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Amparai schools struggle amid official apathy

According to Sri Lankan government figures, 40 schools in the Amparai district were damaged by the tidal waves of December 26. Of these, 28 were within 200 metres of the sea where President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government has banned any construction and therefore have to be rebuilt elsewhere.

In Akkaraipattu, out of the 23 schools damaged in the zone, reconstruction has commenced in only one, a WSWS teamfound.

In the Kalmunai educational division, 17 schools were destroyed—15 completely—and 8 have to be relocated. In this zone also, reconstruction has started in just one school.

Shams Central College in Maratamunai, established in 1978, was severely affected by the tsunami. Of 1,542 students, 104 were killed. About 1,300 now attend the school. The school is temporarily conducted at the Masjudul Kabaer mosque. Seven sheds have also been built with tin sheets.

Vice-principal P.M.M. Bathurdeen told WSWS: “This school is at the centre of education in the area. The school has the best results in the whole region. Its destruction is a big blow to the people.”

'Classes take place on a rotation basis. Grades 6, 7 and 8 are held one week. The next week these classes have a holiday and the other classes are held'

“Because of the dedication of the teachers, old boys (former students) and the parents, we were able to restart the school on January 25. The 20 computers we had were destroyed by the tsunami. Now we don’t have any computer lab or a library.”

The education ministry told the school administration that it was responsible for finding suitable land to rebuild. A former student, now a resident doctor in the United Kingdom, has bought a plot for the school.

Situated between the lagoon and the sea, the area is densely populated and poor. Unlike the other parts of Ampara, it is difficult to find land for paddy cultivation. A quarter of the population depends on fishing, another quarter on hand weaving. The rest are in government jobs, such as teachers, clerks, doctors and engineers.

Most of those in the public service received their qualifications because of free education.

At another Muslim school, Malharus Shams Maha Vidyal, the tsunami destroyed the library, and computer and science labs. So far the government has done nothing to remedy the situation. A temporary science lab—if you can call it that—is operating with a few test tubes and some chemicals.

According to the principal, A.A. Rasool, 98 of the 1,765 students were killed. At present, 1,448 students are continuing their studies but lack basic facilities.

“We were only able to restart the school in February. Grades 1 to 5 were held in the Sainthamaruthu GMMS School from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., while grade 6 to university entrance classes were held in another school, Al Hallal, also in the evenings,” he said.

“In GMMS, classes were held regularly. But because there was not enough room at Al Hallal, the classes took place on a rotation basis. Grades 6, 7 and 8 were held one week. The next week these classes had a holiday and the other classes were held.”

“We couldn’t conduct education properly. So the parents, old boys and teachers got together and shifted the school to this place, the public ground of the Kalmunai municipal council. There was lots of building rubbish here. A non-government organisation (NGO) cleared it. Another built three temporary sets of classrooms with plywood and tin sheets for the roof.”

“Still there is not enough room, so the school is conducted for two sessions—evening for grades 1 to 5 and morning for the other classes. One Hungarian NGO came forward to construct school buildings, but because the government has not officially transferred the land to the school, they moved away.”

'The government says it doesn’t have the money and it is the responsibility of the teachers, parents and old boys to find suitable land for the school.'

At the Vipulananda Central College in Karathivu, 27 students died in the tsunami. Of the 1,200 students before the disaster, 1,150 are now attending the school.

“We are functioning temporarily in the RKM Girls School with the help of canvas tents provided by UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund],” Deputy Principal S Thillaiyampalam said.

“But because there is not enough space, the school is conducted in two sessions. Classes from grades 10 to 13 are held in the morning from 8 to 12.30, and grades 6 to 9 in the evening from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.”

“The Italian embassy said it will provide 120 million rupees for a school building, but we must find five acres of land. The market price is 3.5 million rupees [$US35,000], but the government is not ready to give us this money. We also asked several NGOs, but nobody has helped us.”

“So we have decided to build the school on the former site, which is just outside the 200-metre buffer zone. If we go there the student attendance will be low. The teachers are not happy about it. But we don’t have any other alternative.”

He explained the problems faced by teachers, 13 of whom had their houses demolished by the tsunami, losing all their belongings.

“The government promised to give them one year’s salary as an interest-free loan, but they still haven’t received it. How can they rebuild their houses with only their monthly salary? These teachers are staying with their relatives. In these difficult conditions, how can they teach properly?”

Another school, Al Bathur Vidyalaya in Akkaraipattu, is currently located in the Bathur Nagar mosque. With UNICEF providing tents and books, the school is functioning under very difficult conditions.

The mosque administration has asked them to move out within a month, but teachers said they had nowhere to go. The former school, just 100 metres from the sea, was completely destroyed. The future of the 108 students seems very bleak.

One teacher said: “We need 40 million rupees for the buildings and another 2.8 million rupees for the land. One higher official in the education ministry said the government doesn’t have the money and that it is the responsibility of the teachers, parents and old boys to find suitable land for the school. Then the ministry can coordinate with an NGO to fund the buildings. We are not rich. How can we find the money for it?”

Education is the main path to escape from poverty for young people in the Ampara district, one of the most economically disadvantaged regions in Sri Lanka.


WSWS: Sri Lankan schools still not rebuilt after tsunami [August 10, 2005]

Jaffna protests over inaction, harassment [August 7, 2005]

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