December: Art Competition

In October we moved into our first offices in Tissa and were keen to decorate the walls with art produced by some of the local children.

We held competitions across several schools and then took the winners paintings back to Hong Kong.

There, local artist Noel De Guzman very kindly scanned them all onto a computer, creating canvas prints, which we then had stretched onto a frame back in Sri Lanka.

Pictured left is Supun Tharanga, one of the winners from Tissapura School with his prize – some art equipment. He is also being sponsored by SRI Director, Steve Irvine and his wife Mei Zhang.

December: Gamanapura School IT Lab

The school already had a library, with a spare room attached to it, which was ideal for a small computer lab.

It was a great project because it did not involve a huge amount of renovation work.

It was simply a case of buying the furniture and six computers.

Pictured left is the school assembly to mark the opening ceremony.

November: Tissapura School IT Lab

This was our first major project at the school - a library and computer lab.

It's a very rural school and it had a couple of disused classrooms, which we could renovate.

Luckily both classrooms required very little building work to secure them from the elements.

We were also able to save money on the wiring costs as a monk from the neighbouring temple was a skilled electrician and he did the work for free.

October: MCTC Classes

We are now running at almost full capacity at the MCTC following its launch earlier this year.

During the day, the team are teaching grades seven to 13 at Mahasenpura School.

Then there are five community classes in the afternoons and at the weekend.

October: Weerahela Library Opening Ceremony

This school was recommended to us by our MCTC centre manager, Tharindu.

He had worked at the school as a volunteer English teacher and was very keen for us to help as he felt it had suffered from a great deal of neglect.

We decided to start off with a library.

Like all our other projects, we made sure that we included a lot of novels that children would enjoy reading.

In particular, we have purchased plenty of Sinhalese versions of favourites likes Harry Potter and Tintin, as well as school text books.

The school was also keen to have a traditional opening ceremony.

This always begins with the school band marching in under a welcome Thoruna.

It ends with refreshments all round, usually in the principal's office.

In most schools, the band will have a special uniform.

As I (SRI Director Jackie Horne) waited for the opening ceremony at Weerahela to start, Tharindu pointed out that this marching band were wearing their school uniforms instead.

Unfortunately the reason is they couldn't afford them as this is an especially poor area by Tissa standards.

October: Uduwila School IT Lab and Library

One of the things which drew us to Uduwila School was the Principal’s willingness to allow the school’s facilities to be used as a community resource.

The school had a number of derelict buildings, which were ripe for renovation.

One of these was right by the main gates and seemed the ideal one to create a library that local villagers could use after school hours.

The total project cost US$10,000 and it enabled us to renovate three dilapidated classrooms, turning two into a junior and senior school library and a third into a computer lab.

Prior to this, the school did not have a single computer. Now it has six.

We also purchased a TV and DVD player for the infants’ library.

This also enabled us to establish a cinema club for children that do not have TV sets at home.

In the senior school library, we installed a big sofa to make reading a more relaxing and comfortable experience.

Pictured left is the whole block post renovation.

October: Uduwila School Library Club

Every Saturday we run a library club at Uduwila School where we created a junior and senior school library by renovating a building (see story above).

This is run by our Project Officer Mr Teddy, who brings a new film every Saturday.

We are also sponsoring one of the school's teachers to act as an out-of-hours librarian.

September: Osuwina Library and Computer Lab

Having completed basic renovations towards the end of 2006, we moved onto a more ambitious project in 2007.

This involved connecting Osuwinna School to the electricity grid and then establishing a computer lab and library.

We were very keen on this project because we hoped it would take Osuwinna from the bottom of the educational heap much further towards the top.

This is also one of the first schools in the area to get access to computers.

We were lucky that we were able to keep costs down because the school already had dilapidated teachers' quarters (pictured above left).

We were able to use this shell of a building to construct a small stand-alone centre.

Some of parents also offered to provide their services free of charge.

This meant that we could keep the labour costs to a minimum as well.

In the absence of any budget for a computer teacher, we allocated one of the teachers from our Mahasenpura Community Training Centre (MTRC).

He (Nuwan) will come to Osuwinna school for a couple of days per week.

Some of the Osuwinna students are also coming to our after-school classes at the MCTC as well.

June: Tissapura School Trip

Mr Samansiri, the principal of Tissapura School (pictured below left), has always stood out from many of his peers because of his hands-on attitude to education.

When I (SRI Director Jackie Horne) spent a few days teaching English at the school after I first came to Sri Lanka, he participated in the class himself.

When anyone from the charity drops by for a visit, we will often find him conducting alfresco science experiments outside his office.

He makes up for lack of equipment by improvising with bits of wire and wood to create electronic circuits and other gadgets.

So we were not that surprised when he became the first principal to ask about a school trip.

We thought it would be a great way to broaden the children’s horizons.

After discussion with Mr Samansiri, we settled on a three-day in-depth visit to Sinharaja Forest, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site

We (Project Manager Jaya and Project Officer Teddy) took grades five to eight.

At the end of the trip, we held a competition for the best essays about the biosphere.

May: Kande Viharaya Temple English Class

Sunday school is an important part of a child’s life in Sri Lanka.

Lessons aren't geared to religion, but teaching children how to become better community members.

In recent years, teaching English has also become more popular.

We decided to help the temple set up English classes for about 80 children: paying for two teachers and making an additional 25 desks and chairs to cater for the growing numbers who wanted to come to the class.

May: Kande Viharaya Temple Sewing Class

We instantly warmed to the Chief Priest of this temple – the Reverend Kadapana Gunananda Thero.

We have since called him the smiley priest partly because his name is a bit of a mouthful for non-Sinhalese speakers, but mainly because he always seems so happy.

From the very outset, we could also see his dedication to serving the local community. For example, he uses his ayurvedic training to hold free clinics for local villagers.

He has also been trying to boost average rural family incomes of about US$25 per month.

We have helped him to do this by donating US$1,954 to set up a sewing group.

We purchased two sewing machines and a big batch of materials. We also hired the services of a teacher (pictured behind the sewing machine) who established a weekly class for 32 local women.

Within a few weeks, the women had already started producing decorative bags and murals. They are now selling these to passing tourists after setting up a roadside stand by the temple.

March: Ikkapalama English Room Renovation

This is a very well run rural school, which has made good use of its limited budget. One example of this was setting aside a classroom as an English activity room.

It only took a small amount of money to cover the walls with English sayings and posters to encourage the children to learn a language that hadn’t been prioritised by the government until fairly recently.

The principal also needed help fixing the roof, which we facilitated with a donation of US$550.

March: MCTC Opens

Govt minister Chamal Rajapaksa opens the MCTC with SRI trustees Jackie Horne, Steve Irvine and Mark Bucknall

We were attracted to Mahasenpura School by the principal, Mr Kithsiri who was keen to create to create a computer lab and just as importantly, allow the local community to access it as well.

We, therefore, decided to make this our flagship project, building a stand-alone centre in the school grounds with 23 networked computers in one room and a separate office for a manager and four teachers, all paid for and managed by SRI.

The centre was opened on February 27 by Chamal Rajapaksa (pictured right), brother of the President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Minister for Ports, Aviation, Irrigation and Water Management.

During school hours, the MCTC teaches the pupils of Mahasenpura School, followed by other school children during the afternoons and community members during the evenings and weekends.

The teachers will also serve other computer labs being set up by SRI, acting as trouble shooters to fix problems and deliver new teaching manuals and software.

February: Sith Sevana Kitchen Block

Our project manager Jaya told us about Sith Sevena Children's Home after working there on a voluntary basis.

It's run by a former Buddhist priest and his wife.

One thing the school lacked was a proper kitchen, which we were able to provide thanks to a donation of US$1,500 from SRI Director Jonathan Back.

He is also sponsoring about 60 children through our scholarship scheme.