A New School to Rebuild Lives in Northern Sri Lanka
Gowthiga beams with pride and takes my hand to show me around her new school. "We will have to be fast you know, because I have to change into my new school uniform. You know the Australian Ambassador and UNICEF are coming to open our school today?
Gowthiga, presenting her new school (UNICEF Sri Lanka/Davey 2013)
I smiled and let Gowthiga, who is now 20 and a catch up student studying in 12th grade walk me through the sturdy complex of buildings and green spaces that now makes up the Kilinochchi Maha Vidyalayam (School) in northern Sri Lanka.
"Do you know that our school has 24 new classrooms, an open air theatre and an auditorium? And that when we opened in 2009, we only had 36 students? Now we have over 2000!? she smiles with pride.
I ask Gowthiga a lot of questions about the school and she is happy answering them. It isn?t as easy to ask her questions about the conflict that tore apart this beautiful country for over twenty years. That conflict came to an end in 2009.
A model of the Killinochi school built by students for the opening (UNICEF Sri Lanka/Davey 2013)
Kilinochchi in the north of the island and was one of the worst affected areas. But now, thanks to a partnership between the Sri Lankan and Australian Governments, UNICEF has been able to rebuild 23 schools in this area, helping students and teachers to rebuild their lives.
All of a sudden, the band starts to play. "The dignitaries are here! I have to change!" and Gowthiga runs away.
The Band Welcomes Visitors (UNICEF Sri Lanka/Davey 2013)
The Secretary from the Ministry of Education, the Australian High Commissioner and the UNICEF Representative all walk in. They take a tour of the school, cut many ribbons opening classrooms and are treated to a wonderful presentation of student talent in the large auditorium. And then Gowthiga come in at the end to recount the story of her school's rebirth.
Australian High Commissioner Mudie and UNICEF Representative Hossaini cut a ribbon officially declaring the Killinochi School open (UNICEF Sri Lanka/Davey 2013)
I am touched and saddened. I look at the beautiful faces of girls performing a traditional dance with broad smiles on their faces and I can?t imagine what they must have gone through during the conflict. This school alone was displaced 4 times: in 1986, 1992, 1996 and 2008.
But at least today, there is new hope in the air, thanks to a partnership between the Australian Government and UNICEF to reconstruct schools and improve the quality of education.
Due to the results of these efforts, all children in the Northern Province now have access to a system that promotes quality teaching and learning, peace education and social cohesion activities and ensures that vulnerable and out of school children have opportunities to learn.
In just the year and a half that AusAid has given funds to UNICEF for the Northern Province, out-of-school children have been reintegrated back into schools, school attendance is improving and students are performing better on government exams. No wonder Gowthiga now walks around with a smile on her face.
Students dancing at the Killinochi School Opening (UNICEF Sri Lanka/Davey 2013)