Sri Lanka

Letter Translation Exchange in Sri Lanka

By Ron Wolfe, ChildFund IT Project Portfolio Manager

In December 2004, as the Indian Ocean tsunami raced outward from the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake’s epicenter, the sea devastated the Sri Lankan coastline from the eastern city of Trincomalee to the western capital of Colombo. In the middle of this target stood Hambantota, a picturesque town on the island’s southern coast, which sustained devastation of a scale that is hard to comprehend.

Today, the visible scars of the disaster are primarily gone. The city has rebuilt, while much of the development has been relocated further inland. The children play, and civic life continues as it has for centuries. The tsunami, though, remains a part of the people’s identity.

ChildFund sign in communityA team from ChildFund headquarters was recently in Sri Lanka to deploy a new online tool called the Letter Translation Exchange (LTE). Its purpose is to facilitate the digitization of child and sponsor correspondence and reduce the time it takes to translate the letters. As part of the deployment process, we travelled from Colombo, the location of the ChildFund Sri Lanka National Office, to Hambantota to meet the staff in this district and the children we all serve.

After visiting the Hambantota Area Office, the team arrived at one of 12 zonal offices of the Ruhulu Wellassa Area Federation, ChildFund’s local partner organization in this area, tucked beneath a thick grove of cashew trees. Each Zonal Office in this district is led by a community mobilizer who manages 200 to 400 children participating in our programs.

girl in classroom

A youth group member writes.

On the day of our visit, a number of children were there playing with friends and family and writing letters to their sponsors, some of them writing in English instead of their native Sinhala. ChildFund is offering language skills programs through the local partner. “English is an important skill that the children are eager to gain,” said Dilrukshi Ruwanpura, ChildFund Sri Lanka’s sponsor relations manager. It was impressive to see the children combining some of the benefits they receive from sponsorship and one of the essential components of sponsorship itself: one-to-one communication.

girl at computer

Editing materials for the newsletter.

The LTE is ChildFund’s first step in modernizing that communication between sponsor and child. National Office staff will scan letters to create PDFs, which will be uploaded into an online document system. Translators can then access the system at any time and from anywhere via the Internet to translate the letters. Once translated, each letter will be printed out and mailed to the addressee. ChildFund currently manages approximately 1.5 million pieces of correspondence annually.

The technology is meant to enable the staff to do their jobs more efficiently while reducing the time it takes for correspondence to travel back and forth. “As we become more familiar with the LTE, our workload and the workload of the local partner will decrease,” said Dilrukshi. This in turn should allow even more time for the staff within each ChildFund area to focus on programs for the children.

Future ChildFund technology projects will eventually carry this further by facilitating sponsor access to the digital correspondence and providing a way to respond electronically. First, though, the LTE will continue to be deployed to additional countries. The team went next to Honduras and will soon be in Ecuador to scale up the LTE even further.

girl with camera

Photographing.

As we spent the afternoon with the children in Hambantota, they continued to impress us. One group of youth worked together to create a regularly published newsletter called Dawn, writing articles, taking photographs and editing and laying out the content. Others are involved in job skills training, such as hotel management, construction or information technology. One young woman proudly displayed images of the art she had created for a solo exhibition in her community, with art supplies provided by ChildFund. All showed the promise of becoming fully engaged in the continuing effort to lift up their country and make a difference.

Best Advice Your Mother Ever Gave You

 By Sumudu Perera, ChildFund Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka mother

A Sri Lankan mother and son.

We asked community members in our ChildFund program areas as well as staff in the Sri Lanka office to share bits of advice that their mothers gave them when they were children – advice that they still value and want to pass on to their own children. Here’s a sampling of what they shared. Happy Mother’s Day!

Sri Lankan man

Rathnamalala

Community Members Share Wisdom From Their Mothers

“Not every bad thing that happens to you is bad. Sometimes they happen for good.” – Rathnamalala

 “Even the god worships good people.”– Deepangani

“A person who walks on others’ footprints never sees his own footprint.” – Airangani

Sri Lanka woman

Deepangani

ChildFund Sri Lanka Staff Recall Their Mothers’ Advice

 “Listen to your elders. They have plenty of experience in life.” – Kaushalya

“Try to manage within whatever you have.” – Dilrukshi

young Sri Lankan woman

Airangani

“Don’t try to change others; change yourself.”
– Sudarshani

“Be a blessing to others.”
– Fiona

Women Pick Up the Pieces of War-Shattered Lives

By Sumudu Perera, ChildFund Sri Lanka

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

Woven baskets, vases and hats made with multi-colored palm leaves are piled on a hall table as women go about their work in the Sri Lankan district of Jaffna.

Some women weave hats, while others work on baskets or bags. Some sit in chairs, but many prefer to sit on the floor. Now and then everyone has a break to chat with others nearby.

Jaffna, in the northernmost region of Sri Lanka, is highly populated and busy, but this production center is tranquil. Five women who work here are war widows, following the 26-year civil war that ripped apart the country.

Sri Lankan woman makes basket

Sopa, a war widow in Sri Lanka, weaves a basket at a production center in the Jaffna District. She was trained through ChildFund and a partner organization.

Sopa is a widow and has a 4-year-old son, Methayan, to support. After losing her husband, Sopa suffered psychologically and had to depend on her elderly parents for months, which made all of their lives more difficult. Coming to accept that her husband was gone, she started to think about how to feed Methayan and educate him.

This production center, which uses materials from local palmyrah trees, was started in 2011 through a partnership between ChildFund and a government board to help provide employment opportunities after the war ended in 2009. During the resettlement phase, 35 women were initially trained. Now the center employs 45 women between the ages of 18 and 40.

The woven products have a high demand in other countries. Every two weeks, a large truck comes to the center and picks up the craft items. The center has attracted the attention of many unemployed women in the region, mainly because they would not have to travel long distances or move away from home to find work. Since its start, the center has trained an additional 80 women.

The women working here have bigger dreams now. They hope to expand the business and provide employment opportunities to more women in the area.

After attending training, Sopa found a job she liked, and she is still available to Methayan, who stays with other family members at home a 10-minute walk away. She attends to his needs in the morning, goes home at lunch time to feed him and then returns home before dark. Sopa makes US$110 a month, and she can earn more if she weaves more pieces. With her income, she’s able to support herself and her son.

“It was devastating to lose my husband,” she says. “I lost all my hopes. I was suffering for months without doing anything. This job brought me some hope. Also, spending time with other women in the community here has helped me to forget about my problems. Now I want to educate my child and ensure a good future for him.”

Youth Unemployment at 17 Percent in Sri Lanka

By Danielle Roth, ChildFund Program Officer-Youth Programs

There is one issue on the minds of many Americans these days (myself included). In one word, it’s the economy. Many of us are trying to make it work in this difficult financial climate. Some of us are looking for jobs, others are working two and everyone is hoping for some forthcoming solutions to our financial woes.

Colombo, Sri Lanka skyline

Colombo, Sri Lanka, at sunset.

During my recent trip to Sri Lanka, I learned that those same worries are weighing on youth in the beautiful island nation. Youth account for approximately 26 percent of Sri Lanka’s populace, and those who are old enough, and out of school, are looking for work. The unemployment rate among youth in Sri Lanka is 17 percent. If you’re a woman there, that number goes up 11 points to 28 percent. Youth employment has become a focus area for the government of Sri Lanka, and ChildFund is providing support programs in this area.

There is significant breadth and depth to ChildFund Sri Lanka’s work around youth employment. Career guidance centers are serving as focal points for youth to learn about job opportunities. We’re also facilitating visits to places of employment so that young men and women gain exposure to different work environments.

resource room for youth

ChildFund-supported career guidance centers offer resources for youth.

Vision camps are helping youth develop a plan for their future that integrates their work and personal preferences. Youth are also learning entrepreneurial skills, participating in job placement programs and gaining practical life skills training that will serve them well as productive members of the workforce. Youth clubs are providing young people with hands-on leadership skills as they develop and administer projects that benefit their communities.

youth participate in training

Vision camps give youth an opportunity to identify their goals for the future and the skills they will need to succeed.

ChildFund is working to educate and empower youth in Sri Lanka to make decisions that ultimately will improve their futures, enabling them to contribute positively and productively to their country.

Youth pose for group photo

Danielle meets members of the ChildFund-supported youth club.

As humans sharing the globe, we are all connected in some way. Sri Lankans and Americans are both experiencing feelings of frustration in the job market and tentative excitement about new opportunities. We’re all looking to make a difference for ourselves, our families and society.

Guns Silenced; Farmers Fight to Rebuild Lives

By Sumudu Perera, ChildFund Sri Lanka

Guns have been silenced. Instead of soldiers and guerrillas battling one another, farmers are fighting to rebuild their lives beneath the scorching sun. Land that was once overgrown and strewn with landmines is today lush with golden paddy and green crops. Life has changed for the better in the Poonakari area of Sri Lanka’s northern Kilinochchi district, which bore the brunt of a 30-year war between the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The violence claimed thousands of lives and displaced even more from their homes. During the final stages of the war, hundreds of thousands of people caught up in the conflict were sheltered in camps. They remained there for months after the war ended in May 2009, depending on aid provided by the government, the United Nations and NGOs.

When the resettlement process started and people began moving back to their villages, they faced the dilemma of rebuilding their livelihoods. The fierce battle had severely damaged everything. Agricultural assets and livestock were devastated. The population continued to depend on assistance for the basic necessities of life. Knowing the outside aid would soon end, families were increasingly worried about food security. Most of the children were undernourished due to the inability of their parents to provide enough food.

Farmers in classroom training

Sri Lankan farmers receive training on field crop planning and agricultural practices.

Working with UN agencies and NGOs, the government designed a Joint Plan of Assistance for all humanitarian and resettlement efforts in Sri Lanka’s north. Aligning with this plan, ChildFund started implementing an agriculture rehabilitation project to rebuild livelihoods and ensure food security of returnees to Poonakari and neighboring Kandawalai. The project provided 1,650 small farmers with water pump sets to resume cultivation of irrigated rice paddies, other field crops and small-scale commercial vegetable cultivation.

The most vulnerable households (women-headed, high number of children and children with disabilities) were the first to receive the pumps. Local farmers also received training in crop planning, pest control and water management to effectively farm their land. ChildFund also distributed seeds and trained community mobilizers to frequently visit and connect with the farmers to provide support.

For most of the farmers, waiting on that first crop to mature was worth it—they received a good yield. In addition to providing their children and the whole family with nutritious food, the surplus crop brought a good income to the family.

Today, many families have reduced the dependency on dry rations and reached self-sufficiency through good farming practices. They have increased their income and are better able to meet needs of their families.

With savings from their successful crops, some families have started a second income-generating enterprise such as raising poultry or starting small businesses. They’re also saving the cost of buying seeds to plant next season by employing the technical knowledge received at the training on how to select and store seeds from the harvest.

Because of the increased income and reduced expenses on food items, families have increased spending on their children’s education. They are now able to send their children to schools in towns and to supplementary classes.

Woman with ear of corn

Pushparani checks on her corn crop.

Pushparani is a beneficiary of the program. She lost her husband during the war, and now she and her son live with her parents. “With the support from the project, I was able to start cultivating paddy and vegetable. This was a great thing as I didn’t have a proper source of income. I earned about Rs. 69,000 (US$530) selling the harvest last time. I used it for food, to construct a well, start a small poultry farm and my child’s education. I feel that I have been highly benefited from the project.”

Peace has brought a new purpose to families in northern Sri Lanka.

Empowering Children Through Their Parents

by Alan Elliott, ChildFund Sri Lanka intern

To create better lives for children means to provide not only for the needs of the child, but also for the needs of the parents. Across Sri Lanka, parents often face a difficult choice on how to use their limited income. Should they use it for food, or should they use it to expand their children’s education?

Unfortunately, when it comes down to it, parents understandably choose to put food on the table. Many families can hardly afford to pay for basic school materials. As a result, children miss out on the opportunity to take private classes (tuition classes apart from free public school) or to get the extra help that they need to succeed.

family portrait

Dilshan (center) with his family.

In the Polonnaruwa district, 16 -year-old Dilshan’s family, was finding it harder and harder to pay for Dilshan’s education. As an 11th grader, this is Dilshan’s last year of secondary school. If he passes the Ordinary Level (O/L) exit exam, he will then move on to advanced-level education. Dilshan’s school materials, including supplies, uniforms, private classes and books cost nearly 50,000 rupees per year (roughly US$500). These costs will only get steeper, and, as a seasonal farmer, his father Damarathna was not confident in his ability to support his son. Dilshan was in danger of being deprived of the education he had worked hard for these past several years.

When ChildFund’s local partner, the Polonnaruwa Children’s Program, identified this situation, they consulted with the family about possible solutions. It was decided that ChildFund would support Dilshan’s family by helping them start their own home garden. This is no easy task for them to do on their own—water is quite scarce in this area during the dry season, and an irrigation system needed to be installed.

ChildFund granted Damarathna 25,000 rupees (US$250) to buy irrigation equipment, tools and seeds. “ChildFund also offered me an awareness program for home gardening,” Damarathna says, “where I learned about suitable crops for this climate, safe chemicals and how to make organic fertilizer.” In fact, almost his entire garden is grown naturally, with local materials.

Now that the home garden is fully developed, it gives Dilshan’s family the boost they needed so that they don’t have to choose between food or education for their children. During the off-season, the garden crop is used mostly for personal consumption. But during the rainy season, the garden is plentiful enough to allow the family to sell some of the yield.

As for Dilshan, he’s on his way to higher education. “My dream is to study liberal arts in an advanced -level school,” he says. But, first, he must sit for the O/L. To help him with this, ChildFund recently began offering supplemental classes in Polonnaruwa, some of which are specially targeted at supporting students to pass the O/L exam. ChildFund-trained teachers give students opportunities to review past exams, receive hands-on attention to catch up on weak areas and brush up on the three critical subjects: math, science and English.

Now Dilshan can concentrate on passing his exam, and can be confident that his family can support him wherever his dreams may lead.

Around the Globe with ChildFund in 31 Days: A Hopeful Future for Students on Sri Lanka’s Tea Estates

by Sumudu Perera, ChildFund Sri Lanka Communications Officer

31 in 31 logoOver the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. In Sri Lanka, ChildFund and its local partner T-Field Federation are working to increase educational opportunities for children who live on tea-growing estates in Nuwara Eliya.

Sajeewani is excited. Today she is at school with her father to check her grade five scholarship exam results. Standing beside her father, her eyes follow his finger going down the results sheet. In front of her name is the figure 165 out of 200. A wide smile lights up her face. She has attained her goal of scoring high enough to attend a better school next year.

Sri Lankan studentEnrolled in ChildFund’s programs in Nuwara Eliya district, known for its tea-growing estates, Sajeewani has been taking supplementary classes. An eager student, she made noticeable improvement day by day.

The majority of students who live on Sri Lanka’s tea estates have low academic achievement. In fact, this region has the highest drop-out rate in the country. There are myriad reasons: extreme poverty, parents who are focused on survival, low value placed on education and a common expectation that children work to help support the family.

To better inform the community about the value of education for its children, ChildFund began working with the Parents’ Federation. We recognize that a child’s willingness to learn and a parent’s willingness to support that child often depend on the availability of quality learning opportunities and educational programming.

Cooperating with educational authorities in Nuwara Eliya, ChildFund began to support additional training for teachers. These trainings equip teachers with knowledge and modern methodologies to encourage student participation in the classroom. Instead of using only a traditional teacher-centered approach, teachers are empowered to implement student-centered learning activities.

“The trainings were very useful,” says Sonali, a teacher in Nuwara Eliya. “We understood how important it is to encourage children to participate in classroom activities. Now I practice what I learned in the classroom. The students show a lot of interest in lessons now.”

ChildFund also identified that remedial education was needed to help students who have fallen behind in the regular classroom. Working with its local partner, ChildFund began offering supplementary classes to help students improve their math and language skills, which are compulsory subjects. For average and low-performing students, the supplementary classes give ample time to interact with the teacher and reinforce what they have learned at school.

Special classes for slow learners are another initiative targeting students who perform at a low level in the classroom. A special curriculum was developed working with educational specialists and the educational authority in the area.

“ChildFund’s focus on slow learners is unprecedented in this area,” says Mr. Rajasekaram, Additional Zonal Education director. “Children attending the classes show improvements. The curriculum developed by ChildFund is now being used in other areas.”

Within the Nuwara Eliya district, ChildFund’s educational programs now serve 315 students at 11 locations in the estates. “After ChildFund started their education programs in the estates, we can see children scoring better marks at term tests,” reports Mr. Rajasekaram.

And once children experience success in the classroom, parents become more interested in supporting the child’s ongoing education.

“I got this many marks because I attended supplementary classes. Now I can attend the school in the town. I am very happy”, says Sajeewani.

Meanwhile, ChildFund and the T-Field Federation will continue to work to promote educational opportunities for children in the tea estates for years to come. We are committed to building a hopeful future for the children in the estates.

Discover more about ChildFund’s programs in Sri Lanka and how you can sponsor a child.

One Small Loan Can Make a World of Difference

Reporting by ChildFund Sri Lanka

“After ChildFund gave our family the loan, everyone is much happier,” 9-year-old Ghopika explains.

Sri Lankan family

Ghopika (r) and her family.

Before 2009, her family was in a state of paralysis, both physically and economically. Both parents suffered from polio as children, and have debilitating foot disorders. These disabilities prevent them from securing agricultural or heavy labor jobs, common sources of income in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.

Ghopika’s father was able to do some fishing with a borrowed boat, but the family was constantly living hand-to‐mouth. This left no spare income to support the three school-aged children in the family.

In Batticaloa, ChildFund has just finished its KOHA project, sponsored by ChildFund New Zealand, which offers low-interest loans to families interested in starting new businesses. Among the criteria required of KOHA loan recipients are that the families are low income and have children who are attending school.

To monitor and evaluate new loans, ChildFund has trained Child Well-Being Committees (CWBCs), staffed by community members, who are now carrying forward the work of KOHA. The overall goal is not only to provide families with a new source of reliable income but also ensure that this income will be used to benefit the education of children in the community.

Additionally, money gained from interest on the loan is partially reused to provide additional community support. Ghopika’s father used his particular loan of 14,000 rupees (US$140) to expand and improve his fishing business. He bought a secondhand canoe and a set of new fishing nets. Now he can bring in about 2 to 3 kilos (5 pounds) of fish per day, earning from 4,000 to 5,000 rupees (US$95) per month.

As for Ghopika, she now has the essentials she needs to succeed at school. Before, her family could not afford school books, materials or transportation to school. She also attends school regularly and is happy to go because she has ambitions of becoming a doctor. “One day it is my dream to heal my parents” she says.

Because Ghopika’s family has completely repaid their first loan, they are eligible to take on a second. With the additional funds, Ghopika’s father plans to invest in a bicycle with an attached carrying box. This will give him access to the markets in Batticaloa town, some 20 kilometers (about 13 miles) away. There, he can fetch much higher prices for his fish than he otherwise could in the local village.

A New Bike for Khopinat Changes Everything

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.

Teen with bicycle

Khopinat with his new bike provided by ChildFund.

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.

A Brand New Garden and a Brand New Heart

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.

Batticaloa, on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, was my first visit to an area damaged by the 30-year Sri Lankan conflict that ended in 2009. Aside from the destruction of war, Batti has a chronic water shortage. In this desolate area, many mothers are without adequate income or food for their families. When new children are born, they often become malnourished.

In 2010, Mrs. M. Pumarandai and Mr. S. Murukaya welcomed baby Nivethika into the world. But they soon discovered a serious problem. Nivethika was constantly crying, and even fainted at times. “I was very frightened,” Pumarandai explains, “I was unsure of what I should do.”

So they contacted ChildFund’s local Child Well-Being Committee (CWBC). There, community volunteers advised that the family visit the clinic, where it was soon discovered that little Nivethika had a heart problem. The nerves surrounding her heart were twisted and the only choice was to operate. However, Pumarandai and Murukaya did not have nearly enough income to pay for the operation or send Nivethika across the country to Colombo, where the procedure would be done.

mother with child

Mrs. Pumarandai and baby Nivethika in the family garden.

In Batticaloa, ChildFund has just finished its KOHA project, sponsored by ChildFund New Zealand, which offers low-interest loans to families interested in starting new businesses. ChildFund has also trained the CWBCs to monitor and evaluate loans and to carry on the work of KOHA. The overall goal is to not only provide families with a new source of reliable income but also to use this income to support the education of community children. Part of the income gained from interest on the loans is used to provide additional community support services.

Especially important for Pumarandai and family were the community funds gained from the service charges on these loans. In March 2010, the CWBC provided 5,000 rupees (US$50) to pay for the operation and the cost of transporting the baby to Colombo. Now, 18-month-old Nivethika is perfectly healthy and safely back home. She no longer has heart problems and soon will be having the residual lump on her chest removed.

Pumarandai and her husband even applied for a KOHA loan themselves. The first loan, received in 2010, provided them with 20,000 rupees (US$200) to begin a home garden. The lack of water in the area made such a project quite expensive, as it was necessary to install irrigation equipment. “But now our home garden is beautiful, providing plentiful and nutritious food for our family,” Pumarandai says.
The family now has extra food to sell in local markets, earning enough income to provide their other two, school-aged children with study materials and also ensure that Nivethika receives all the check-ups and treatments she needs.

As of 2011, they have repaid their first loan and are applying for a second, 30,000 rupee loan to expand their home garden business.

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