Sri Lanka


STAR ACTION – SRI LANKA

SCHOOLS

The East Coast of Sri Lanka has experienced the double blow of the full force of the tsunami wave, plus the resurgence of the civil war, so we decided to concentrate much Star Action effort in this area. We have given Star Action school bags, books and pens to schools in a number of remote villages, including Muruthana.  This is situated in the shadow of Topicala, a volcanic mountain peak looming over the whole area, which was also the rebel leaders’ stronghold.  As well as the gift of bags, we discovered that the little children attending the nursery school here had no mid-day meal, and so we started our school lunch project.  We pay a local lady to cook a simple meal and the teachers, who we are also paying, make sure the children are well fed—possibly their only meal of the day.

OUR NEW STAR ACTION EDUCATION PROJECTS by Jenny Dent

In the North and East of Sri Lanka the language used and taught in the schools is Tamil. (A different version of the Tamil language used by our children and family in Tamil Nadu, South India.) However, the main language of the whole country is Sinhala. Now, thankfully, after more than thirty years of on and off hostilities which have ravaged the country, peace has been restored in this beautiful island renowned for its glorious temples and landscape.

With peace has come new opportunity for the peoples of the formerly war torn Tamil area. However, there is a problem facing the generation of school children growing up there: the language they are being taught at school, and speaking at home, is only used in their area. If and when they move to the big city of Colombo, or further afield, they will not be understood, nor will they read and write their country’s language.

What is the government doing about this now the war is over, we may wonder? Are Sinhala teachers being sent into the Tamil speaking areas? It seems not. On our recent travels there we have been told that it is difficult to get any teachers to work in the smaller villages, let alone anyone who can speak, read and write Sinhala. (This situation is not helped by the unreliable government pay system—teachers are lucky to get their monthly salaries at all in the remote areas.)

On one of our visits to East Sri Lanka last August 2014, we met a remarkable woman, who offered to do something about this… just a ‘drop in the ocean’ it may seem… but certainly a step forward. Amudha is Singhalese (so Sinhala is her first language), but now married to a Tamil and living in Lal’s village of Kayankerny. If Star Action would help by paying her a small salary, she offered to give an afternoon class five days a week, to the children of her village. We agreed. She began with twenty-five children attending, her eldest daughter, Lakshika, assisting; the number rose quickly to over forty.

Difficult to accommodate this number on her front porch! Our immediate next step was to arrange for the building of a larger ‘teaching area’—a concrete floor and covered ‘pavilion style roof’ at the side of her house. (This we did and have now extended the project to other villages.)

 AFTER SCHOOL PROJECTS

Another education project which has been running for some years now is our ‘After School tuition’ work. We currently have three very bright and dedicated twenty year olds in Mankerny who hire a local church hall to give extra lessons in a number of subjects.  School in Sri Lanka starts early but ends at 1.30pm, so there is plenty of time to elp the children falling behind and encourage those who are keen to get on further.  This project also gives work to our young teachers.

A problem in Sri Lanka, especially for teenage/twenty-something girls is that there are so few work options unless they are clever enough (and have the finances) to go on to further education and secure one of the limited number of university places.

SPONSORING GIFTED PUPILS

Star Action has also now taken on the sponsoring of further education for gifted pupils.

COMMUNITY PROJECTS

Rice Growing and Ground Nut

In Murathana we are also sponsoring an enterprising farmer, Anandan, to oversee our community rice growing and ground nut project. The rice growing:  Anandan makes sure the villagers can buy rice at his local price, rather than have to travel into town and buy at inflated prices. For the ground nut scheme, individual villagers have their own plot of land and the help to grow their own crops.  This is a source of protein which can be grown on the sandy soil left by the Tsunami wave.

Cow and Goat Project

We now have six families benefiting from a pair of Star Action goats and four families benefiting from the gift of a cow. Our Star Action agreement with the family is that the first female calf returns to Star Action to be passed on to another family.

Our Sewing Machine Project

We now have three Star Action sewing machine ladies, who not only run their own small business but are paid by us to make clothes for poor families in the various villages that we are helping.

Building and Repairing Homes for the Very Poor

Among the very poor families we are meeting in the villages whom we are helping, some have only broken down shelters, others have a house built by an NGO after the tsunami, but unfortunately to a sub-standard, and are now needing repair.

 

Our Build a Toilet Scheme

This started with our discovery in the more affluent area on the West Coast of Sri Lanka the fact that many fishing families had no toilets at all, and were just using the beach. We built ten toilets initially, and then more

RECONCILIATION AND FORGIVENESS

After a civil war which lasted thirty years it was wonderful to have firsthand experience of a real ‘letting go’ of the past, and moving on in a true spirit of reconciliation and compassion for all, no matter what side the families fought on during the war.

A Singhalese policeman (on the government side) made a great effort to contact us when we were visiting the East side. His concern was for a Tamil lady, Lilawathi (on the other side of the civil war). Her husband had been drowned in the tsunami. Following this blow, her village had been a battle area when the civil war resumed, and she had lost her arm. With two young children to care for, her sole income came from trying to fish for prawns with her one remaining hand. We were asked if Star Action could give her two goats, which she felt she could manage with just one arm. We have done this, and given her children school bags and stationery. (Her goat family has now grown to seven!)

 

It was in February 2012 that we were taken to see a very small coastal village between Columbo and Negombo.  Named Sagarasirigama, this is truly one of the poorest communities we have found so far in all of Sri Lanka.  Its people are scraping the barest of livings as fishermen or labourers.  Just finding enough food to feed the hungry family mouths is a challenge in itself.  (Sri Lanka is now suffering from alarming inflation, and every week it seems to be even more of a challenge for these poorest of families to feed themselves.)

In February we had been introduced to one of the local community, an amazing guy called Gamini and his wife Rathnamalee.  Although living in only slightly better circumstances than the very poor, they are a truly altruistic couple;  their whole aim is what can they do to help those less fortunate than themselves.  What an example for those of us coming from wealthy lifestyles, often surrounded by more food and material things than we know what to do with.  This lovely couple took us around the village where they had identified the ten poorest families, who had no toilets at all.  (We had previously discussed with our Star Action helper in West Sri Lanka, Shan, our idea for this project and he had talked with Gamini and Rathnamalee and they had prepared for our visit in this way.)

After our February visit we featured this project in our March Newsletter, and appealed for donations to build toilets.  We are happy to report that this appeal has been very successful and during our recent trip we were able to complete three toilets, begin the work on three more, and give definite promises to three families that the work would begin as soon as possible on theirs.  This makes a total of nine out of the ten originally identified families.

The work began on the construction of the first toilet the day after we arrived on this trip, and on the day before we left all the villagers turned out to greet us and to thank Star Action.  They could hardly believe we were following through the earlier promise and gave us garlands of flowers and so many tokens of appreciation (see photographs).  More toilets will be needed in the future, but meanwhile we are thrilled to have been able to accomplish so much so quickly, thanks to the generosity of so many Star Action friends.

 

 

Build a Toilet Project

Toilets  – All Completed 2016.

1.       Nihal and Chamilla Franky, with One daughter – Umyanga – aged 14 One son – Kavinder – aged 8

2.       Nalam Shiroma and mother Daisy (husband killed in war) One son – Lakmal – aged 17 Two daughters – Shiromee – aged 15, and Agenta – aged 5

3.       Ruwan Ajantha (father) and Nishan (mother) Two daughters – Nikma – aged 3½  and Presanay – aged 10

4.       H.K. Kusumathi (mother – labourer) 2 adult sons – also labourers Sampath – aged 22  and Nishan – aged 20

5.       Karalina and Munasingher 1 son – Sanura – aged 22

6.       Dorothileech (mother) and Susil (father – labourer) 1 daughter – Nayara – aged 14

7.       Pushpo Jayamaha (mother) and Greashan (father – labourer) 2 sons – Amila – aged 20  and Dilan – aged 1

8.       Jude Niranjan (husband) and Kusuma (wife) 2 boys – Omal – aged 9  and Neemesh – aged 5

9.       Sampath Fernando

(expecting baby in November)

 

PS.  As you will see from the photographs, following the suggestion of one donor, every toilet door has a six-pointed star engraved on it.

 

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