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Women’s Meet, Debates and Bus rides.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for us at the Rose Charities Sri Lanka office. The Women’s Sports Meet was a great success as women’s groups from Kalmunai, Pandarippu, Natpaddiumunai and Karaitivu came to participate in a fun day of team building games, skill competitions and social activities. Prizes were handed out to winners while everyone enjoyed a fun-spirited afternoon at the Rose Sri Lanka Head Office.

In the traditional English class, staff are learning how to construct an argument, an important skill in all languages. To display what they have learned, we conducted a class debate between women staff and men staff. The topic was “Women need to have a profession, participate in the work force and the duties at home should be shared between husband and wife.” The girls’ team supported the statement while men were against. It turned out to be a heated debate, demonstrating strong debating skills on both sides. The men of the office stated safety is an issue for young girls and women, especially after dark, limiting a woman’s working hours and freedom to leave the house. On the other hand, the women argued that the more women become professionals the more likely women’s safety will become a priority in society. It was clear that this debate is an important issue among young people in Sri Lanka. Many of the women staff members voiced strong opinions on this issue, attitudes that were certainly formed well before the debate assignment.

Sonia and I spent the weekend at Arugam Bay surfing, swimming and enjoying the beautiful Sri Lankan beach. On our way home, we opted to take the public transit to Kalmunai. About a half hour outside of Kalmunai, a woman boarded the bus with bags of flour and various supplies. She had gone to a neighboring town to purchase ingredients and supplies. When she turned around and saw Sonia and I on the bus her face lit up as she recognized us from the Rose Women’s Meet last week. She then exclaimed to the entire overcrowded bus that we were from Canada working in Kalmunai for Rose Charities, an organization that had lent her money to start her small business. As soon as she said the word “Rose” we could see that many people recognized the name and looked at us with gratitude and excitement.

As a token of her appreciation she handed us two small bags of kurakan flour, a type of flour used to make string hoppers and puttu (my favorite Sri Lankan meal). She then quickly jumped off of the moving bus with her luggage and gracefully placed the heavy bags of flour on the crest of her head. As the bus pulled away we watched her balance the bags, weaving in and out of street traffic and into a side street.

The last week has demonstrated the strength, generosity and intelligence of the Sri Lankan people, especially the women. Whether at the Women’s Sports Meet, in the office among the staff or on the bus, we can’t help but appreciate the independent spirit of all of the women we meet.

Impact of Rose Programs

While working in Kalmunai, one of our goals is to determine the impact that Rose Charities has on the community. We have found that this impact is most tangible in individual stories, particularly those of women and children.

The following is a letter Mrs. T. Vani, a young mother who has been involved in a number of RCSL programs:

“I am Vani from Puthunakaram, Malwatha in Ampara District. I am married and have two children. We have been running our family with great difficulty because my husband is unemployed. At this juncture, Rose Charities, Sri Lanka came forward to support our village and began a pre-school at a private building. My youngest daughter Rathusha is getting her education here. This organization started great supports to these children as all school materials were given free of charge. This allowed us to save some money for the future. Not only does my daughter benefit, but the entire community benefits from this great service. The employees of Rose Charities constantly visit and encourage the parents and students to improve their education in many ways. The Rose Charities preschool teachers were also given training on how they should teach our children.

Later on, this organization started its greatest service. Providing the opportunity for self-employment to youth mothers is the most unforgettable service in our mind forever. We were given training in sewing. All the necessary arrangements were made to make this training very successful. I was one of the students in that training. All of the sewing equipment and materials were given to us free of charge. We have finished everything in the training of sewing. It is very useful to us in many ways. Now I can earn something. I have gone from being a house wife to being a business owner.

First I could sew my dresses only but now I can sew any types of dresses, whatever the customers wants. This skill now supports my family. Hence, I wish to express our sincere thanks and gratitude to the staff of Rose Charities Kalmunai, Sri Lanka. I wish this organization to continue this service for many years to come”

Vani’s story captures the breadth of Rose’s programs and therefore it’s effect on not just an individual, but her family and community. Using the skills and support that Rose has provided her, Vani will continue to improve her own community, creating an immeasurable impact.

Rose Starts Programs in Vellaveli

On Wednesday we traveled 45 minutes out of Kalmunai to an area called Vellaveli where Rose is planning to start educational and support programs next month.

Vellaveli is a cultivation dependent area located on the border of the Batticaloa and Ampara District. Though Rose Sri Lanka does not work in the Batticaloa district, Rose came to Vellaveli after it was severely damaged in recent floods. Once controlled by the LTT (Liberated Tamil Tigers) during the civil war, Vellaveli and surrounding areas have gone through decades of isolation. This was apparent when we came across a broken bridge entering the village (see pictures below). Luckily there was a new bridge built that we could take, but during the floods, this was the bridge that the Rose staff crossed in order to deliver relief materials to people without food, shelter or clothes. Call it extremely dedicated or just plain crazy, perhaps Anthony and his team are little bit of both. It was also clear that the needs of the people outweighed the relief workers’ fear.

Even after the floods subsided, the needs in this area were vast. As a first step, Rose carried out a systematic pre-assessment survey among families in order to first develop baseline statistics of the population and second determine the most immediate needs of the people in this area. What they found through this process is an overwhelming number of widows and school drop outs in Vellaveli, particularly young boys, an effect of the civil war.

The purpose of our visit to Vellaveli was to meet with the Divisional Secretary of the Pallewatta District (the district that Vellaveli is in) to discuss the potential programs and workshops that Rose will carry out. This meeting demonstrated the importance of a cooperative relationship between NGO’s, government and multi-national organizations as we discussed collaborating with the Pallewatta Divisional Secretary who is working closely with the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme).

Using the baseline data, Rose identified the need for women’s groups, mother and child nutritional workshops and a drop-out educational support programs. These programs will start early May and will be the first of many RCSL programs in the area. Vellaveli is just an example of Rose identifying and addressing the need in a specific area while at the same time building strong partnerships with other organizations.

Early Childhood Education Program

The more we visit Rose’s programs, the more we realize how far-reaching Rose Charities Sri Lanka really is. Since 2006, Rose Sri Lanka has directly supported isolated and marginalized Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim communities. In 2011, Rose is addressing educational needs in 9 different districts, covering a large part of not just Kalmunai but the Eastern Province.

On Thursday morning P. Latha, the sports coordinator and P. Kumalakannan, the health and nutrition coordinator took us to Chalambaikrany, a dominantly Muslim area. We visited three preschools, Zahira Preschool, Iemam Hasal Preschool and Mega Preschool where we were welcomed by teachers, parents and children. At Zahira Preschool we met a teacher that had won the ‘Best Preschool Teacher’ award from Rose in 2009. She seemed to take pride in not only her award but her children’s progress.  The children were lined up in a semi circle around the teacher, some of the most well behaved 3 year olds we’ve ever seen.

At Iemam Hasali Preschool, we walked in to find children playing with red paint and crayons. There was red paint on their hands, faces and uniforms just as much as their papers. It was exciting to see the children given so much creative freedom and thoroughly enjoy their extra-curricular activities. Rose provides the preschools with art supplies and encourages teachers to balance behavioral development with fun, stimulating activities like art and singing. While in Kalmunai, Sonia has been spending time with preschool teachers to share teaching methods and improve English skills. Singing songs like “Eyes, ears, mouth and nose” and “The Hokey Pokey” has not only been fun but is an effective way to teach 3 year olds about anatomy.

We got to Mega Preschool at around 11:00 am, just as students were getting ready to go home. While the children were gathered together with their Rose backpacks, mothers and fathers came to collect them. The teacher at Mega Preschool shared that parents are increasingly supportive of early childhood development and extremely helpful to the teachers inside and outside the classroom. A mother was practicing the English words that her child had learned in class until he worked up the confidence to come up to us and introduce himself in English. I’ve never been more pleased to be asked “Hello, how are you? What is your name?”

We also learned that the Sri Lankan government has recently agreed to contribute milk packets to each preschool child as a snack. This contribution is the start of a cooperative relationship between Rose Charities and the Sri Lankan government to improve early childhood education in the Ampara District.

Early childhood education is one of Rose Charities’ central programs, with 14 preschools running across the Ampara District. However the program does not only improve access to early education, Rose is constantly working to improve the quality of education in each preschool. Now with government support, perhaps Rose’s model in Ampara can be applied throughout Sri Lanka in future years.

Being Tourists in Sri Lanka

We enjoyed our New Year holiday in beautiful Kandy with its mild temperatures and stunning scenery. While back in Kalmunai we caught up on Knowledge One classes. These classes are going smoothly as staff are learning about various mediums of communication including email, phone and face to face conversation. The RCSL staff are now working on writing mock emails to Sonia, using the etiquette and content they have learnt in K1. We have seen that working together with their peers is the most effective way of improving their English skills. After a couple days back in Kalmunai, Anthony and Rajeeshan took us to Trincomalai, north of Kalmunai. At the Trincomalai beach, it’s hard to see the difference between the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea. The full moon in the evening lit up the rolling surf as we listened the crashing waves on a quiet beach. On our drive home, we were lucky to see wild elephants and stopped to observe for a while. Though we’ve only seen a snippet of the country, we are struck by Sri Lanka’s diverse natural beauty.

As we travel and see more of Sri Lanka, we can’t help but notice the large proportion of children. During the school holidays, the majority of people we see and meet are under the age of 30. Boys and girls are playing cricket in the street or accompanying their mothers to the market, while young people spending time together under umbrellas in the park. Taking the bus from Kandy back to Kalmunai, Sonia constantly held babies in her lap as families filed in.

Statistics show that more than 40% of Sri Lanka’s population is under 30. With a civil war behind them, there is so much potential and energy in Sri Lanka’s young people, creating exciting prospects for future generations. However this is conditional on whether they are given the right tools. In other words, the need for education at every level is necessary in order to guarantee strong economic growth for Sri Lanka in future years. Providing young people with income generating skills so they can create their own jobs is just as important. Rose has served this growing need with academic and vocational training programs since 2006 and continues to do so in the Ampara District. Helping more than 3000 women and children, Rose is part of a large movement to kick-start Sri Lanka’s economy.

Rose Charities 2011 Girls Sports Meet

Imagine 300 girls ranging from ages 12-18 gathered at a community center playing their favorite team sports. In the rain. This was the scene on Monday, April 11th at the Annual Rose Sports Meet for Girls Clubs. Eight teams from various rural villages competed in cricket, basketball, volleyball and elle (a traditional Sri Lankan game similar to softball). Even intermittent rain storms couldn’t dampen the group’s enthusiasm and team spirit.

It was a colorful group at the Lawrence Keenan Community Centre, each team wearing a different uniform provided by Rose. Kalmunai was in pink, Karaitivu in green, Natpiddimunai in blue, Vepayadi/Annamali in maroon and Pandiruppu in light blue and pink. The day started with an introduction then all of the athletes shook our hands with excited hellos and good mornings. We were surprised to see many of the girls who came across as shy and soft spoken were extremely vocal and spirited on the field. This outgoing attitude demonstrating the important role sport has on confidence building for young girls. These athletes were setting an example for younger girls as many younger sisters came to watch their older sisters play.

The sports meet was not only a great showing of sportsmanship and enthusiasm; we also saw genuine athletic talent as the girls excelled in various sports. From light speed bowls to agile lay-ups to powerful serves, the coaching provided by Rose was evident in their technical skills.

In addition to uniforms and coaching, Rose provides bus transportation from each village, lunch, water, snacks, sports equipment, trophies and most importantly, a fun and empowering environment. Girls who were not involved in a game were constantly active, picking up and playing with any unused equipment. Team members cheered for their teammates from the sidelines as the cricket games became incredibly competitive. Despite the heated competitive atmosphere,the awards ceremony was full of congratulatory cheers from all teams. All in all, everyone was a winner at Rose Charities 2011 Sports Meet.

Sonia and Amanda – Rose Sri Lanka Volunteer Update

On our first day in Kalmunai, Anthony took us to the village of Malwatha where we saw a preschool class in progress. We were greeted with many good mornings from the children who were dressed neatly in their uniforms and Rose Charities ties. Next door, the mothers of the children were also in school, learning their own trade involving design and sewing. The preschool gives many of these young mothers the opportunity to not only educate their children but to develop useful skills. The most significant impact of this program is the importance of education which is instilled in both mothers and children.

English Classes

We’ve started a combination of traditional English classes and computer classes with the Rose staff. A class in the morning with all of the staff is delivered in the classroom.  We then have two separate computer classes with groups of 6-7 in the afternoon using the Knowledge One program. So far, we’ve covered material on phone and email etiquette, practicing phone conversations and reading out loud in class. It took a couple days to determine which staff members were intermediate and which were beginners.  One thing is for sure, despite the varying levels, ALL of the staff here are extremely keen to learn and improve their English skills. Sonia has a hard time picking a volunteer in class because everyone puts their hand up! She is excited to teach such eager students. Amanda on the other hand has taken up Tamil; language exchange!

Women’s Micro-credit Meeting

On Wednesday afternoon we attended a monthly women’s micro-credit meeting. Some women wore turquoise saris, representing the village of Natpaddimunai while others wore pink saris, representing the villages of Pandiruppu, Neelavanai and Veeracholai. The sari colors act as a unifying symbol among women of the same village, creating a large support system . At the meeting the women discussed issues around their loans and made loan payments. Many women were eager to apply for a bank loan and used the meeting to find others that were willing to co-sign with them. It was interesting to see women from different areas, who normally would not meet, band together in order to achieve economic independence.

We met a long time successful loan recipient that ran her own fishing business. With the loans she was able to slowly build up her capital and buy a boat and large fishing nets. Unfortunately, her boat and fishing nets were lost in the recent floods, however that didn’t seem to diminish her strong entrepreneurial spirit.

We also met a woman in her early twenties who had enrolled in a sewing class through Rose’s vocational training program. After graduating, she successfully applied for a micro credit loan and bought a sewing machine to start her own business. She now has enough credit to apply for a private bank loan that will enable her to expand her business. Though she is young she is a leader within the women’s group.

On Thursday we attended another women’s microcredit group in Annamalai district. Here, we saw a preschool that was initiated and built by the local women’s group in order to provide their children with a preschool education. We found that this group had similar concerns to the women in Natpaddimunai, creating groups of ten in order to apply for loans. Additionally, the women talked about their concern for their children’s education as their local school was short teachers. One woman volunteered to go and speak to the principal about their collective concerns.

Our first few days in Kalmunai have been very rewarding, we are so impressed at how much Rose is embedded in the community and how micro credit is the driving force of the organization. Most of the women who receive loans from micro credit have children involved in RCSL’s preschool, primary and secondary educational enrichment programs. As a result, these meetings are a place for women to come and not only talk about loans and their business, but also the needs of their children and families.

We are looking forward the girls’ sports meet on April 11th and will update you on all of the fun activities. Sonia is planning to play her first cricket game!

University Scholarship Program Update

Rose Charities Sri Lanka (RCSL) began in 2005 with the support of Canadian volunteers, local community workers and generous donations. The organization has since evolved into a large-scale educational enrichment initiative targeting at-risk children and youth at every stage of development. RCSL’s holistic approach encompasses programs at the preschool, primary, secondary and post-secondary level.

Primary school sports programs empower girls while secondary exam preparation programs mentor students. Both programs work to equip young Sri Lankans with the confidence and skills to pursue their dreams in University. Thus, the University Scholarship Program is a critical tenet of to RCSL’s education project as it strengthens all of the other community programs.

The University Scholarship Program targets students that have been affected by the 2005 Tsunami, civil war and poverty. Despite free tuition for a post-secondary education in Sri Lanka, costs such as books, accommodation and transportation are prohibitive barriers for students from low-income families. The Scholarship program provides students with $260 (CAD) per year, a small sum relative to the long-term benefits to the student, community, and overall development of the country.

Since the Scholarship Program’s foundation, 19 students have graduated in various disciplines, including Arts and Culture, Engineering, Management, Medicine and Computer Science. This wide range of expertise creates a group of successful individuals who now have the ability to give back to their community. The Scholarship Program is not the final stage of the education enrichment initiative rather it is a means of reincorporating resources into the community of Kulmunai so that Rose Charities Sri Lanka can eventually become a sustainable operation.

Pamini received a scholarship in 2007, allowing her to pursue a post-secondary education. Since her widowed mother earns just $200 per year, Pamini used her scholarship to pay for books and transportation in order to obtain her university degree in Arts and Culture. Pamini now plans to help her mother and pay for her younger brother and sister’s education.

After 5 successful years, the need for university scholarships is greater than ever.  Seventeen students are currently enrolled in Sri Lankan Universities for the January 2011 term, 6 of them will still require financial support in order to make their dreams a reality. These students include:

Devanayagam Angella Nishani

  • University: Eastern University, Sri Lanka
  • Program of Study: Bachelors of Science
  • Expected Graduation Date: December 2011

Yokesvaran Kalaivathanan

  • Age: 24
  • Town of Birth: Thirukkovil, Sri Lanka
  • University: Eastern University, Sri Lanka
  • Program of Study: Medicine
  • Expected Graduation Date: December 2012

Sithambaram Sanjeevkanth

  • Age: 24
  • Town of Birth:
  • University: University of Paradeniya, Sri Lanka
  • Program of Study: Engineering
  • Expected Graduation Date: December 2012

Nadeeshan Pakeerathan

  • Age: 24
  • Town of Birth: Sammanthurai, Sri Lanka
  • University: Eastern University, Sri Lanka
  • Program of Study: Medicine
  • Expected Graduation Date: December 2012

Kesupathy Viyarathan

  • Age: 22
  • University: Moratuwa, Sri Lanka
  • Program of Study: Earth Resource Engineering
  • Expected Graduation Date: December 2012

Kesupathy Geevarathan

  • Age: 22
  • University: Eastern University, Sri Lanka
  • Program of Study: Medicine
  • Expected Graduation Date: December 2012

Without funding, these 6 students are unable to accept their offers for a university education. The Rose Charities University Scholarship program asks for your help once again to empower young people and their communities through education.

If you would like to sponsor one or more of the 6 University students, please:

  1. Click DONATE in the top right corner
  2. In the comments section specify University Scholarship Program and which student you would like to fund.

If you have any questions or comments please contact us at:

amanda@rosecharities.ca

Thank you for your ongoing support!