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Building Back Better - three years on

10-year-old Fawzana, who lost her mother in the tsunami, is back in classes at the rebuilt Zahira Primary school.

“When children get back to school after a disaster, they can share their experiences and get the education they need. They can stand on their own feet.” (Teacher at Zahira School, Hambantota, rebuilt after the tsunami).

Across Sri Lanka, UNICEF has contributed to a major construction effort, rebuilding and improving a wide range of health and education facilities that were damaged or destroyed by the tsunami three years ago. Under the tsunami recovery plan UNICEF is building 32 schools, working with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), which is managing construction projects in the affected areas.

All the new buildings use the ‘child-friendly school’ design approach and construction only takes place after extensive consultation with local communities. The “child-friendly school” initiative, developed by the Ministry of Education, UNICEF and UNOPS, aims to create a learning environment that stimulates the development of the intellectual, social and physical capacities of children. The concept involves supplying an improved physical setting – including well designed and equipped, spacious classrooms, with adequate light and electricity supply, and separate toilets for girls and boys (which can be crucial in improving school attendance, especially for girls). In addition, the child friendly approach encourages participative and child-centred learning, backed up by solid teacher-training and staff-support.

The construction process has faced challenges along the way – among them a shortage of building contractors and materials, and steeply rising costs for basics such as cement. In some instances, because of the renewed and ongoing conflict, especially in the north and east of the country, some school projects have had to be scaled down or halted.

Despite this, many schools have been completed or are very near completion, and both children and staff have shown great enthusiasm and excitement at the new facilities.

10-year-old Fawzana lost her mother in the tsunami. She’s now back in school at the entirely rebuilt Zahira Primary School in Hambantota. “I want to be a teacher because I want to follow my mother. I want to see other children studying and I want to help them do that in the future,” she says.

8-year-old Nirushan remembers having to run from the waves when the tsunami struck in 2004. “We looked outside and saw the wave and we all started to run. We ran for half a kilometre, and the wave didn’t reach us. When we got to the main road we jumped on a bus. Everyone was okay.” Now he’s delighted to be back in class at the Peryiathambipillai Vadyalaya school in the Batticaloa District on Sri Lanka’s east coast



The new health centre at Makidally in Batticaloa District. Around 50 health centres and social care centres have been completed, as well as several paediatric and maternity wards.

Post-tsunami construction of health facilities

UNICEF, with UNOPS, the Sri Lankan government and other partners, is also completing a large building programme for health facilities in many tsunami-affected areas. New maternity and paediatric wards are providing vital services for families up and down the east and south coast. More than twenty Gramodaya health centres now serve communities with improved facilities and better access to localized healthcare, and UNICEF has also supported the construction of 27 social care centres, which provide families and children with combined social and health services in one locality.

One example is the new health centre in Koddakallar in Batticaloa Province. Here midwives provide health care and give out nutritional advice to mothers with young children. Before the tsunami, the village had a small clinic, but it was swept away by the waves. The new centre is a major advance for families in the area. “There was no room in the old one, no furniture to sit on. It was so crowded,” says Visvathasa, a mother who has brought her one-year-old son Arunsor for a regular check-up.

Thousands of families across Sri Lanka now have access to facilities that are a substantial improvement on those that existed before the 2004 tsunami.

Overview of UNICEF's post-tsunami construction of education and health facilities

The Government of the Netherlands and the UNICEF National Committees of the following countries are funding school construction:





Hong Kong



Government of the Netherlands



For every child
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