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July 20, 2018
Community Project at Cambridge Buddhist Vihara
It is a bright Sunday morning. While most are still trying to get out of bed, one home in the suburbs of Cambridge is bustling with energy and activity. It is the Cambridge Buddhist Vihara which operates out of a home in the outskirts of Cambridge city. The Vihara is lead by the Venrable Matugama Palitha Thero and in operation for about 2 years. It is a branch of the Glasgow Buddhist Vihara. The temple exists to support the Buddhist community in Cambridge and surrounding areas. The devotees are mostly of Sri Lankan origin, but this is no means a requirement to participate in the activities of the Temple.

The Sunday school which is supported by volunteer teacher Mrs. Shyamanie Perera has about 10 students aged 6-12. This number is expected to increase. The students and teachers are both enthusiastic and dedicated. But for quite some time they have had to operate from the temple floor as the temple lacks the space to dedicate a special area for the Sunday school. The problem has been acknowledged for a while but not rectified owing to funding constraints as the temple is quite new. In true Buddhist tradition both the teachers and the students have taken these issues in their stride and not let it become a barrier to their education.

Things would have remained the same except for a conversation between Mr. Chaminda Perera, a resident of Stevenage and an occasional visitor to the temple and Palitha Thero about issues faced by the temple. Palitha Thero had mentioned that everything was well but it would be nice to utilise the back garden for the Sunday school since it was the only spare space in the temple not serving a purpose.

Chaminda, an old boy of DS Senayake College (Batch of 2000) has always been a focused follower of Buddhist principles from a young age. While the Thero made no demands, he felt that this was an opportunity to make a real difference to children in the area learn about the country of their ancestors and the philosophy that is part of their daily lives.

This was no easy task. The back garden was overgrown with vegetation and suffering from an ivy infestation. The temple operated in a rented property so whatever setup needed to be portable and capable of being dismantled for storage and transport. The shelter will have to be strong and durable to withstand months of use with limited maintenance and be safe for use by children. And most importantly all of the above will not be cheap.

The challenge seemed overwhelming at first, but undeterred Chaminda reached out to his friends from the Batch of 2000, DS Senanayake College who was very supportive of the cause and pledged financial and logistical support towards the project. With his old school friends enlisted the project was initiated to:

1. Come up with a solution to host the Sunday school at the back garden of the temple
2. Find a suitable supplier for the above
3. Find the funding to complete the project

The temples preferred solution was a semi permanent marquee (tent) which could be able to withstand bad weather, but could be dismantled for storage and transport. Students will study on new desks and chairs inside the marquee which will rely on natural light.

Coated PVC based marquee was selected as the most appropriate, given the durability requirements and based on market research Gala Tent was chosen as the supplier. The desks will also be sourced from Gala Tent while chairs will be sourced from Ikea.

Before the marquee could be setup the back garden needed to be prepared to act as a safe area for students, and a stable unobstructed space for the marquee to sit on. The overgrown vegetation needed to be cleared and the ground levelled up and drainage issues resolved so that the area inside the marquee will always remain suitable as a study space, irrespective of the famous British weather.

Even with most of the manual work being done on a voluntary basis all of the above added up to an eye watering sum of money.

Chaminda and his friends from DSSC living in the UK were able to raise a considerable percentage of the costs amongst themselves but it was not enough. The decision was taken to reach out to friends and family and the response was overwhelming. People gave generously from all over the UK from areas as far as Stafford and Shetland Islands, and soon the required sum was ready.

The project was initially scheduled for March but was delayed as Palitha Thero had to make a longer than expected trip to Sri Lanka. But on a sunny morning on the 6th of June 2017, Chaminda, Prabhath, Abeetha (all old boys of DS Senanayake College batch of 200) along with Thejana and Himanth a regular visitor and a devotee of the temple started the work on preparing the garden and installing the marquee.

As always things did not go to plan. While most of the vegetation was cleared over previous weekends, deep tree roots, un-cleared tree stumps and a broken fence threatened to hold up proceedings. Supplier issues caused a rethink on surface preparations, and pebbles were sourced to cover the entire garden from a local building merchant, which would provide a dry flexible base for the marquee to sit on. The workers were enthusiastic, but none were professional trades' people so everything including the setting up of the marquee took longer than expected. But after 13 hours of hard labour the marquee setup was finally complete to the relief and satisfaction of all involved. It was truly a humbling journey of perseverance and persistence but the end result was worth the effort.

The Sunday school now has space for more students. The temple plans to use the marquee also as a communal space to conduct dharma discussions as well as classes. This was a true community project. It started with a vision of Palith Thero, lead by old boys of DS Senanayake College 2000 batch which involved a whole community. Many gave whatever they can whenever they can. It was a testament to the true Buddhist spirit and what is possible with a bit of inspiration.

The temple, the Sunday school students and Venerable Matugama Palitha Thero wants to express their sincere thanks to old boys of DS Senanayake College 2000 batch for taking the lead, and to all others who supported this initiative in various ways.

Matugama Palitha Thero encourages the Buddhist community and welcomes everyone in surrounding areas to visit the temple and be involved in its regular activities which are publicised through the Cambridge Buddhist Vihar Viber group.

The temple can be reached on Mobile: 07958426240, Skype : M.Palitha77, Email : palithathero17@gmail.com, Address: 214 Cromwell Road, Cambridge CB1 3EQ.
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