"I feel much more closer to them," said the Tempe resident, who was recently in that country to dedicate a school that he, together with a Sri Lankan Buddhist temple in California, established in the village of Loluwagoda, 30 miles east of Colombo.
The two-year project came about when he met Loluwagoda villagers and consulted with them about what would be most beneficial to their community. They asked for a school.
The monk created a non-profit organization, Bosath Children's Educational Foundation, in Sri Lanka and in the United States. He and local residents worked with Buddhist monk Bante Chao Chu Gunarathana from the California temple to raise funds for the school project. About $20,000 was raised in the States and additional contributions came from Sri Lanka.
"They had one big room that was crowded and noisy and it was hard to divide the age groups," Dhammapala said of the existing school.
The new school, dedicated on Friday,is a two-story, 10,000-square-foot building with separate rooms for different classes.
During a previous visit, Dhammapala presented the students with book bags and was rewarded with warmth and appreciation."They have hardly anything. How happy they can be with something so simple as a book bag," he said. "It's so difficult for people to understand until they go somewhere else. For me, that's the real awakening."
In many of the countries that Dhammapala visited, including Malaysia, where he was ordained by a Sri Lankan monk in 1998, he was urged to stay on. Sri Lanka was no exception. The villagers of Loluwagoda asked him to remain and start an English program. Dhammapala gave them his stock reply.
"If I stay in Asia, there's nobody to help Americans with Buddhism."