Lucy is trained and practices as a social worker. After many years working tirelessly in the UK, her search for something more took her to many different countries, and eventually led her to the beautiful island of Sri Lanka. She played a pivotal role in the development of Project Hope, an initiative founded by the Rosie-May Foundation and the Manacare Foundation in Sri Lanka, to help and support single mothers. Here is her story:

“After seven years of complex child protection investigations, intense home visits and court cases and finding myself in the weirdest situations in the UK, I’d burnt out. A three-month escape in three countries seemed like a good idea: India. Java. Cambodia. This was the start of my road to new beginnings. 

Lying about my ability on my yoga teacher application form in India backfired at times, but a month later I was certified. Java was next on the list, and the long bumpy journey to find this uncrowded right hand point break was on, it paid off. Finally I was in a dusty traffic jam in a tuk-tuk (with my longboard) heading to the poorest province in Cambodia to volunteer for an NGO who support victims of sexual exploitation. It was hectic.

I left Cambodia with a bitter taste in my mouth as my intention to offer support and guidance to this NGO was tainted by the realisation that they weren’t protecting children at all. Whistleblowing is a strange experience, where you’ll have sleepless nights constantly doubting yourself and battling with accusations of imposing your western ideals on developing countries. It still plays on my mind to this day. I filed a report to the Ministry of Social Affairs and took advice from colleagues and got the next flight home. I came back to the UK feeling frustrated about the injustice these children were suffering. But this is another story

When I came back to the UK, and following my experiences in Cambodia, I endeavored to seek out charities to work with, but ones I could trust and that offered honesty and transparency. I was looking for an organisation that could be truly effective in creating change that’s sustainable and enables the community they’re working with to develop the skills to be self sufficient. Through a brief conversation in the Jam Jar Café where I worked as the Sunday girl, I discovered the Rosie May Foundation. There was an opportunity to work with the Rosie May Foundation and help them to set up a new project in Sri Lanka to empower women and protect children. So I thought, why not. 

In September 2015, I visited an inspiring project in Romania and completed a trek in Nepal to raise money for a school rebuild in the far east and a girls hostel in the far west. I flew straight from Nepal to Sri Lanka, and started work with the Rosie May Foundation. My role was the Volunteer Project Manager for the development of Project Hope and Hope House. Hope House is a home offering sanctuary for mothers in crisis with the aim of preventing abandonment of the children and the resultant institutionalisation of abandoned children, and to strengthen single mothers. Project Hope enables mothers to become self-sufficient and to look after themselves and their children. My work involved travelling back to Nepal, taking dodgy mountain flights to extremely remote communities in the Himalayas and to Coimbatore, India to meet the ‘Menstruation Man’ tucked away in his dusty workshop. He is the inventor of the low cost sanitary towel machine which the charity are looking to bring to Sri Lanka and Nepal as a women's empowerment project. 

Whilst working for Project Hope, I also set up the Watura Women's Surf Club (WWSC) for local women and girls. I spent heaps of time working with women and girls who are dealing with some really challenging circumstances. The more I got to know the women, the more I learnt how they hardly get a break and are constantly putting everyone else first. I just asked the women if they fancied coming surfing with me on a Saturday morning, and after a little convincing to ditch their chores, we got the bus and three wheelers down to the beach, and they loved it. They asked to do it again, and I asked them if they wanted a club, and that was it really.

Project Hope (and the WWSC) is now well underway, and we are witnessing the positive results of our work day by day. I am confident that we have managed to put in place the necessary measures to ensure this project will endure and be self-sustaining. 

It's a privilege to do what I do, and I've always felt that, right from my very first case on the streets of Portsmouth to the cases in the jungle in Sri Lanka. It's interesting volunteering in a place that becomes so saturated with tourism in high season, and a ghost town in low season. I have been lucky enough to become so engrossed in the local way of life, and have become known as ‘the lady who helps babies’ which is lovely to hear, and gets you the odd free tuk-tuk or king coconut which always helps. The sense of community support here is phenomenal and it's been truly heart warming and reassuring to see such unconditional kindness from one human to another. The selfless acts and generosity from those who have nothing and the gruelling hardship people face continues to blow my mind and it's really given me unforgettable exposure to the strength and gratitude people have, no matter what is thrown at them. Going back to social work in the UK is going to be interesting and I'm so grateful for the time I've had within another culture and life who have made me feel so at home, and like I belong, and it's just fuelling me to experience more and make my own methods of creating positive, honest and realistic change. I'm only just getting started. Surfing has always been my escape from my busy mind. Being in the water just fixes me, I'm not quite sure how, but it works every time whether I'm back home in beautiful Cornwall or some other kind of paradise in Sri Lanka or Java. 

Jennie Lewis