“The children of this area had so much to deal with, their lives were affected in many ways due to the war,” says Karthi Sabaratnam, UNICEF Education Officer. “The children needed to recover as fast as they possibly could, they could not afford to fall back once again. Losing out on education would mean losing out on so much more.”
From 1983 to 2009, Sri Lanka experienced intermittent but continuous violent armed conflict between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This caused severe disruption to the provision of services, including education, particularly in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Panrikkeithakulam School in Vavuniya is located in what was the border area between the conflict- and non-conflict zones – a on no-man’s-land. In the final years of the violent conflict the school was deserted – with people leaving the area for safer ground – and soon occupied by the armed forces.
When the bunkers were removed, and the school started again, some of the first lessons introduced were by UNICEF – on mine risk education. Not long afterwards, UNICEF was back with OfERR, the local partner, implementing an initiative of the European Union’s Support to District Development Programme (EU-SDDP) to help rebuild schools in an approach that took not just the physical aspects that had to be improved in the school into account, but also the ‘software’ aspects, which were perhaps even more crucial.
EU-SDDP support ranged from the renovation of classrooms and the building of toilets to improving health and hygiene practices, developing the capacity of teachers to create a child-friendly environment, and addressing the challenge of out-of-school children.
“Parents who had returned to the area after the war had many priorities, getting children back to school again wasn’t always on the top of the list. The EU-SDDP played a major role in changing this mindset,” says Arumoham Ramya, OfERR’s Child Friendly Education Promoter. “But parents are key to the progress of a child. We needed to improve their involvement.” The parents and teachers together produced a School Development Plan. Once this was done, they started to address the priorities one by one, starting with the building of two classrooms, toilets, and hand washing units.
In parallel, OfERR started talking to the parents about school attendance – something the organisation describes as “a huge effort”. An Attendance Committee of parents and teachers, was activated, with committee members making home visits in response to irregular attendance. Students whose school attendance is good are given badges in recognition of their commitment. Giving badges motivates children and also creates health competition among children to win badges, there by children try hard to improve on their attendance.