Education revitalizes displaced communities in Sri Lanka
By Rob McBride
BATTICALOA, Sri Lanka 4 May 2010 – In a remote part of eastern Sri Lanka, the rhythmic chant of children’s lessons reverberates through one of the region’s newly re-established schools. Students here are learning the basics of reading and writing after having their education interrupted by armed conflict.
Many of the students at this school were displaced by violence during Sri Lanka’s more than two decade-long civil conflict. In addition, they have had to contend with the devastation wreaked by the Indian Ocean tsunami over five years ago.
Back to school
Sinnathurai Shanthi, 11, was displaced along with her family and community by Sri Lanka’s armed conflict. This is her first time in a classroom since 2006.
"When we were displaced, my mother would spend her time collecting firewood,” says Shanthi. “I would have to look after my brothers and sisters."
Today, however, Shanthi is back in school. Taking her turn at the chalkboard, she pronounces the words of the lesson carefully as the rest of the class follows. The voices mingle with another lesson being given just a short distance away.
Space and resources are stretched, says Arulayah Thivyathevu, the school’s teacher. Students of different grade levels must attend class together and share one curriculum – an often difficult task. To support the school and enable classes to continue, UNICEF has provided furniture, teaching materials, plastic sheeting for class partitions, and other resources.
A safe haven
For sisters Dhanushiha, 11, and Dilushana, 8, school provides stability and a safe haven. Their mother was raped and killed during the conflict, leaving them to fend for themselves with only limited help from neighbours.
“My sister does everything for me,” says Dilushana. “She washes my clothes, helps with the homework, combs my hair and helps me wash."
Based on its long involvement with children in emergencies, UNICEF supports education as an essential source of stability in post-conflict situations. According to UNICEF Sri Lanka Education Chief Brenda Haiplik, education is also a key to enabling communities to rebuild following a conflict.
“It brings peace, it brings stability in communities,” she says. “Children take home messages about hygiene, health and protection.”
Re-settled schools across Sri Lanka rely on the involvement of their communities to keep their doors open. At Thigilivaddai school, which was re-established a year ago, parents work in groups to clean and maintain the grounds.