Monthly Archives: November 2011

Astrid Bucknall Blog

Posted on by Astrid

Next morning after a late breakfast Mark and I had a gentle potter around Galle fort. I saw the Ellerman and Bucknall plaque on the old shipping office and the lighthouse which is the same age as me. I was impressed by the height of the fort walls, well over 20 feet. The tsunami wave had swept over the walls and into the fort. The Edens in their house had water up to their necks. After a “colonial “ lunch Mr Gamini drove us to Colombo and the airport.


On the way we were given tea in his house by his smiling wife. She worked in an Ayurveda clinic and she gave me a foot massage which was lovely. After the calm of the countryside the traffic in Colombo was frenetic but we got to the airport in time for my flight. Mark had to wait 6 hours for his flight to Hong Kong via Singapore, a bit of a drag.

A great visit to a beautiful Island. SRI is making a positive impact on many children’s lives, and those of their families, by working on a very small budget with small rural communities.

Kotogoda School Library

Posted on by Mark

The final four of the schools selected by HSBC is situated in what was once a very remote spot, but is now close to Sri Lanka’s first ever expressway. Co-incidentally, the latter also opened while I was in Sri Lanka.

Like the other three schools, HSBC paid to renovate a disused classroom, by re-plastering, painting, installing windows and a door, tiling the floor and installing electricity.

The Bank also held a book drive in Colombo for its staff, which generated about 2,800 books. Many of these went to the four new libraries, but there were also enough to share out among our other schools and community libraries.

The opening ceremony was once again attended by a large party of HSBC staff who came down from Colombo for the day to read to the children. Guest of honour this time was Nick Nicolaou, HSBC’s CEO in Sri Lanka.

Lelwala School Library

Posted on by Mark

One month after the opening ceremonies for two HSBC sponsored libraries near Lunuganwehera National park, I came to Sri Lanka to attend the opening ceremony for another two inland from Galle.

Both Lelwala and Kotagoda Schools were recommended by the Zonal Department of Education in Galle. It wasn’t hard to see why with Lelwala. The school is about 40 minutes inland by bus as the beginning of the Southern tea country and partly serves the families working on the nearby tea plantations, none of whom have much money.

The school teaches a mix of Sinhalese and Tamil children but had almost no books. The classrooms were also in a bad condition and after the opening ceremonies, HSBC returned a few months later with a contingent of classroom furniture as well.

Astrid Bucknall Blog

Posted on by Astrid

LelwelaWe and the Head of HSBC Sri Lanka and his wife were greeted by a band of girls in yellow costumes would did a traditional dance of welcome. A poya was lit. A poya is a tall, about 6 foot, metal “candlestick” As the dignitaries lit individual candles the girls blew conch shells. As it was a Buddhist school the opening was blessed by a Buddhist monk. Buddhism is the predominant religion in Sri Lanka. After the blessing we were offered tea before going to the second school at Lelwala.

At Lelwala HSBC and Sri had together funded a new library. It was here that the new mural had been pasted on the wall. We were welcomed by a group of school children with garlands and also dishes of flowers which were placed on a Buddhist shrine. In the new library, while a Poya was being lit, a group of young girls in white saris made a living statue holding out dishes of white flowers.. The ceremony here was quite short and we left soon for Katagoda.

Sri Sobitha

In the street outside Katagoda we were greeted by a children’s band about 25 strong. All the children had elaborate costumes. These uniforms must have taken a long time to produce by the mothers. Having given a stirring fanfare of welcome they reversed and we followed them into the school where we were given garlands of orange marigolds. Orange being the colour sacred to the Buddha. Four flags were raised, the school flag, the SRI flag, the HSBC flag and finally the flag of SRI Lanka. Then it began to rain and a charming lady in an immaculate folded sari helped me up three flights of stairs to the new library. She had no trouble getting up the stairs which by this time were wet but I had the greatest difficulty manoeuvering yards of silk and petticoat.

In the library a Poya was lit and I was given a candle to light. Mark cut a ribbon and revealed a tablet to officially open the library. Then we had to make the return journey. It was bit easier going down stairs and I had my aide but I was quite relieved to get down. We went into the school hall with a stage at one end. As many of the children, parents, teachers and local dignitaries as possible piled in.

Then began speeches of welcome and speeches of thanks interposed with Bali Type dances and a little entertainment done by children of about ten years, which was understandable with out language. While this was going on there was a spectacular thunderstorm and torrential ran. Also an electricity failure. After the presentation we had tea.

A good afternoon

Astrid Bucknall Blog

Posted on by Astrid

We went to see the special needs class with about 8 deaf boys aged from about 10 to 16 years. One boy had been one of SRI’s great successes. Nipuna aged about 16 years was completely withdrawn and even with partial hearing was in a normal class. SRI saw the problem and had him fitted with a hearing aid and put him in a class with other deaf children and a specialized teacher who teaches him English sign language. He has been transformed and has found an aptitude for drawing. He also has one of the widest smiles I have ever seen. His class mates seem very happy as well.

Next door to this class is a class for handicapped children . There are about 10 children aged between 6 and 10 years, mostly boys but one girl, of about 10 years, who very gracefully offered me with bowed head “beetle “ leaves . These children, who were suffering from severe “Downs Syndrome” cannot be taught in a scholastic sense but they were learning social skills and were learning to relate to other people and to behave in an acceptable way. The class was run by a lovely gentle lady in a pink Sari.

Nipuna at the Deaf School


Astrid Bucknall Blog

Posted on by Astrid

KG01 PosterDuring the morning we went to four schools. The first school was Osuwinna which was reached by a road that was not much more than a dirt track. In England this would be considered a primary school with both girls and boys from about five to ten. SRI had installed a computer room with 6 computers and a library. The second school was KG01. Here we put a poster in the library. The next school was interesting as it had a Lady Principal and almost entirely female staff. The school appeared to be well run. The last school was Tissapura which according to my notes was “chaos”.

My impression of the schools was very favourable. The children were bright , intelligent and very well behaved. They stood up when you entered a class room and there were lots of “ayubowan”. The class sizes are small and there appears to be a desire to learn. There is a great shortage of books and computers and this is the problem that SRI is addressing working with the Principal of each school. I was impressed at Osuwinna that a very pretty pond of water lilies had been built showing an appreciation for the non-material. The schools must be doing things right as literacy in Sri Lanka is 94.5%, far higher than India.

Osuwina Library



Astrid Bucknall Blog

Posted on by astrid

Next morning Mr Gamini drove Mark and me to the computer centre which was almost totally set up by SRI and they pay the on-going costs. It is the best in the region for 20 miles. It consists of a building containing about 24 computers on purpose built desks and the room has fans which provide some air conditioning. One of the biggest costs of running the school is the cost of electricity which is vital in running an establishment like this. Maybe some research should be done into natural air conditioning as practised in the replica Chinese village in Ocean Park in Hong Kong.

We talked to Mr Tharindu and his staff: another man and two women in beautiful Saris. Saris seem to be the “business suit” of Sri Lanka and in the first school we went to the teacher in charge of the computers was also a woman. It was not a working day in the centre but as we were there it was the day Certificates were given out by me. Not something I do every day of the week. All the young people, a balance of girls and boys, were full of smiles and quite good English. They appeared to find the course useful and leading to a job. I was saddened that one girl of 18 who received her Certificate had not been allowed to take a job but was expected to stay at home and I assume help with the running of the house until she found a husband. I did not find out if she was more marriageable if she had this computer skill or not. The young people knelt in front of us.

Astrid Bucknall Blog

Posted on by Astrid

Astrid visiting the Mahasenpura Community Computer Centre with Mr Nuwan, Mrs Sammani, Mrs Thushari, Mr Tharindu.

The computer centre was one of the first projects set up by SRI.

More details on this project can be found on the site.