|© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2007/Mitani|
|Principal Yogamangalan Shanmugampillai sitting on the remaining concrete foundation of the Arunodaya Vidyalaya School in Ampara, Sri Lanka, which was destroyed in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.|
By Junko Mitani
AMPARA, Sri Lanka, 27 February 2007 – Arunodaya Vidyalaya School in this town on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka was completely destroyed by the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004.
Now, more than two years later, the school will be rebuilt thanks to a contribution of $550,000 from the Hong Kong Star TV station through the Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF.
Design of the new school buildings will start next month. UNICEF officer at Ampara Sugath Adikaram says teachers, parents and children will be consulted and their opinions reflected in the design.
Ghosts of the past
On a visit to the old school site, Principal Yogamangalan Shanmugampillai points out all that remains of its three buildings: a concrete foundation standing in a wide open field. In the spot where children used to learn, a couple of cows stand still amidst the sounds of waves and sea gulls.
“The morning after the tsunami, I came here. Our buildings were gone,” Ms. Shanmugampillai says. “Desks, chairs, covers, files and everything else were scattered all over the place. Then I saw some bodies, and I fainted.”
The tsunami killed three children and two mothers from the school.
Children still remember the day vividly. “I was left with an aunt because my mother went to look for my father. He had gone fishing. I was scared and really worried,” recalls Nawendani Amiythalingam, 10. Nawendani’s parents managed to find each other, but she lost another aunt and a cousin to the tsunami.
|© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2007/Mitani|
|Nawendani Amiythalingam, 10, a student at the Arunodaya Vidyalaya School, is still living in a temporary camp for people displaced by the tsunami.|
Two months after the tsunami, a temporary school was opened nearby. Re-opening schools and restoring a sense of normalcy for children was one of the top priorities of Sri Lanka’s tsunami emergency response.
UNICEF provided the temporary building, desks, chairs, a water tank, and learning and teaching materials – including notebooks, pencils and blackboards. The school received shoes, school uniforms and recreation materials from other organizations.
“On the first day, only 28 students came, and the second day, 35 students attended,” says Ms. Shanmugampillai. “Some parents and children were too afraid of another tsunami to leave their shelters. We held parents’ meetings and we all participated in a series of psychosocial programmes. We felt much better afterwards — 86 students came back.”
In 2006, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education’s reconstruction of 28 tsunami-affected schools across the island. This year there are plans to help build an additional seven, including the Arunodaya Vidyalaya School.
Principals and teachers have also attended training sessions on topics including evacuation methods, stress management, safe water and sanitation, and interactive teaching.
In Ampara, meanwhile, Ms. Shanmugampillai has observed some changes in children’s drawings. “Children used to draw only about the tsunami,” she says. “But they recently started drawing many other subjects. We are recovering step-by-step.”
Today, Nawendani confesses quietly that she is still afraid of a tsunami. “Our house is gone so we live in one of the camps for tsunami people,” she says. “We received a piece of land to build our new house, but I don’t want to go there because it’s close to the sea. I like living in the camp.”
But Nawendani adds that she looks forward to having a new permanent school, which, unlike the temporary school, will have a playground.