November: Nadigamwila Science Lab

This is a project that we had been hoping to do for some time.

The science lab at Nadigamila School was in a terrible state and had almost no equipment.

Thanks to a donation from Robert Reoch and his family, plus SRI Director Jackie Horne, we were able to renovate the lab at the end of the year.

November: Christine Horne blog

I've just returned from a wonderful and very enlightening trip to Sri Lanka and visited about 16 schools to see the work that SRI is doing in helping to refurbish classrooms and equip them with much needed books and furniture etc. Among them were some new schools that are in desperate need of help, they literally have nothing.

One school proudly showed us their only computer but it didn't work because there was no electricity cable to it and they didn't have the money to get it connected. I'd no idea that classrooms aren't sealed with windows and doors and that animals and insects can get in and chew up the books and furniture, the teachers are so dedicated in the face of such adversity.

I admired the lady teachers in their pretty saris in such delicate materials, how do they manage to dress so beautifully and still get to school for a 7 o’clock start, they don’t fall out of bed and put on the nearest t-shirt?

On Sunday I helped to give out the prizes which SRI had paid for at the Uddakandara Temple for children who'd entered different categories at their Sunday Schools; essay writing, music, dance etc. and was really moved by the way they all knelt at my feet and wouldn't get up until I'd touched their head.

We were all given beetle leaves to hold, which I was not quite sure what to do with, and garlands of white flowers around our necks which had been intricately woven together, they must have taken such a long time to do, I felt guilty taking mine off and casting it aside at the end of the ceremony.

Monday, was spent following one of the priests as he went about his duties. My daughter, Jackie, wanted to write a piece called “A day in the life of a Sri Lankan Priest” and one of the priests who she calls the ‘smiley priest’ agreed to her request.

She manfully got up at the very early hour of 5 o’clock in the morning to meet him at his temple for the start of his day – he was already up and sweeping the temple steps when she arrived. I, on the other hand caught up with them at about 11 o’clock when he was attending an ‘alms giving’.

The ceremony was for someone who'd died three months earlier – everyone gathers to remember the deceased and the priest comes to give a blessing and the family lay on a feast.

They were all so kind to me as I was standing outside someone came out and offered me a chair in the shade and some coconut juice. While the ceremony was going on I visited the Ladies Sewing Group, which is funded by SRI, and bought a lovely bag that one of then had made.

Later the priest attended a concert at Kande Viharaya Temple School where he again blessed everyone with his chanting. I particularly enjoyed all the dancing that the children performed for us all. They were all dressed in such beautiful costumes which I presume their mothers had made for them.

We then followed him back to the Temple for “puja”, a time in the early evening when devotees come to the temple to bring offerings to Buddha and be blessed by the priest. He blessed me and tied some cotton threads around my wrist which I must wear till it falls off so that I have good luck.

The night before I also took part in a ceremony at the famous temples in Kataragama where you light some oil on top of a coconut and throw it in the flames down hard onto a stone to smash it for good luck.

I quickly threw it before it set fire to me but of course missed and it did not smash. Not wanting to miss out on the good luck a little boy climbed into the enclosure and retrieved it for me to have another go, so I made sure I succeeded this time.

Thursday was one of my best days, the day when I got to wear my very own sari. I was to be the “Important Guest” at the opening ceremony for Nadigamwila School Science Laboratory which SRI has built and equipped and I had the honour of unveiling the plaque. I felt elegant in my sari, I had no idea how to put it on and was helped to get dressed. I was frightened to move in case it all unravelled as there are no zips or buttons anywhere.

We were met at the entrance to the school by the school band that were all dressed in beautiful red and gold outfits and walked in procession into the school where we lit a ‘poya’ lamp. This was all hand made out of coconut leaves and bark and must have stood about 5ft high, very impressive. I was quite worried that it would all catch fire after everyone had taken their turn to light it but it didn’t of course.

Friday was spent visiting more schools to assess what SRI can do to help. One particular school, Kiula School, is celebrating its 100th anniversary so had a lot of flags up. HSBC are sponsoring a library. I also visited SRI's deaf and special needs classrooms.

We found the children busily drawing but we noticed that some of the children were not wearing their hearing aids, on enquiring why we were told that they had grown out of the ear moulds. So that's another project that SRI will undertake to replace them.

One of my most memorable experiences was driving a jeep around Yala National Park in a jeep with four sponsorship students. I found it amazing to be so close to elephants as I had only seem them in zoos before.

To start with I was a bit nervous when they came so close and was told to sit still and be very quiet and they will do you no harm.

Loku Jaya and Mr Teddy who both work with SRI came with us and they are both wildlife experts and were able to point out all the different birds and animals to us.

We also drove up the sand dunes and down to the see the Indian Ocean, by which time it was getting dark. Because the park closes at 6 o’clock we had a mad dash to get out in time.

The jeep bouncing around and kicking up the earth as we sped along we soon became covered in dust but it was very exhilarating and I throughly enjoyed visiting such a fantastic place.

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country and all the people that I met were so friendly and made me feel very welcome, I would love to visit again so I shall have to save up my pennies.

November: Sponsorship Students Trip

Pictured are three of the charity's sponsorship students from Kirinda Muslim School.

SRI directors Jackie and Jonathan, plus Project Manager Jaya, took a group of students on a one-day trip when they were in Sri Lanka for a few weeks.

The group visited Uda Walawe National Park, which is famous for its elephants.

October: World Children's Day Bundala

The children of Nadigamwila School enjoyed a day at Bundala National Park to mark World Children's Day.

We hired two coaches to take them to the wetlands where they spotted lots of birds, elephants and crocodiles.

They also had a picnic on the beach, which is also part of the park.

October: Certificate Ceremony

We held a ceremony at the MCTC in October to hand out certificates to students who have attended our latest batches of Microsoft Office Community Courses.

Pictured left is Ishan Chamikara from Community Batch 25 receiving his certificate from Christine Horne who was visiting Sri Lanka from the UK.

May: Andaragasaya School Trip

We selected this school for a field trip because it is situated in a very rural area where most of the families are paddy and chena farmers.

Many of the students have never travelled far from Tissamaharama.

There were 60 people in total on this trip. The grouop included 50 students, a few teachers, and some of the parents.

We (Project Manager Jaya and Project Officer Teddy) left early in the morning before dawn so we could visit as many different places as possible in one day.

We arrived at Rawana Falls at 8.30 AM. This was a good place for breakfast because the children were surrounded by nature.

After a 30 minute break we started off into the tea country up to Nuwara Eliya.

We arrived at Hakgala Botanical Gardens and the children loved looking at the flowers and bushes. We decided to stay here for our lunch.

Then we set out for a milk factory. Because this is high country it is much colder and there are lots of grasslands, which are good for diary farming so we saw lots of European cows.

The children had never seen them before and were very interested to learn how milk is produced.

August: KG01 Computer Donation

KG01 is a tiny rural primary school north of Tissa. It has a very active principal who had been requesting a computer for some time.

As we'd already done a library project for the school, we knew there was a secure room a computer could be stored in. We also had a spare one in the office after upgrading some of our equipment.

We held a small opening ceremony with Tim and Brandy Cuffe, over from Hong Kong.

May: DPPC/Uduwila School Trip

I (Project Manager Jaya) was very happy that we could organise a trip for our two special needs centres at Debarawewa Presidents Primary College and Uduwila School.

We took 30 students from both schools and set off very early in the morning. All the children were wearing colourful clothes and were in a happy mood.

After a few hours, we came to Weligama beach to have our breakfast. All the children were playing running, shouting and bathing.

It was like allowing birds to fly in the sky. After one and a half hours we tried to collect them all onto the bus.

Some of them were not happy leave the beach and put their school uniform back on again.

After that we took the new Southern Highway and went to Dehiwala Zoological Gardens near to Colombo. After talking to the officers, we were allowed into the park without paying for a ticket, which was very kind of them.

When the children saw the animals they tried to follow them. Some were trying to make sounds and were walking like the animals. Most of all they were happy to see the anacondas and crocodiles.

In the afternoon we headed back to Tissamaharama. It was a very special day for all of us.

January: HSBC Library Book Donation

Last year, HSBC collected boxes of books from its employees in Colombo, which we distributed to four school libraries the bank sponsored. However, many books were in English, which the students don't tend to take home to read because the language isn't well spoken.

So we selected five local schools (Weerahela, Osuwinna, Mahasenpura, Nadigamwila and Uduwila) and the names of the students who scored the highest marks in their end of year English exams. We gave three books to each top student in grades three to ten.

January: Ikkapalama Water Line

A student demonstrates the new sink and water facilities, which have been fitted into all the junior school classrooms at Ikkapalama School.

The Principal had been asking for a proper water line for a couple of years ago and we’d always been keep to help since he’s done a great job at keeping the school clean and tidy.

Having water in the classrooms makes a big difference to the smaller children who are now able to do lots of art and clean up after eating their lunch in the classroom.

It was made possible thanks to a very generous donation from Alex Hayes-Griffin and Michela Frickleton who have been helping a cluster of schools in the area, as well as sponsoring a number of children.

January: Uduwila School Special Needs Centre

Special needs children living in the Uduwila area were unable to go to our main special needs centre at Debarawewa President's Primary College because it was too far away.

There were no dedicated facilities in the local area. However, Mr Amarasiri, the Principal of Uduwila School, had an unused classroom, which he could allocate.

The problem was that it had no furniture or teaching equipment. See photo below, which shows one of the school's special needs students in the clasroom pre-renovation.

This classroom also adjoined a second dilapidated classroom, which the Principal wanted to turn into a proper science lab.

Alex Hayes-Griffin and Michela Frickleton came to the rescue.

They have been very generous donors to the charity and provided enough funds to re-paint and furnish both rooms, in addition to providing new equipment.

Pictured above are two students at the completed centre using an etch-a-sketch, which we purchased with Alex and Michela's donation too.