November: KG03 Library Renovation

Our landmark project for 2011 was a series of four school library renovations.

We built, renovated and then furnished each of them working in partnership with HSBC Sri Lanka.

We would particularly like to thank the Bank’s Corporate Sustainability Manager, Dilini Fernando who is based in Colombo and we have worked alongside for a number of years on other projects.

HSBC gave us a lot of freedom to choose four deserving schools in the local area.

Two of these schools were recommended to us by the Department of Education and two on the basis of our own knowledge.

There were a huge number of deserving candidates in the latter category, but in the end we chose KG01 and KG03 schools.

These are both extremely rural schools - many miles away from a town let alone the nearest HSBC branch in Galle.

KG03 School already had the beginnings of a library thanks to a donation from an old pupil. However, there hadn’t been enough money to finish it off (see middle photo).

HSBC’s donation enabled us to complete the construction work (top photo).

The next stage was to create an enticing and colourful reading space for the children so we brought some murals over from the UK to put up on the walls.

Pictured are some of HSBC’s Colombo-based staff who happily made an exhausting 11-hour round trip to the school for the opening ceremony.

Two staff members read to each class before the official ceremony began.

The chief guests were Sriyan Cooray, HSBC’s Sri Lankan Chief Technology Officer and Tharanga Gunasekera, its Head of Marketing.

November: KG01 Library Renovation

We had wanted to become more involved with KG01 School ever since we helped to provide funds to build a kitchen for it back in 2008.

The principal, Mr Piyasena, is an extremely forward looking and inventive man. It was, therefore, extremely heartening to be able to give the school a proper library for the first time.

As this is a primary school, we really wanted to brighten up the room for the children and to create an appealing reading environment.

So we bought over a big jungle mural from the UK, which takes up almost one entire wall.

The school also outdid itself with the opening ceremony.

The poya lamp, which is used to bless the occasion, was one of the most beautiful we had ever seen.

The Principal even composed his own thank you song, which the children performed to the assembled guests.

The opening ceremony was held in the school playground and was a joint affair to mark the inauguration of KG03 Library (see post above) as well.

The renovation was thanks to HSBC, which funded this and a number of other library projects over the course of the year.

October: World Children's Day Trip

We took Uduwila School on a trip to Bundala National Park.

Project manager Jaya organized a talk in the park visitors’ centre to discuss the wildlife, then we had lunch on the beach.

A few hours later as the temperatures cooled, we headed off again, though not before Teddy’s jeep got stuck in the sand and everyone had to get out and push.

October: Astrid Bucknall Blog

My first stop arriving in Tissa was 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.

The next 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.

A good afternoon

We went to see the special needs class with about eight 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.

Library opening ceremonies

The next day, we 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 six 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

September: Uduwila Science Lab Renovation

Thanks to a series of generous donations from Alex Hayes-Griffin and Michela Frickleton, we have been able to renovate the science lab at Uduwila School.

As photo below demonstrates, one of the charity's first jobs was to build a wall between the science lab and the adjoining special needs classroom, which Alex and Michela also renovated.

Their donation enabled us to re-paint the classroom and buy some furniture including a cupboard and proper science benches for the students to work on.

Finally, we were also able to buy some much-needed equipment including a microscope.

On our next visit we also hope to bring some science related posters over from the UK to liven up the walls.

A functioning science lab is a rarity among Sri Lankan schools. Most are extremely poorly equipped.

So this is something that is normally top of the principal's wish list once a school has a library and computer lab.

It is, therefore, really gratifying that we are now in a position to start establishing them up at schools where we have already built libraries and computer labs.

September: Uduwila Junior School Renovation

Thanks to the generosity of Alex Hayes-Griffin and Michela Frickleton we have been able to complete a number of projects at schools where they are sponsoring students.

Part of their donation was used to re-paint the roof of Uduwila junior school and provide some paint so the school could put up a mural on the side walls.

These murals were all painted by the children themselves.

September: Mulana Classroom Renovation

A donation from Alex Hayes-Griffin and Michela Frickleton enabled us to renovate the grade one classroom at Mulana School where they are sponsoring a number of students.

Here is the before photo prior to adding wiremesh on the windows, a new coat of paint and a mural on a sidewall.

May: Walker Books Donation

We would like to thank Walker Books for a donation of about 50 boxes of high quality children’s picture books.

Walker Books is the UK’s leading children’s publisher and the donation is thanks to Fiona Macdonald, Head of Library and Education Sales.

We initially intended to ship the books to some of our libraries in Sri Lanka, but decided that instead of incurring shipping costs, it made more sense to sell them in the UK.

April: Nadigamwila School Toilets

Sri Lanka suffered heavy monsoon rains during the winter of 2010. Crops were destroyed and many buildings were damaged.

One of the casualties at Nadigamwila School was a toilet block

We were able to help the school re-build it quickly thanks to a donation from Alex Hayes Griffin and Michela Frickleton.

As with many of our projects, the building work was completed by the parents, helping to keep the costs down.

March: Cleaning Bundala Beach

Over 100 students from schools around Tissa volunteered to help clean Bundala National Park on March 28.

Project officer Teddy and Project Manager Jaya helped the Central Environment Authority and the Department of Wildlife & Conservation to organise the event.

Students from Uduwila, Nadigamwila, Ikkapalama, Weligatha, Tissapura, Thelulla and Pallemalala Schools visited the park.

They heard a number of talks about increasing environmental awareness.

January: Sponsorship Students

Pictured is Project Manager Jaya on the balcony outside the SRI office with one of the charity's sponsorship students, Chalana Sathsara.

Chalana is in grade nine at Uduwila School and his favourite subject is maths.

He was recommended for SRI's sponsorship scheme by the school principal as he one of the most talented students in his year, but comes from a low income family.