A new school for the children of Kaluthavalai
UNICEF's Swiss National Committee’s donation for tsunami-affected children
by Beatrice Progida
BATTICALOA, 5 November 2006 - Mrs. Armugam observes her multi-grade class while students are concentrating on group discussions. She is the Headteacher of Peryiathambipillai Vadyalaia school, and she is obviously proud of her well-behaved children. “They are getting ready for the end of the year performance. Some children know how to dance, so they will be coaching other children. Some others are going to be teaching their classmates how to sing.”
“The Tsunami washed away our school and most of the houses of these children. We used to have four classrooms, my office and four toilets. Now, there are only the foundations left, and some pillars. After the Tsunami, we resumed classes on time. We taught under tarpaulins for a few months, while the Ministry of Education and UNICEF worked on this temporary school space.” For Mrs. Armugam these months without adequate classrooms were not easy. “We organize the children in shifts. The lowest grades leave earlier while the fifth grade group leaves last, at 1.30 p.m. It is going to be such a relief to move to the new school once work is completed!”
The temporary shelter for the school is a tin-roofed hangar with no walls. The piece of land where UNICEF built the shelter is the property if the nearby Hindu temple. The families of the village of Kaluthavalai, Batticaloa District, have made all possible efforts to ensure that even through times of crisis, children could find a sense of normalcy through attending school every day, and through sharing their experiences with their peers.
The new Periyathambipillai Vidyalaya school is being built thanks to the support of the Swiss National Committee. The new building is going to be much larger than the school which was destroyed by the tsunami. In 2008, the new school is going to admit children of all grades. Currently children have to walk long distances to reach the nearest secondary schools.
The students of Periyathambipillai Vidyalaya schools are very excited about the new building. Vithvashini, 8 years old, says “ I am so happy about all the space for playing we will have.... There is also going to be an assembly room where we can all sing in the morning”. Robinsan, 8 years old, is enthusiastic about the fact that “ the new school is so much closer to my house. It will be easy when it rains, especially for my younger sister who’s going to start school next year!”. When asked who has seen the school, all the children in the one-classroom raise their hands. One of the highest grades girls takes the initiative to make a drawing on the blackboard. According to Mrs. Armugam, her students visit the construction site very often, and monitor, in their own way, the speed of progress.
The Periyathambipillai Vidyalaya school will be completed by March 2007. It is one of the 38 schools in the District of Batticaloa which were affected by Tsunami. UNICEF is supporting the maintenance and reconstruction of most of these schools. In an area of the country which has been ravaged by decades of conflict and stricken by devastating natural disasters, the construction of a new school acquires a great significance to the children and their families. It is a sign of hope and new beginning, and it bears witness to the solidarity of so many people, far away in other countries, who have not forgotten this small village on the beach.