nature, we must try to preserve and pass on traditional and cultural knowledge if we are serious about the welfare of those who will come after us.

It has been another long day for Michael Kreitmeir. At 3 o’clock in the morning he has left the children’s village, the entire day has been filled with planning and talking. Only three years ago an almost untouched world started 60 km south of Galle – namely after Tangalle – with hardly any cars and after Hambantota, located on the southern edge of Sri Lanka, hectic rush and stress were completely unknown. Today, a huge cricket stadium is currently being built there, a harbor and an international airport – everything under Chinese management. And this is precisely why it is so important for Kreitmeir that there is a place which invites to pause and reflect on the question if we should really forget everything for the sake of a so called progress and who benefits from this progress? Finally, at 1 o’clock Kreitmeir departs to arrive in the children’s village Mahagedara – the home of his soul – just in time for the prayer with the children at 6 o’clock in the morning.