Livingwell Taekwondo Team: Friends and Supporters of Sri Lanka Since 2001
“A young girl in Sri Lanka was due to start a nursing career. But one day she stepped into a road, a car struck her leg and badly injured it. She was taken straight to hospital, but after a week, infection set in.”
In 2001, a friendship and alliance borne of compassion began, and it was to last over a decade.
A well- travelled man called Ray Hudson was building a house in Sri Lanka with hopes to retire there. He practiced the art of Taekwondo, and was asked by some of the locals to visit their clubs. He was amazed to discover a unique enthusiasm and keenness to learn about the art, so on his return to the UK, he went straight to his own club Livingwell.
Livingwell is a Taekwondo club that was established by Derek Sumner in 1999. It had always been set up to be a local community club, working with all natures of people including children and adults with disabilities.
Ray explained to Derek, founder and instructor of the club, the passion and enthusiasm of the Sri Lankan people. He also outlined their lack of adequate equipment and the terrible financial situation the country, like many others, was in. Derek saw an opportunity to take the good work they did at Livingwell across seas, and suggested they transport the equipment over there themselves, along with a team who might also teach some Taekwondo.
“Sri Lanka has no National Health Service or monitory cover. The hospital had to amputate the young aspiring nurse’s leg, unless the cost for specific medical care could be covered.”
After introductions and shared demonstrations with Sri Lanka’s main source of Taekwondo, the Military, the team headed for the village. Taekwondo had made the bond, but the team’s visit to the village cemented it. The gifts the villagers showered upon them, their smiles and appreciation, despite having so little, truly touched them.
They were introduced to three orphanages: one for boys, one for girls and one for children with severe disabilities. They were also introduced to an old people’s home, something rare in underdeveloped countries.
The village chief owned a local hotel; he allowed them to build the training ground they use there each time they come to visit. The base ground is called Livingwell BTCB, and is situated on a small West Coastal village called Waduwa. Here, all local martial arts join to enjoy Taekwondo with the team when they visit.
“Like almost all local Sri Lankans, her family was too poor to pay the costs to save her leg.”
Twice a year, since that first visit all those years ago, Taekwondo comes to Sri Lanka.
Training starts at 6am and lasts for three hours. The sounds of Taekwondo are broken by the waves; long poised shadows etch strong shapes across the ground as the sun rises. Taekwondo has come to Sri Lanka, and it brings hope and help with it.
After training the group head out to deliver food and other essentials to the orphanages and villages. Once deliveries have been made, maybe they’ll walk along the beach to the local fishing villages nearby. Having bought nearly all the stock, they’ll then distribute it to locals amongst an excited frenzy. This way, the villagers get fed and the fishermen are supported.
“The girl’s future looked incredibly bleak, as a missing limb means a life of poverty, hardship and misery for families living in underdeveloped countries such as these.“
Over 300 friends of Livingwell have experienced the beautiful island and its people over time.
As well as delivering consistent aid, the team were also very much involved following the terrible tsunami tragedy in 2004. They travelled there three months after the catastrophe to help the many affected.
Over the years they’ve also built children’s play areas, supplied new showers in the orphanages and provided care to disabled children. They’ve also provided musical instruments for schools, clothes and food. They’ve paid medical costs for the sick and injured, saving many lives and avoiding greater inevitable hardships.
“They may not have had the money to pay for the treatment. We did.”
But don’t be fooled into presuming this is a one-way street… The twice-yearly visitors are granted access the many charms of this paradise island, and experience things that no tourist is privy to. They have opportunities to explore many restricted areas, like scared temples and cultural venues. They are treated to water sports, like white water rafting – and even, have access to the Elephants that Sri Lanka treasures.
In fact, a great fan of their work is local Elephant Monica, who visits them at their training ground now and again. She comes for photo-shoots, and even some special Taekwondo lessons…
A local photographer and video expert has also made precious diaries each time the team come to visit, a grateful receiver of their help in establishing his business.
“She was able to receive the treatment she needed to save her leg. Now she’s a healthy and fully qualified nurse.”
Christmas is nearly here, and soon the team will be making one of their long journeys. No doubt the visit is already being eagerly anticipated; the military and police, along with the villagers and locals, will be expecting their old friends -the orphans will be expecting Santa!
The Livingwell Team have seen many things over the years since that first visit. They’ve got many sad stories to tell, but many happy memories about they lives they’ve changed for the better. They’re quick to point out that they work they do in Sri Lanka is merely a drop in the ocean in the scheme of things. But it makes all the difference to the folk they visit.
“It didn’t cost much to us. But to her, and her family? It meant the world,” says Derek Sumner.
Photos: Bethany Bishop