SOUTH PORTLAND — Why would an ordinary citizen endure a 20-hour trip every spring to go to hot and humid Sri Lanka? The answer begins with birds or, more accurately, bird-watching.
In the mid-1990s, Jim Pinfold, who works as a buyer for Bull Moose, began taking bird-watching trips to India to get away from Maine winters. For his 2004 trip, he decided to visit Sri Lanka, believing that it would be easier to travel around that country than India. He enjoyed his visit immensely.
“Sri Lanka is a beautiful place,” Pinfold said. “A Buddhist country with a different feel.”
Pinfold decided to return to Sri Lanka in March 2005, but after he booked his trip a tsunami devastated the coastal areas of the country. He decided to take the trip anyway. Before departing, he raised some funds from friends and family, hoping to use the funds to assist some devastated areas.
While in Sri Lanka, Pinfold met an English teacher who taught at a school in Koggalla; she introduced him to the school’s principal, and Pinfold asked how he could help. Together they created a list of items that would be useful for the school with 350 students.
Every year since 2005, Pinfold has returned to the school in Koggalla, bringing along $7,000-$10,000 to buy school materials including sports equipment, pencils, computers, ink cartridges, and the like. He has also helped with specific projects, such as repairing the roof, building bookcases and anything else that needed to be done. Each trip lasts about three weeks. Pinfold’s wife Alex Carter, an English teacher, accompanied him one year and taught English at the school.
When Pinfold is not in Sri Lanka, he stays in contact with Udenika Ariyasiri, an English teacher at the school, who updates him on happenings and future needs.
In 2012, after completing his work at the school in Koggalla, he visited a smaller, 50-student village school in the hills, away from the coast. He asked the principal what the school needed. Next spring he will return to that school and undertake several projects, including building a playground and working on the water system. Pinfold also plans to begin working with a third school in the Jaffna peninsula, a region that has been torn by civil war.
Pinfold’s brother Wallace, who lives in Brunswick, accompanied him on the trip last spring. They spent part of the time traveling around the country, visiting forest regions and temples. Wallace noted that, “Jim is a real connoisseur of Sri Lanka. He would no longer be considered a ‘tourist.’”
Wallace is a great admirer of his younger brother’s work in Sri Lanka.
“Jim has the ability to put aside the ideas one might normally associate with an educated do-gooder from the States,” he said. “He’s truly in the moment. He has no agenda; he just wants to help people. He tries to understand what is needed in a school and then provide that.”
Pinfold seeks no recognition for his work in Sri Lanka. He realizes the rewards, he said, from “seeing the results of what I’m doing.”
Jim Pinfold, at his South Portland home, uses a map to point out the area in northern Sri Lanka where he hopes to work during his next visit. For more information on Pinfold’s Sri Lanka project, go to twoschoolsinsrilanka.com. He also welcomes contributions from those who would like to support his work.
One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: firstname.lastname@example.org.