This is a continuation from last week's presentation (9/26/14

Immigration to USA - Sri Lanka Project




Vadstena Castle

I was an active member in Inner Wheel for many years in Sweden, and I was also
on the board as an International Service Organizer so called ISO. 
I was a member for 15 years. Inner Wheel is a sister club to Rotary, however it is
specifically for women.
It is not as common in the USA anymore, since Rotary started allowing women to become members of their club in 1989 worldwide. Inner Wheel is most common in Asia and Europe, and they have over 100,000 members worldwide.

In clubs in Sweden, we support children and women in need of help, doctors without borders, and financial support for drug sniffing dogs.

I was a member in the same Inner Wheel club as my mother. My father was a member of Rotary. Along with my children, we made a presentation about our trips to Asia (see previous E-Club presentation) for my father's Rotary Club.

We moved from Norrköping to Vadstena in 1989 when my husband received his job at Autoliv (a Swedish company that deals with automotive safety). Vadstena is a very little town with 7,000 citizens. After our trips abroad, we just wanted to explore more of the world. We did not feel at home in our little town anymore, we felt it was too small. We started searching for jobs abroad to move, however this was not easy.

At a lecture in Vadstena in 1999
Sara (6 yrs) and Matilda (8 yrs)

During the time we were out traveling, we sent in updates and stories from our trips that were published in the local newspapers and TV. We became well known in our county as "The Dahlin Adventure Family"! We were seen as a little unique and "crazy" for going on these adventurous trips with our children, however we decided to bring them along to present them with new perspectives of the world. This experience also influenced our whole family and our children learned to be more humble and appreciate life. This is what started the inspiration for our children to think about becoming teachers.

We then started our own company called DAP- Dahlin Adventure Photography, in which we sold pictures to travel magazines and lectured at different schools, companies, and travel agencies to finance our trips. Even though Hans and I are both photographers, I tend to take most of the pictures and Hans shoots the videos.

In spring of 2003, we went to Sweden's biggest travel show in Gothenburg and helped the Malaysian Travel Agency in promoting Malaysia/Borneo. On the fair we came in contact with another travel agency located in Stockholm and began making plans of creating our own group trips. We planned a two-week program to Thailand/Malaysia/Singapore in which we were supposed to be the travel guides. We started making brochures to promote and sell the trips.

However, unknowingly there was something else that came up in the fall and winter of 2003!
Hans found out that his work had plans to start a new factory in Goleta to make infrared cameras for BMW cars, as a night driving aid. Goleta was the best spot for this new opening since it is one of the world's biggest areas for infrared technology. 
Hans applied for the job, which was said as a two-year expat contract. After months and months of waiting we finally received the good news that Hans had landed this new job. We were now immigrating to USA!
We didn't have a house in Sweden, just renting a townhouse. So we packed up 75% of our furniture and the rest we were able to fit in storage. We moved to Santa Barbara in January 2004.

We really enjoyed our new lives in Santa Barbara, California. The ocean, the beaches, the mountains, the weather, everything was like paradise. The time passed so quickly, suddenly the two years were up, and the contract was ending, but nobody in the family wanted to go back to Sweden! At the same time Hans liked his job at Autoliv but the company was not willing to extend the contract. To make a long story short (a very long and tough period in our lives), we were able to stay in Santa Barbara after Hans left Autoliv and joined a US company. 
To say the least, a work VISA in the US is not that easy to get for an immigrant!
In summary, it was a very difficult and risky decision we made in 2006 but we never regretted it!

There is a small Swedish community in Santa Barbara, in where some Swedish women are members in a Swedish organization called SWEA (Swedish Women's Educational Association).
SWEA is a global non-profit organization for Swedish speaking women who are or have lived abroad. As Sweden's promotion organization outside Sweden spreads, SWEA members come together to celebrate Swedish culture and tradition. 
I was on the board for SWEA Santa Barbara as a membership chair, and PR for some years and became the president in 2012.

Hans joined Rotary in 2008 (RC of Goleta Noontime) and since then I have been following him to several Rotary event such as Goleta Fireworks, decoration of floats at the Rose parade in Pasadena and the Fiesta in Santa Barbara, helping Santa Barbara Sunrise with Fiddlers convention, Lemon Festival and more. It has been a wonderful and growing experience.
It has been very inspiring with so many talented and passionate enthusiasts.

At the same time I was the president of SWEA, Hans became president in the Goleta Noontime club in 2012. I joined the E-Club in 2012 and I have Goleta noontime as my "buddy club".

Opening ceremony with placement of flags

This year the RI conference was held in Bangkok and we decided to go there. We both traveled to the convention together with 35,000 other Rotarians. It was an amazing experience! We listened to many excellent presentations.

If you haven't been to a RI Convention I definitely recommend you to do that.
Or otherwise I recommend you to go to a District conference which I have done a couple of times.

One funny surprise was when we randomly were placed at the same lunch table as the past RI president (2005-06) Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar from Sweden!


At the House of Friendship

During 2012-13 Goleta Noontime and some other clubs in district 5240 did a project to support preschools in rural Sri Lanka and make an impact on early child education.
The rural area did not meet the same educational level and standard as the Capital town (Colombo) of Sri Lanka. The host club was in Batticaloa on the East coast of Sri Lanka in district 3220.
A grant was written by the club in Morro Bay and all together the project was approved for $47,000. The money was going to be used for:

  1. Training for teachers
  2. Provide pre-school furniture such as tables & chairs, cabinets etc.
  3. Musical Instruments
  4. Educational Toys
  5. Outdoor play items such as swings, slides etc.

Because I am a pre-school / kindergarten teacher and our daughters are studying to become teachers, we thought it would be interesting to follow up and continue on this project and see what the status was.


We collected four big moving boxes with different school materials such as: educational materials, books, aluminum water bottles, and ten Unite-to-light lamps. We also brought a doll crib and some stuffed animals together with four books that we bought for the teachers with classroom pedagogy tips.Last summer when the school I am working at (Montessori Center School in Goleta, Santa Barbara County), cleaned out all school material that they didn't need any more, I asked if I could take them for the Sri Lanka project.

The purpose of the trip to Sri Lanka was to check and support the current project but also develop a future sustainable project on the same path by carefully addressing their needs.

While we visited the schools, we talked to the teachers to give them tips on how to use the materials, different teaching styles, and examples of curriculum.When we came to Sri Lanka, we visited three pre-schools (that were part of the original project), near Batticaloa area on the East Coast. We were helped by a member of the Batticaloa Club (Mr. Parthipachutan), who drove us to the different sites (for video, see link at the end of presentation!).

Our material came to good use and we saw that they were really happy and thankful for the material they received.

The areas surrounding the schools were extremely poor and many of the students had neither electricity nor water at their home.
Some of the schools did not have any water while some did not have electricity.

The first school we visited had 75 students. The other two had 45 and 25 children.
The teachers had a minimum wage that was paid by some of the parents.

It felt nice to be able to contribute what we considered "little", but in their eyes seemed as so much more. However, we wish we could have brought twice as much!

How can we continue this important project? Ideas – goals?
What can we do to help? There is more to be done in the future. We already have recognized the following needs:

  • Continue with next phase of the teacher education program. The first phase included training for 350 preschool teachers. The next phase will be 250 teachers.
  • The school material we brought was highly appreciated. We would like to bring more if possible.
  • We also brought 10 Unite-to-light lamps and these were handed out to students that did not have any electricity at their homes. There were still some students that did not get any lamps. We will try to send some more lamps to them.
  • We saw a need for water wells in one or two of the schools. The host club is going to write a proposal for a grant here that we can help them fund. The cost of one well is around $100.

Consider how much a small contribution has such a big impact on others! After the school visits, we continued to explore other parts of Sri Lanka.You can see these places together with the school visits in this video clip.

The clip includes:

  • School visits in Pasikudah and Batticaloa
  • Sigiriya (Lion Rock)
  • Elephant Safari
  • Elephant bathing

VIDEO CLIP: 17:25 min:


(Note: if you have problems viewing this video on your phone, please try viewing it on a different device like your computer or Ipad)

Your fellow Rotarian, Helena Dahlin

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