Guest post by Alan Elliott
San Francisco Bay Area native Alan Elliott is taking time out from his master’s degree studies at the University of California San Diego School of International Relations and Pacific Studies to pursue a 10-week internship in ChildFund’s Sri Lanka office. He is regularly blogging about his experiences.
Trincomalee, on Sri Lanka’s northeast coast, is a quixotic mix of crystal clear beaches nestled between villages devastated by Sri Lanka’s 30-year conflict. Now that the war is over, poor infrastructure is the new enemy, making the distance to school and a lack of transportation major obstacles to education in the area.
Khopinat, 16, from the Kuchchaveli area of Trincomalee, is a bright and optimistic young man. Better yet, he has never been absent for school. He is in 11th grade, which means this year he takes the ordinary level (O/L) examination, the exit requirement for secondary school and the gateway to higher education.
While many students dread this challenge, Khopinat isn’t worried at all. “With the support I’ve received from ChildFund, I have access to everything I need to do well on the exam,” he tells me.
Not long ago, Khopinat was in a tough situation. His school is more than 3 kilometers (nearly 2 miles) from his home. Although public buses are available, they arrive infrequently and are unreliable. As a result, Khopinat was more often late to class than not. Out of 20 school days per month, he was usually late 15.
“Every class is only about 40 minutes long, so if I’m an hour late I’ve already missed almost two of my subjects,” he explains. Khopinat was in danger of becoming a dropout, a common occurrence in Trincomalee. Here, distances from school and a lack of transportation often prevent children from accessing what few educational opportunities are available.
Khopinat was one of several children ChildFund identified as in need of transportation assistance. In July, he received a brand new bicycle. Since then, he hasn’t been late to school a single day. “I can even take my little brother with me on my bike and make sure he gets to school on time, too,” Khopinat says.
Now that transportation is no longer a problem, he has begun taking additional classes to get ready for the O/L exam. He is attending private school classes in three critical subjects: math, science and English. These classes give him access to good teachers and additional resources.
Once he goes on to advanced level schooling, he plans to follow the bioscience track. After that, it is his wish to become a doctor. For Khopinat, this dream is not impossible —on his final exam for 10th grade, he scored 98 out of a possible 100 points on the math portion.
It is ChildFund’s goal to make sure that children like Khopinat receive the help they need to realize their full potential.