The joy of serendipity
Serendipity is a wonderful word. It means, according to my dictionary “the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident”.
It is also a word synonymous with Sri Lanka, one of my favourite countries, and comes from one of several names by which that country has been known over the centuries: Serendib.
This is a story of serendipity. It starts earlier this year, when I taught a week-long travel writing course at the annual Camp Creative summer school in the small town of Bellingen, New South Wales. My students were a group of mature travellers, keen to hone their writing skills in order to best record their experiences. Among them was a woman called Vreni Voigt. After the course was over, Vreni called me for advice on a fund-raising idea she had, to raise money to help build a pre-school in Sri Lanka.
The Samadhi Grove pre-school is the dream of Sister Susila, an Australian Buddhist nun who has worked with Sri Lankan villagers in need since the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami devastated so much of the country’s coastline. Vreni had met Sister Suila and wanted to help out by creating a project that would raise money for the pre-school.
My interest was immediate. As a professional travel writer I have been to Sri Lanka three times, and like so many who travel in this beautiful country, I had found it enchanting. I knew many of my travel writer colleagues felt the same. I had also seen first hand – some months afterwards the devastation left by that terrible tsunami.
The idea of publishing a book of travel stories about Sri Lanka was born – by serendipity! When I asked my friends and colleagues in the Australian travel writing fraternity if they would agree to contribute stories for an anthology to be sold to support the pre-school, the responses were swift and positive.
Each writer had their own tale to tell and their own perspective on Sri Lanka, born of their individual experiences while travelling. Their views about Sri Lanka are as personal and diverse as their personalities and writing styles.
Over months, Vreni and I talked on the phone, gradually bringing together the elements to make a book. We found the publisher, the good folk at Perth-based Vivid Publishing, who understood what we were doing and also assisted generously. I went with Vreni to meet Sister Susila and some members of the local Sri Lankan community at Susila’s peaceful bushland retreat in the Gold Coast hinterland.
Stories for the book were gathered, including from some unexpected sources such as Melbourne restaurateur Shanaka Fernando, who donated an extract from his just-released autobiography, Lentil As Anything. I chose an evocative memoir piece, dealing with his childhood in Colombo.
Another story I knew I wanted to include was that of my friend and colleague John Maddocks who, with his wife Cheryl, was lucky to survive the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. It is a story you won’t soon forget.
Through the skill of the 21 writers who contributed so generously, those who read this book will be transported to Sri Lanka, whether they have been there already or not. Whether you travel to Sri Lanka for the cricket, the surf breaks, the culture, history, landscape, or the food, there is something here for you.
This week, the finished books were delivered and it’s a big thrill to finally hold it in my hand. The cover is resplendent with a montage of images by Melbourne-based photographer Ewen Bell. The title comes from the contribution by the doyenne of Australian travel writing, Susan Kurosawa.
I thank them with all my heart, along with the other writers: Brian Thacker (who also created a beautiful map of Sri Lanka for us), John Borthwick, Greg Clarke, Brad Crouch, Tim Elliott, Carla Grossetti, Sally Hammond, Carmen Jenner, Brian Johnston, Sue Llewellyn, Chris Maher, Sheriden Rhodes, Daniel Scott, Mike Smith, Louise Southerden, Tom Neal Tacker, and Margaret Turton.
The Samadhi Grove pre-school is currently housed in temporary premises and is looking build a permanent home to take 30 students. Ninety-five per cent of the book price goes directly to buying building materials and equipment for the building, and construction is due to start in May, if there are enough funds.
Copies of Snapshots of Sri Lanka can be ordered through Vivid Publishing.
20 Responses to “The joy of serendipity”
A great project of which you should be incredibly proud.
Thank you Goddess. Couldn’t have done it without the generosity of a whole lot of other people, though.
This is awesome Lee! What a huge achievement. Sri Lanka was already on my list of places to go, but this has bumped it up many places
Thank you. I do hope you get there some day…it’s a fantastic place, lovely people and has suffered terribly both from the war in the north and the tsunami. But well worth seeing.
Reblogged this on A Word in Your Ear and commented:
Please please read a glass half fulls blog on her journey to create ‘Snapshots of Sri Lanka’ a book created to raise funds to build a pre=school in Sri Lanka and spread the word – let’s make this Christmas special for a lot of disadantaged children. :)
Thank you Skinny Wench – for the reblog, and for your contribution to the book. Much appreciated on both counts. Merry Christmas to you too :-)
What a worthwhile project. Are there ‘e’ copies of the book?
Yes, it is available as an e-book too. Just go to the link to Vivid Publishing at the bottom of the story and that will show you the details of how to buy it. Thanks fr your interest and support.
What experience.. and adventures plus the project that you that you have left an impact behind when you left. Be proud.
Thank you…it has been a great collaboration, with so many writers giving their work generously.
But you made it happen *smile
This is wonderful. Shows how everything works together. :)
Yes, you are so right. Vreni says she is still pinching herself…she can’t believe how everything just started to happen. The right people, in the right place, at the right time to do something wonderful together. Amazing.
Congratulations on this achievement!
I was wondering if you will coordinate with Vivid Publishing to make the book available in South Asia itself. I am in India and would love to get a hard copy of the book, but as of now the book ships to Australian addresses only. It would also be neat to have the book available for purchase in Sri Lanka itself, wouldn’t it?
On another note, I read the definition of serendipity you extracted from the dictionary. It struck me that they describe serendipity as a “faculty” but in which the “unexpected” encounters happen by “accident”. The word “faculty” brings in the notion of ability, of skill, whereas “unexpected” and “accident” are beyond one’s control. Do you feel there is something innate to serendipity? That some people somehow tend to make these unexpected discoveries far more often than others? I somehow feel privileged that I often come across stellar events, ideas or opportunities I had not sought out per se. feel this has happened to me particularly often while travelling in India over the past few months. Maybe it has to do with openness? Any thoughts?
I love that you have found this so thought-provoking. Firstly, yes, we are trying to make the book available in Sri Lanka. But it has only been in our hands for a week, and it might take some time to achieve. Vivid does not distribute outside Australia, unfortunately. But we can organise something for you independently, I’m sure. I’ll get back to you with more details soon.
Serendipity….yes, I agree that some people seem to attract the unexpected…and I do think that it is a matter of being open to things, and to embracing the small surprises when they do pop up. For me, it is one of the joys of travel…getting “lost” can lead to some wonderful discoveries, and being open to people can open all sorts of doors. Have fun!
Getting lost travelling. Truly one of the best things! Loving doing that in Kerala at the moment :) Cheers and congrats again!
Kerala! Now I am very envious. I’ve never been to that part of India, and it’s definitely on my wish list. Enjoy!
Hello again – if you’d like a hard copy sent to you overseas, please contact Vreni by email: email@example.com and she will be able to arrange it for you.
That’s awesome! Thank you, Lee :)