Sri Lanka

Regaining Unity after Disaster: Sanath’s Story

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.

I’ve just returned from Tangalle, my first visit to a zone affected by the massive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. I interviewed children and youth who were so traumatically affected by this disaster that they still struggle seven years later. One youth I met, Sanath, inspired me on a personal level. Not only did he give himself a new lease on life, but he also has become a leader in his community. He is proof that progress by the individual and by the community provides a recipe for sustainable development and positive change.

photo of Sanath


“Before 2004, the community was normal, united,” 25-year-old Sanath explains, “but after the tsunami hit, everything fell apart and many youths became addicted to very ugly things.”

Sanath’s rural community was devastated by the tsunami that swept Sri Lanka’s eastern and southern coasts. Although ChildFund was quickly on the scene to provide emergency relief in the form of nutritional foods, infrastructure support and child protection, physical aid alone is but one component of disaster recovery.

After the tsunami, ChildFund identified drug and alcohol addiction as a big problem in Tangalle, especially in Kudawella. Many youth felt lost, with no skills, no goals and a lack of involvement in a community broken by disaster. Sanath was one who developed a paralyzing addiction to alcohol.

Children and youth needed more support so they could rediscover a sense of community and develop practical skills for employment. Working with the local parent federation Ruhunu Wellassa, ChildFund started children’s and youth clubs. At those club meetings, children ages 5-14 and youth from 15-24 come together to socialize, learn and develop job and leadership skills. Through these clubs, ChildFund prepares young people to become the primary agents of change in their communities.

At first, Sanath, who was 19 at the time, was “afraid to join” the Youth Club in Kudawella. He was unsure of what the club intended to do, and he lacked the self-confidence to participate. But in 2005 he overcame his fear and began rebuilding his own life. Leadership training, which offers confidence-building and teamwork exercises, helped Sanath become an effective organizer among his peers. He made such progress that he won election as chairman of the Youth Club in 2008-2009.

Additional career guidance and personal development programs also helped Sanath identify a career that was well-suited for him. He even received support in learning to drive and obtaining a driver’s license.

Sanath works with Youth Club participants

Sanath guides the local Youth Club during leadership training.

“The Youth Club helped me to discover my talents and what options were available to me” Sanath says. For the past two and a half years, he has been working for an insurance company, earning a good salary, and nurturing ambitions to become a manager.

Most important for Sanath is his personal recovery and the positive steps he and other youth are taking to help the community. “After joining the Youth Club, I have become freer of mind, and my community has regained the unity that it had before the tsunami.”

ChildFund Focuses on Local Solutions for Children

Guest post by Alan Elliott

Photo of blogger Alan ElliottSan 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 will be regularly blogging about his experiences.

What initially drew me to ChildFund was the premium that the organization places on local solutions (i.e., through the creation of parent federations), as well as long-term commitments. My day-to-day tasks consist of learning about the specific faces and root causes of poverty in each area. Then, in consultation with the local parent federations, which are partnered with ChildFund Sri Lanka, I identify the cases that best show ChildFund’s successes. My overall goal is to not only shed light on the fantastic work that ChildFund is doing but also to piece together a coherent picture of what challenges children and their families face, both locally and in Sri Lanka as a whole.

On my first field visit, to Postholamulla School, I was shocked at the amazing contrast between conditions before ChildFund arrived and the situation afterward.

In Sri Lanka, computer and information technology skills are in dire need of improvement. The Ordinary Level exam, taken in grade 11 of secondary school as a graduation requirement, is a critical milestone for Sri Lankan children, as passing the exam is a gateway to advanced- and university-level education and often determines the direction of future careers. But island-wide, only about 50 percent of Sri Lanka’s secondary school students who elect to take the exam actually pass it. Two key factors that contribute to this problem are the lack of resources for learning and a low quality of education in poorer areas. Two years ago, the students at the Pustholamula School in Kirinda, Hambantota, were no exception.

According to the IT teacher, Mr. Rohana, the IT lab had only 10 computers and could only offer 40 minutes of class time per week. Not having enough time to learn as well as having to share computers created a situation that made acquiring strong IT skills nearly impossible.

Especially in Hambantota area, ChildFund and the local parent federation, Ruhunu Wellassa (RWAF), have identified dropping out of secondary school or not passing the exam as a root cause of poverty. Not only does it prevent bright and enthusiastic children from pursuing more education, but it also has a devastating effect on their job opportunities. Access to quality educators is also a problem here, where the best teachers are unwilling to accept lower pay or work in locations with fewer resources.

photo of students in computer class

Today: An IT class at Pustholamulla School.

To combat this growing problem, ChildFund and RWAF began offering supplementary evening IT classes at Pustholamulla, increasing total available class time to more than four hours per week. To increase the quality of education, ChildFund conducted training for the IT teachers at schools in the area, as well as management training for the principal.

“At the College of Education, we don’t receive comprehensive training regarding computer hardware,” says Mr. Rohana, “so ChildFund’s training programs have given us a deeper knowledge of IT.”

ChildFund also provided a stipend for teachers to ease the burden of transportation to and from school. On top of this, ChildFund provided assistance with spare parts, electricity bills and maintenance costs to ensure that the students had access to reliable and fully functioning equipment.

Photo of IT student

Successful student Ruvini

Last year, three students chose to take IT as one of their elective exams. All three passed—a 100 percent pass rate. Says one student, “The supplementary IT courses offered by ChildFund and RWAF gave us sufficient time to study IT and the necessary edge to pass the exam.” Now all three are attending advanced-level school and excelling in their subjects.

What We Have — What We Need

In Sri Lanka, ChildFund is helping children and youth map risks in their communities, and then listening to their ideas for bringing about meaningful change. One youth group used a small video camera to document the challenges they see daily. This is their field report.

Half the World Is Underdeveloped Despite Globalization

Guest post by Chaya, age 17, Sri Lanka

ChildFund youth in Sri LankaChaya, a youth enrolled in ChildFund programs in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, is concerned about the role of globalization in developing countries.

Globalization is opening economies and leading to integration of countries by means of foreign investments, technology and access to markets. The simple relaxation of regulations is leading to a single world market. Globalization has opened doors to various economic benefits.

Creating a more open society means new opportunities for exchanging products, knowledge and ideas. Globalization also purports to reduce poverty and enhance the living standards of people by increasing production and opening new markets.

But millions of parents around the world believe that globalization means they can’t realize their humble expectation of getting a reasonable job or ensuring a good future for their children. Although the number of poor in China and India has decreased over the last decade, poverty has increased in other parts of the world. World leaders must get together and come up with a new framework for international trade, monetary policies and migration of workers that will ensure fairness.

ChildFund programs at work in Sri Lanka

Chaya helps village children with studies.

Priority should be given internationally to generate employment, which is of high importance to society. Yet, due consideration has not been given to livelihoods because of a lack of coordination at the international level. Empowering women and giving them equal rights, education, health care and food security should be a top priority. To eliminate disparity, world bodies such as World Bank and the International Monetary Fund should come up with and implement reasonable policies. Also these bodies should have a clear policy that is sensible to development priorities when granting loans.

Even though globalization has been a topic of discussion during the last decade, few have properly looked into its effects. I believe the world economy should be restructured. Investments and goods and services are moving from one place to another more rapidly than one could have imagined happening a few years back. Also, competition in the world market is very high. It is this competition that has been the biggest challenge to equitable globalization.

Only by developing its economy is a country able to participate in globalization. Yet, the world economy has been undergoing changes in recent years. Globalization has been extensively practiced in Europe, America and Japan. Most developing countries are only now beginning to understand the challenges of globalization.

I believe that globalization has failed to enhance living conditions for the majority of people in the world. Although Sri Lankans have to be part of the global economy, we should be careful not to sell valuable things in our country but instead protect them for the future generation.

Globalization is not something completely negative. It has helped to create good things, too. The time has come for a developing country like Sri Lanka to understand globalization and to face it as a challenge but not a danger.

‘My Friends and I Never Dreamt Big’

by Sumudu Sanjika Perera, Communications Officer, ChildFund Sri Lanka

Youth leader Susantha

Meet Susantha, 17. He’s a member of a ChildFund youth group in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, where we help young people develop and demonstrate leadership skills through community involvement.

At 4.30 a.m. Susantha’s day has already begun. He is up before dawn preparing his speech for the student assembly in his school. Later, he will go to the Kataragam sacred shrine. It’s Perahera (pageant) season and thousands of Buddhist devotees will flock to the site. Susantha, along with other youths, will be volunteering at the First Aid center.

The eldest child in his family of five, Susantha joined his local youth club supported by ChildFund in 2004. “I was very different to the person I am today,” he recalls. “My friends and I never dreamt big. We never participated in the community. I was shy. Then came ChildFund,” he says.

“The real change came after I participated in the life-skill development programs,” he confides. “I enjoyed taking part in trainings and camps, which helped me become a leader, interact with others, speak in public and set targets for myself. Now I am confident and I am comfortable in leadership roles. For example, my friends and I painted Buddhist temples, organized a Densala (free food distribution) and arranged a cricket tournament in the village. Recently we had a camp for other children and youths. We organized that,” he emphasizes with pride.

Providing youth with opportunities to engage in leadership and build self-confidence is a key ChildFund initiative. We know that skilled and involved youth will carry that expertise into their professional and personal lives.

“Youth have great potential and they are ready to contribute their energy, idealism and insights to a community’s growth and progress,” says Devaka Amarasena, ChildFund area manager for Hambantota. “When they are given the opportunity to become engaged, young people take on a sense of responsibility for the common good. The most important step is to equip them with necessary skills so that they can make an effective contribution to society.”

Susantha’s youth club actively plans and designs its own programs. Club members identify and discuss issues in their community, and raise them to the parent board of directors’ meetings. Susantha has proved to be an excellent facilitator in the youth group discussions and has been selected as a member of the club’s children/youth board of directors.

“Today I feel very confident and focused,” he says. “I have a target now. I want to do my higher studies and enter a university. I also want to do good things in my community.”

Sri Lanka Rebuilds after War

by Jeff Ratcliffe, ChildFund Humanitarian Response Specialist

I traveled to Northern Sri Lanka this week to look into post-conflict projects our national office wanted to accomplish. The destruction was heartrending as I found people trying to find solutions to the many needs that must be addressed following conflict: food, water, security, jobs and shelter – to name but a few. I was cheered by the positive attitudes of the Sri Lankan people as they work to improve their situation.

Giving voice to Sri Lankan youth

I met with youth, teachers and parents to better understand the problems that exist with their schools and how the community is proposing to address those issues. ChildFund is committed to helping after consultation with the Sri Lankan people.

My meeting with the youth was most insightful. I posed this question: “What would you like to do when you grow up?” Several youths mentioned that they would like to be teachers. A few mentioned that they want to work in the market.

One girl, however, shyly raised her hand and did not speak until I called upon her. She said that she would like to be a doctor. To test the young girl’s awareness I asked her what she needed to study to be doctor. She replied that she needed to study science and anatomy.

It is moments like this that give development staff hope. I see that despite the long civil war that Sri Lanka’s youth are thinking about rebuilding their lives—and we at ChildFund will be with them during this difficult journey.

ChildFund Work Continues 5 Years after Indian Ocean Tsunami — Part II

by Virginia Sowers
Community Manager

Our three-part series on recovery efforts following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami continues with an update from Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka, ChildFund National Director Guru Naik recalls 70 staff being redeployed and 1,000 community volunteers being mobilized to handle the humanitarian crisis five years ago. In the first three days following the tsunami, assistance was provided to 102,000 children and 12,000 adults who spontaneously gathered in makeshift shelters in the surrounding countryside.

Early childhood development activities, health and nutrition programs and child-centered spaces were top priorities.

In the five intervening years, the effort has shifted to reconstruction and rehabilitation activities, and reassessing the needs of the most vulnerable, still mostly children and women.

ChildFund was among the first responders following the tsunami.

To augment recovery, ChildFund Sri Lanka focused on civic work projects, micro-enterprise development to help communities reestablish their livelihoods and vocational training for youth in high-demand skills such as three-wheeler repair, cell phone repair, electrical wiring installation and pottery and Batik painting.

Today, the areas in which ChildFund Sri Lanka works have regained some degree of normalcy, Guru says. “Communities are happy and carry on their activities freely, and children enjoy the facilities now extended to them in a good environment.”

Tomorrow: Working in 35 villages, ChildFund India set up child-centered spaces, where children were given health care, nutrition and other creative activities to provide psychosocial support.

To the Beat of a Different Drum

By ChildFund Sri Lanka Staff

31 in 31He runs to his mother and father returning from the paddy fields and clutches their hands. The toy drum hangs from his neck. His energy and smiley face soon fade away the tired look on his parents’ faces. He starts to beat the drum and sing a song bringing a new life into the tired parents. He is Kolitha, a 4-year-old boy who lives in a remote village in Anuradhapura district of Sri Lanka, the next stop of our “31 in 31” blog series.

Sri Lanka, a country we have worked in since 1985, is a war-torn country where good news can be tough to find. This, however, is a story we have shared with visitors to our traveling toy exhibit, “The Power to Play – from Trash to Treasure.”

Kolitha (in the light blue) and his friends sing songs and beat their drums in Sri Lanka.

Kolitha (in the light blue) and his friends sing songs and beat their drums in Sri Lanka.

Kolitha’s parents are farmers working in paddy cultivation. The income they earn from farming is very low. This makes it hard for them meeting the needs of the family. They can provide their children only with basic necessities. So Kolitha and his sister always make improvised toys and sports equipments when it comes to play.

With a born enthusiasm to explore things, Kolitha is always a busy child. He loves to play with the children in his village. He loves to sing songs with his friends. Kolitha attends an education center in the village supported by the ChildFund project. The teacher at the center describes Kolitha as a very enthusiastic and creative child. She says that he actively participates in singing, dancing and other group activities at the center.

Kolitha’s inspiration for his bamboo drum came from attending his sister’s dancing class conducted by the project. One day, Kolitha came with his mother to watch his sister dancing. The drum played at the class impressed him so much that he first started to beat at the table when he went home. Then he started to try to make a drum that looked like the one at the dancing class. He had heard about bamboo drums at the education center. He pestered his tired father to accompany him to the stream where bamboo trees grow and brought home a piece of bamboo.

At home, his sister dances to songs he sings beating the drum. His parents also join the children clapping to songs. Kolitha takes the drum with him when he visits his friends. They sit under the shade of a tree and sing songs until their parents start coming looking for them. The bamboo drum that Kolitha made has attracted his friends to make their own drums. Kolitha has helped his friends in this and each of them has one now. He says happily that he wants to be a musician one day.

For more information about our work in Sri Lanka, click here. To read more stories involving “The Power to Play,” click here.

More on Sri Lanka
Population: 21.3 million
ChildFund beneficiaries: More than 750,000 children and families
Did You Know?: Sri Lanka is one of the world’s largest exporters of rubber. The rubber industry took hold in the country in the late 1800s, when the island was known as Ceylon and was ruled by the British.

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