Two Schools in Sri Lanka

Why “Two Schools In Sri Lanka”?

“Two Schools in Sri Lanka” is only the name of this website. All websites require a URL and, after briefly fretting about the name's similarity to “Three Cups of…” and all that that might represent to website visitors, I decided “Two Schools In Sri Lanka” was as accurate as I could get.

I stipulate that "Two Schools in Sri Lanka" is merely a name, not an organization because there is no organization as such; there is one person working with two-- soon to be three—schools, and that person is me. I offer periodic financial support with the help of family and friends. I’m not paid. All travel expenses and the majority of project funding comes from my pocket. Perhaps in the near future a 501(c)(3) will be established such that contributions from others will be tax deductible. Thus far I've shied away from that due to anxieties regarding unencumbered visa processing. Some countries are less excited about unfettered NGO's than others, and I understand and respect that.

From Here to There

In early spring of 2004, I went to Sri Lanka for the first time. Having visited South Asia since the early 90’s, exploring South India’s highways and byways in three or four week chunks, it was time for a change. In Sri Lanka the travel was significantly easier than in India, and the birding, a primary motivator, was great. That fall the easy decision was made to return, and I planned a trip for early 2005, buying tickets just a few days before Christmas for a March departure.

The day after Christmas while watching the news, I learned of the now famous tsunami in the Indian Ocean. After crushing coastal areas in Thailand and Malaysia, the tsunami swept more than 1000 miles east in two hours. The most vulnerable of India and Sri Lanka had little warning; the giant wave hit them with undiminished power. In Sri Lanka the coastal plain is enormous, and the east and south suffered greatly with water pushing as far as a half mile inland. Between 35,000 and 40,000 people died, a toll second only to that of Indonesia. More than one hundred thousand families were displaced; most of the wooden houses in the fishing villages were destroyed.

Some three months after the disaster I arrived with enthusiasm, money, and a slight sketch of a plan…. In Galle, the major city in the southeast, I met a tuk tuk driver who spoke English, and together we visited several schools in the area. Each school had small requests. On the second day, this driver, Ananda Liyanage, took me to the Martin Wickramasinghe School in Koggala, eight miles east of Galle and less than a hundred yards from the Indian Ocean. Ananda asked if there was anybody at the school who spoke English; there was. This is how we first met Udenika Ariyasiri, one of two of the school’s English teachers, who, along with Ananda, is one of the two lynch pins to the project's successes.

This school became the focus of my efforts. I quickly learned that sustained support and oversight would be necessary; the first year's work turned into what has become a long-term collaboration.

The Projects

Need and finances determine my focus. Before my yearly visit to Sri Lanka, Udenika Ariyasari and other educators discuss what they hope to accomplish during my visit. Naturally, after my arrival, priorities change, and requests are re-filtered. Occasionally I'll offer a suggestion, but I've learned it makes more sense to follow the lead of the community and make adjustments as needed. Most requests for material goods are fulfilled locally during the visit. I keep records as accurately as circumstances permit. Receipts are more often than not scrawled in Sinhala on a piece of scrap paper. If bank funds are required for long-term project support, I deposit that money in a local bank in the company of school administrators and various locals, who consider watching large transactions a spectator sport. All accounts and expenditures are reviewed upon my next visit.

Since 2005, contributions have included metal security gates, new roofs, books, bookcases, chemicals for science classes, computers, ink cartridges, endless reams of paper, school clothing, salary support, a "grass cutter" (lawn mower), cooking supplies, school excursions, class excursions, art materials, musical instruments, a public address system, and sports equipment.

The Future

Several years ago, UNICEF and the Sri Lankan government replaced the original battered Martin Wickramasinghe School with a new building. However, that has not meant the school received much more than its physical structure. Most of the usable goods from the school by the beach were moved the half-mile to the new location. The new school's needs are ongoing.

In March of 2012, I was introduced to the Puswelkada K.V. School, a small village school in the foothills forty-five minutes away from Martin Wickramasinghe School. This second K-6 school needs everything. Everything. Located just twelve miles from the coast, the difference from the MW School speaks volumes. Unlike those communities that were affected by the tsunami and have witnessed several waves of aid, the tiny rural schools, which are more the Sri Lankan norm, have not benefitted from this attention. This small school consists of a building that is open to the elements above the three-foot high wall that is the building's only solid wall. The interior is a large space with a single half wood, half chicken wire partition dividing the kindergarten from the other six classrooms. No walls or other room dividers. Each of the classes is divided by fifteen feet of air. Several have "white boards.” The tiny desks are similar to those seen in Western schools after WW II. The oldest children sit on chairs made for eight year olds. In 2012, a water line for washing and drinking was brought into the building for the first time in years. This school needs new chairs, new desks, a replacement for the long-ago abandoned playground, electricity, and all of the other basics of any school. Between thirty and forty students attend the school, and the malaise stemming from years of inattention is palpable. With the help of Nilani, the sole English speaker at that school, we hope that they will see a dramatic change of fortune in the coming two to three years.

Assuming that all is well at MWS and on the right track with the village school, I intend to begin working with an as-yet undetermined school in the northern part of Sri Lanka in 2013. The school will be chosen with the guidance of our friend Thavamani Sandra Sridharan who will be accompanying me to the Jaffna area. Jaffna, the principal city of northern Sri Lanka, had been contested territory during 28 years of civil war. That conflict ended in 2009, and it is only just now beginning to see significant signs of recovery. Having attempted to visit the northwest twice after the end of the war, I very much look forward to a project in that region.

  • Friends    Martin Wickramasinghe School
  • Friends    Martin Wickramasinghe School
  • Friends    Martin Wickramasinghe School
  • Friends    Martin Wickramasinghe School
  • Woodworkers, Koggala
  • Clothing store in Galle. Most years we assist a variety of students with clothing needs.
  • Cricket    Martin Wickramasinghe School
  • Cricket    Martin Wickramasinghe School
  • Cricket    Martin Wickramasinghe School
  • Waiting for a school meeting    Martin Wickramasinghe School
  • School-wide field trip    Martin Wickramasinghe School
  • School-wide field trip    Martin Wickramasinghe School
  • School-wide field trip    Martin Wickramasinghe School
  • School-wide field trip (note some of these young men appear in the picture with me from five years earlier)
  • Late    Martin Wickramasinghe School