December: Uduwila School IT Lab

One of our first ever projects was building an IT lab for Uduwila School back in 2007.

At the time, the school had no computers and so a small lab with six computers made a lot of sense.

However, it was located in a tiny room attached to our far larger library renovation project.

The school quickly outgrew the lab and had been asking us for a new one for some years.

We are very grateful to UK-headquartered Barclays Bank for providing us with the funds that enabled us to do just that as part of the bank's wider sponsorship of our main training centre, the MCTC.

The donation enabled us to renovate a disused classroom (see bottom photo).

The building work involved installing a new roof, tiling the floor, re-plastering and painting, fixing glass windows and wiring the room.

As the existing computers were all very old, we were also able to use some of the money to upgrade them.

This included replacing CRT monitors with new flat screen ones.

This should also benefit the school because these computers will use less electricity and should bring the school's bill down.

The old computer room is now being used as a staff room for the teachers and adjoins the library complex so is a relatively quiet place to relax between lessons.

Picture top is one of our sponsorship students, Kousalya, who is the top grade nine student in his year.

The principal, Mr Amarasiri, also makes an appearance on the computer screen!!

December: PowerPoint Competition

This year we had 198 entries for the annual PowerPoint competition we run in conjunction with the Department of Education.

The winner was Nimesh Deshan from Debarawewa President’s Primary College, one of the largest schools in the area.

Nimesh’s theme was the classification of animals.

We liked it a lot because he created his own animations and arranged his information in a logical and very informative way.

December: Sponsorship Students

Pictured are Project Manager Jaya (seated) and next to him the principal of Mulana School (far left) plus Project Officer Teddy (also seated) outside the front door of Hasith Dilshan's house.

Hasith is a pupil at Mulana School and it was the principal who recommended his family for a sponsorship.

The family have been struggling in recent years because Hasith has had multiple digestive problems.

These relate to a twisted colon, which has severely impacted his health throughout his childhood.

Hasith's digestive problems necessitated a number of operations, which have thankfully been successful.

However, he still needed extra vitamin supplementation because he was unable to eat properly while he was recovering.

It was really heartening to see how much he had improved and the weight that he had put back on when SRI Director Jackie Horne went to visit the family.

Pictured bottom is Hasith and his mother.

His father works away from home as a labourer.

December: KG05 School IT Repairs

Only three computers were still working, serving a large rural school that teaches up to A-level.

Our MCTC deputy manager Nuwan spent three days making an assessment at the school and repairing as many computers as he could.

We then provided new parts to get the rest back working again including new keyboards, power units and RAM.

We also brought an electrician to re-wire the lab as there were not enough plug points either.

November: Diploma Class II Graduation

Pictured are MCTC manager Tharindu, deputy managers Thushari and Nuwan with AA Jayanath who works at a local insurance firm.

Another student hopes to use his new knowledge to gain a promotion at the local salt factory where he is currently a machine operator but would like to become a test officer.

The year-long course had four modules covering MS Word, programming, hardware and graphic design.

November: Sammani Leaves SRI

It was a sad day for SRI when MCTC teacher Sammani decided to leave the charity.

She has been with us from the very start, but her decision to give up work was understandable.

She now has two children and was having to travel more than five hours every day from her husband’s home near Galle to get to the MCTC and back.

Pictured above are the SRI team at her leaving lunch.

Sammani is on the far right with her two children and her husband, second from left at the back.

October: Drought Relief

Many rural villages have been affected by the drought as families rely on farming.

Project manager Jaya helped to co-ordinate government efforts to provide food and water for 165 families in the Osuwina area working with local village head Mr Kusumsiri.

As well as water, we also distributed rice, dhal and coconuts.

October: Teacher Training, Website Building 3

Teachers from the Hambantota Zone returned to the MCTC in September for two further days of web design training.

MCTC manager Tharindu and deputy manager Nuwan helped them with HTML and CSS coding.

We are hoping that some of the teachers will be able to use their training to create website for their schools.

October: Community Class 33 Starts

Every summer all the teachers from the MCTC stand outside the exam centres to catch students when they come out following their A-level exams.

We've found that it is the best way to spread the message about the MCTC given that few students have smartphones or computers so they won't hear about us online.

Here are the current crop studying for the three-month Microsoft Office Certificate Course, being taught by Nuwan.

October: Kids Class IV and V Start

Our finance manager, Nimeshika, also doubles up as an IT teacher and has begun teaching the fourth Kids Class we've run, while Thushari and our intern Nisansala are teaching the fifth.

The former takes place every Saturday and latter every Sunday.

The course is designed for grade III students. Hardly any will have ever used a computer before.

October: Hearing Aids for DPPC Students

A big thanks to SRI Director Jonathan Back who paid for the children at our deaf centre to get their hearing tested and purchase digital hearing aids.

All the students came to SRI’s office to get their new hearing aids along with their teacher Mrs Isangika.

They have also been back to the testing centre in Matara to receive some training in how to use them.

Now their teacher has to help them learn to speak as many of the children have been deaf since birth.

August: Teacher Training, Website Building 2

There were thirteen teachers at this programme learning HTML and CSS codes to design a website for their schools.

Pictured is MCTC deputy manager Nuwan helping to build the website while they were at the centre.

June: Kiula School Trip

The big highlight of this two-day trip was Hakgala Botanical Gardens up in the tea country.

The 50 students were fascinated because the flora and fauna are very different to Tissamaharama.

By the time we (Project Manager Jaya and Project Officer Teddy) got to Horton Plains National Park at the end of day one, it was much later than expected.

There was a mist, which none of the children had experienced before. They couldn't quite believe their eyes and thought they were flying through the clouds.

We were staying at a special dormitory at the park centre. After dinner we had a concert in the dining room.

The next morning we started off with a presentation in the auditorium. It was held by the park warden who talked about different flora and fauna as well as the threats facing the parks.

After this I (Jaya) did an environmental presentation as well.

Finally we arrived at World’s End, which is called this because there is a very sharp edge and steep drop.

Often it is not possible to see beyond World’s End because of the mist, but we were lucky.

June: Community Classes Graduation

There were around 120 students in these community classes who studied for the Microsoft Office Certificate Course.

Community Class 29 was arranged for O/L students while they were waiting for their exam results in the spring. It was taught be Tharindu every Saturday.

Community Classes 30 to 32 were arranged for A/L students waiting for their exam results in the autumn. Tharindu also taught Class 30 every Tuesday, Thushari 31 and Nuwan 32 on a Sunday.

June: Pallemata School IT Donation

This is a tiny little primary school with only 39 pupils.

None of them had ever used a computer before.

SRI Director Mark Bucknall, Project Manager, Jaya ,and MCTC Manager, Tharindu, (pictured) deliver this computer to the principal and a couple of small helpers.

June: Gunalankara Temple IT Donation

Our Mahasenpura Community Training Centre deputy managers and teachers Nuwan and Thushari requested some computers for their local temple in Weligatha.

This temple is situated off the main road between Tissamaharama and Hambantota.

It has a priests school attached to it and the chief priest there wanted the young monks to learn computing as part of their education.

These monks are typically 12- to 16-years old and study at the temple rather than attend a regular government school.

They do a very similar curriculum, but in a very different uniform!!

We were very happy to donate two of our old CRT computers when we upgraded to flat screen computers at the MCTC.

This was thanks to our overall sponsorship by UK-headquartered Barclays Bank.

The temple’s new computers will be used to teach villagers from the local community as well.

These classes will be led by a number of volunteers including Nuwan who has established a weekly class.

June: Ikkapalama School IT Donation

Another of our old computers from the MCTC went to Ikkapalama School at the principal's request.

He wanted to computerize all of Ikkaplama’s activities including the school's administration.

However, the IT teacher was not happy to release one from the computer room as she only had five to share among 302 students attending the school.

May: Yahangala School IT Donation

This is a tiny school with just 65 students and six teachers including the Principal who spends most of his time teaching as the school is so short staffed.

Yahangala does not have a computer and our donated one is being installed in his office, as it is the only secure room in the school.

We also used Barclay’s sponsorship to construct a small partition so lessons can be separated from his office work.

May: Thelula School IT Donation

We were very happy to donate another recycled computer from the MCTC to this school as one of our sponsorship students studies there.

Thelula's IT teacher also attended our recent teacher training workshops to learn how to create a school web page and requested a computer for the school.

This a fairly big school by local standards with 450 students and only four computers between them.

April: Reoch Family Blog

It's 9am, 35 degrees and the first day of the Sri Lankan New Year. Our family of five – myself, husband, 15 year old daughter and two sons ages 13 and seven – are generously taken by Mr Jayasinghe to Nadigamwila school to see the science room we helped to renovate.

We drive through the school gates to find a few concrete covered buildings and lots of lush green fruit and nut trees, borders of herbs and vegetables. To our delight we see a mishmash of about 30 smiling children, all in their white school uniform.

We are ushered in the direction of the Principal’s office, yet this is too good to miss – our children are as intrigued by them, as they are by us. We can hear little tittering giggles and feel the need to communicate. We walk over and introduce ourselves and receive much laughter when we say “hello”.

We try to repeat each other’s names and none of us do very well but we all smile. There is one tiny little boy standing right in front of me, just bursting to communicate with us in English.

Jaya translates for the Principal, Mr Kumarsinghe, and we hear all about his wishes for the school. It is clear these children are very lucky to have such a determined Principal supporting them.

We leave the office and walk outside toward the classrooms followed by a wave of white closing in around us with scuffling feet and quiet chatter. The children part to make way for us as we enter each classroom, waiting outside and looking at us through the wire mesh, or standing on the edge of the doorway.

The children’s colourful work is displayed as if it’s on the washing line. The classrooms are incredibly basic, but there is still a very positive and happy atmosphere even though they are currently empty of children and teachers.

We reach the science classroom. We notice the new tiles on the roof, but the room seems very empty and there is one solitary light hanging from the ceiling. Below it there are four old four old, wooden stackable tables and stools, a dusty human skeleton, an old periodic table poster, another one about plants drawn by a student and a traditional teacher’s desk on a platform. In the corner of this desk is a hole with a grey pipe sticking out of it. This is where the Bunsen burner is supposed to be.

It is more than clear that this lab is far from finished and provides a sharp contrast to the science labs at our children’s schools in the UK, with their white walls and lab coats, masses of informative posters, solid rows of work tops with sinks, taps, Bunsen burners.

We leave the science lab with the excited children in tow, walking past all the produce they are learning to grow including a very impressive compost heap. We enter a cool darkened room with computers all around the edge. It is a wonderful relief to see one classroom with all that it should have and not lacking anything vital.

Finally, we are shown a room we cannot enter because it is in such a state of disrepair. They want to renovate it into a classroom where the children can learn English. It does not look challenging, but he school will need necessary support to give these delightful children a real opportunity to learn.

As we leave the school so do the children with much smiling and waving. Some are under their umbrellas for shade, while others are on large adult-sized bicycles that will help them to speed home for the holidays.

March: Ikkapalama School Trip

We were very happy to organise a two-day trip for this rural school where some of our sponsorship students are studying.

First we (Project Manager Jaya and Project Officer Teddy) drove to Ella Waterfalls, which is situated at the beginning of the tea country and is much cooler than Tissa.

Then we drove to Demodora railway station (pictured), which was built during the English period.

This is where we had our breakfast as we set off from the school very early in the morning before dawn. We took a short train trip before driving on and having our lunch at Nuwara Eliya, which is the capital of the tea country.

We observed the plant life at the botanical gardens in nearby Peradeniya and we made a short stop to the Ramboda Waterfalls. The geography is very different to Tissa so it was very interesting for the students.

Finally we reached Kandy and visited the famous temple where Buddha’s tooth is worshipped. This was also the first time many of the students had visited it.

We stayed in the temple overnight and enjoyed lots of singing.

The next morning we drove to Dehiwala Zoological Gardens near Colombo and I (Jaya) helped the students to study animal diversity and environmental protection.

We had our lunch at Beira Lake in the middle of Colombo and played some group games on Galle Face Beach, which is a lovely area of the capital right by the sea. Then it was a six hour coach ride back to Tissa again.

March: Teacher Training, Website Building 1

Trainers from the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) returned to the MCTC to train government teachers how to create a school website.

On day one, we created a generic website as a template for the teachers.

Then on the second day we helped each teacher to create a basic structure for their individual schools.

March: MCTC Flat Screen Computers

Thanks to our Barclays' sponsorship, we have been able to upgrade all 22 computers at the MCTC.

We now have flat screen computers replacing all the previous CRT monitors and systems, which were nearly seven years old.

However, it is still possible to extend the old computers' working life if they're not in continuous use.

So we decided to distribute all of them to local schools in the area.

March: Somasiri's Retirement

One of our two security guards has retired from the MCTC.

It was with some sadness that we said “goodbye” to Mr Somasiri in early March as he'd been working at the Centre since it was first opened in February 2007.

He had been thinking about retiring for a while after developing cataracts and we are hoping that he will get these fixed soon so he can enjoy resting at his house near the centre.

But we will not lose contact with him as he will continue looking after the keys for us and we've put his daughter Dharnushika onto our student sponsorship programme.

Dharnushika is one of the main reasons why we gave Mr Somasiri a job in he first place. At that time she was a pupil at Mahasenpura School and employing him was a good way to help support her too.

She has gone on to excel academically and is now at a school near Galle studying for her A levels. Her ambition is to become a lawyer.

In Mr Somasiri’s place, we have hired Mr Kumara as our new security guard. He also has a daughter at Mahasenpura School.

He was previously a labourer, but can not work in that job any longer after damaging his back.

March: Lucy Grey's Blog

BBC journalist Lucy Grey gave up some of her recent holiday to teach English at Uda Mattala and Bundula Schools. This is her blog.

The children stare up at me with eyes full of excited anticipation as I enter.

Then to the tune of Happy Birthday they sing: Good morning to you. Good morning to you. Good morning Dear Teacher…… And I realise the teacher they're referring to is me!

Well if they believe it, so will I.

I have to say that as the youngest child in my family with no younger relatives, my dealings with anyone younger than me up until now has been restricted to the kids who ran the video shops – before they all went bust.

Oh I tried babysitting once, but lost the child in the park for hours. I’ve pretty much avoided children ever since. So a room full of 20 or so eight-years olds focused entirely on me is pretty daunting.

Their regular English teacher tells me that they've just started learning to tell the time – so I begin with that, and then animal vocabulary tests as I show them pictures of the safari I did the day before and then to testing body parts vocabulary with a game of Simon Says, before we head outside to ask Mr Wolf what time it is.

Then it strikes me that I'm really enjoying this…But my overwhelming feeling is to live up to the expectation I see on their faces.

They hang on my every word and thrust their hands in the air to every question.

Of course I realise most of their fascination is not down to my teaching, rather the fact that they don't get to see people who look like me very often – I'm double their size, with a frizzy blonde mop and skin the colour of their pristine white uniforms.

At break time I am sitting in the new computer room – provided by SRI – five boys run in and I can see they cannot quite decide what's more exciting – the new computers, or the unusual looking foreign woman.

They decide both are too much to keep to themselves and dart off to tell the others to come and look.

After break SRI’s Project Manager, Jaya, gives a talk to the school about: elephants and the threats to their survival; how to resolve the human-elephant conflict and the work being done to prevent the deaths of these extraordinary creatures.

The hope is that the children will go home and tell their parents what they have learnt.

Despite the 35-degree heat and the fact that I've exhausted most of them with I Spy and renditions of London Bridge Is Falling Down, the children listen so intently.

And that's what I will take away from this. All these kids with a huge desire to learn and see new things.

Whether it’s a sticker of a Beefeater from London that enthrals, or just a new word from the enormous English woman, their enthusiasm is uplifting.

As I'm about to leave, the English teacher thanks me and asks for my address.

I jot down my email and give it to her, but she hands it back and says, “No your home, I don't have email”.

I suppose its not just the kids who might benefit from the new computers and the opportunities they offer to connect to the world, although I expect it will be the eight year-olds who will end up showing her how to use them.

March: Ituni's Glasses

Ithuni is a grade six student at KG01 school, but her family could not afford the glasses she needed because her father is a labourer and her mother does not have a job

They live in a small house with a quarter of an acre of land, from which they cultivate their food.

Ithuni is clever student who got 136 marks in her grade five exam.

February: Harry Potter Casts a Spell

“People will insist on giving me books”, Professor Dumbledore famously complained to Harry Potter one Christmas.

What he really wanted, he added, was a pair of socks.

For Sri Lankan children it is always the other way round.

Socks are not much use in such a hot climate, but Harry Potter is right at the top of their wish list.

SRI started providing JK Rowling’s novels to local schools when Harry Potter and the Philosphers’s Stone was first translated into Sinhalese.

It instantly proved to be a great success since children outside the capital Colombo rarely get access to best-selling modern novels like these.

Since then, we have continued providing these kinds of novels on an ad-hoc basis.

But late last year it became apparent that there were quite a few gaps.

One of our scholarship children at Ilkkapalama School told us that she was desperate to read the last two novels in the series, but her school library didn't stock them.

This prompted us to do an audit of all 22 schools that we'd previously provided books to.

This subsequently led us to supply them with the Harry Potter novels they were missing – about 100 books in total.

We also provided the whole series to three schools we have recently started working with – Vijajaba School, Viddyartha School and Tissa Central College.

It wasn't the cheapest endeavour.

The sheer length of the books is great for avid young readers. But it also means that they are a lot more expensive than traditional novels.

January: Uda Mattala IT Lab

It is an unlucky number for some, but not for Uda Mattala, which has become the 13th school to open an SRI sponsored computer lab.

Uda Mattala is a very remote rural school and only had one serviceable computer.This was situated in a completely empty and run down classroom (see bottom photo).

We were very keen to help and that became possible after UK-headquartered Barclays Bank very generously provided funds to renovate the classroom.

We were able to construct a proper roof, add floor tiles and secure the room by putting in windows.

The classroom was repaired and refurbished during the Christmas Holiday, with parents from the school providing their labour for free.

We computers came from our main centre - the MCTC - where we are upgrading to flat screens. This is a win-win all round.

It provides more schools with equipment and extends the old computers lifespan.

MCTC deputy manager Nuwan networked them together in the new lab. We are also about to provide the new lab with six old UPS from the MCTC as well.

These are no longer able to store power during power cuts, but they can still perform a crucial job protecting the motherboards from power surges from the electricity grid.

An opening ceremony for the new lab was held on January 3rd, the second day of the new school term.

Guests of honour were the Mullin family from England (pictured in the below post). Their time in Sri Lanka has inspired them to help us raise funds, which we are very grateful for.

Clare Mullin cut the ribbon to open the centre and her two daughters were keen participants in the school assembly to mark the occasion.

Emily, who is 10, made a short speech, while seven-year old Sassy read a poem. Husband George is a talented amateur artist and afterwards put these skills to use by conducting an art class for Grade One students with his five-year old son Freddie.

January: Library Book Donation

Thanks to the Mullin family from England who visited Sri Lanka over the Christmas holidays and spent a day helping out with English lessons at Nadigamwila School.

Before they left, parents George and Clare presented the librarian with a box of about 100 books, which the school had requested and the Mullins very generously paid for.