The foremost highlight of the occasion was the cake cutting by the Chief Guest to mark the 145th birth day of Canada. Children waved the Canadian Flags and the National Anthem of Canada played in the background made the day glinting.
The Canada Day and the Rose Preschool Day were both celebrated on the same day.
Preschool Day and Canada Day celebrations are held every year by the members of Rose Charities Srilanka. Kids always look forward to rejoice these events by cutting cake in order to party the birth day of Canada and doing cultural performance to have fun.This year Mr. N. Nagarajah, Co-ordinator for Rose Preschools has presided the function with Fahad Arshad Yasin of Education Generation, Vancouver Canada being the Chief Guest. Assistant Director of Education (Early Childhood Care and Education) for Pattiruppu Education Zone Mr.N.Puvanasundaram, Mr.N.Parasuraman – Administrative Officer, Mr.S.Rajeeshan – Programme Coordinator, Mr.N.Raveendran, Mr.M.Somasundaram and Board of Directors of Rose Charities Srilanka were the Guests for that day.
The events commenced with the welcoming, lightening of the traditional lamp and prayers by the kids of Rose Preschools.
In January, Rose Charities Sri Lanka conducted the first of two Health and Nutrition Programs planned for this year. This program involved over 150 children and 100 parents from Rose Mother and Baby Groups and Preschools in Porathivupattu Division, making it one of the single largest and most ambitious ECCD events that Rose has ever staged. The Office of the Divisional Secretary of Porathivupattu hosted the event and it proved to be the perfect setting for the course of cultural events and festivities which lasted all day and well into the evening.
The day’s entertainment was designed to teach the children basic lessons about proper nutrition. It is customary in Sri Lanka for guests at formal functions to be welcomed by their hosts with a garland of flowers and early in life children become adept at producing garlands and presenting them to adults. At the Health and Nutrition Program, however, this custom was reversed and each child had a garland of flowers placed around his or her neck as part of the celebration. The main event was a large ‘dinner party’ for the assembled children in which they served themselves and ate entirely without assistance. This ability is a good indicator of the development of fine motor skills and, given that many of those present were under the age of three, the results were surprisingly good.
There was also a Rose-sponsored book exhibition for the preschoolers and books specially-designed for children aged 4 and 5 were distributed free of charge to very attendee. Rose charities also includes small lending libraries within every village Children’s Club and it is hoped that these measures will encourage an enduring love of reading in a population for whom books are difficult to obtain.
After sundown, the children were treated to a fireworks display sponsored by Rose Charities. Most of these children had never seen fireworks before and gazed up in wonder as multi-coloured explosions illuminated the night sky. It was a lovely spectacle and a fitting end to a long and festive day.
If one visits an elementary school anywhere in the rural areas between Ampara and Batticaloa Districts, one is first of all struck by the amicability and high spirits of the students. Every class welcomes visitors with a cheerful “Good morning, sir!” delivered in unison, while the more self-confident students, invariably grinning, prefer to greet strangers with a loud “Hi, how are you?” Looking past the unaffected good nature of the children, however, one sees in every classroom and hallway, and on the exterior of every school building, poignant reminders of the terrible social problems in these communities and the dangers which many young people face within their own homes. Hand-drawn posters and large painted murals – simple and forceful, they are unmistakably the work of children – depict club-wielding men standing over their wives and children. Others show groups of men, either clambering up cocoanut trees or just sitting dully around a bottle. On top of the wholesale destruction caused by natural disasters and civil war, many communities in eastern Sri Lanka are currently being devastated by endemic rates of alcoholism, domestic violence, and child abuse.
Rape and violence against women are almost never reported to the police in these areas and only the most horrific incidents receive any notice outside of the villages in which they actually occur. There is, however, sufficient evidence to show how widespread these problems are and what a paralyzing effect they have on village life and hopes for development. On April 3rd, at the Rose office in Kalmunai city, there was a graduation ceremony for young women who had recently completed a three month vocational training course in shoe-making. These women are all between the ages of 18 and 26 and live in the isolated, rural community of Selvapuram. They brought with them a large collection of beautifully-made ladies’ sandals, in a variety of attractive styles, which they had produced during the course of the program. After the ceremony was concluded, the graduates all registered with Rose Microcredit but, when the group was asked whether they would like to begin taking loans in order to start their own shoe-making business, fewer than half of the young women expressed a desire to do so. When pressed, they explained to us that in their community it is simply not safe for a young woman to walk the country roads alone and none of them have access to any form of transportation which can convey them safely to and from their homes and wherever the shoe-making would take place. Without basic security in their community, it is difficult for these young women to even leave their homes unescorted and absolutely impossible for them to improve their livelihoods through entrepreneurship.
Rose Charities Sri Lanka has committed itself to addressing the root causes of this intolerable state of affairs and, working closely with the Assistant Superintendant of Police for Vellavely and Kaluwanchikudy Divisions, the Divisional Secretary’s Office, and the regional Office of the Ministry of Health, Rose has formulated a model Awareness Program which has been staged twice so far this year.
The first Awareness program was held in Kovilporathivu D.S. Division and approximately 90 local people, including widows and young women as well as men, participated. The second was held at Sinnawattai. This was a special program and over 350 people were in attendance. In one of the most moving parts of the day, young children took the stage and read short testimonials which they had prepared about how alcohol affected their home lives. One can only imagine how a father might feel, sitting in the audience, when his son or daughter tells the assembled crowd that it is impossible to study at home in the evenings when their father comes home drunk. During the course of the event a considerable number of families were identified as being involved in producing homemade alcohol. Many of these came forward voluntarily and asked for outreach and assistance in order to be able to abandon this business.
There was also a mobile health service camp set up outside of the meeting which offered dental cleanings, eye tests, and a medical clinic for people who cannot access these services normally.
We are very proud to be working closely with the Police Force to try and improve the security situation in rural villages. The police, more often than not, do not have the resources necessary to adequately patrol rural area and the people have no confidence in the police because they are unable to enforce the law in their communities. Compounding this problem is the fact that there is a language barrier between the Sinhalese police officers and the Tamil civilians whom they protect. The Community Policing model is, however, being introduced into this area under the direction of the Assistant Superintendant of Police and the trust which Rose Sri Lanka has earned during eight years of work in this area is considered an important asset in helping restore the people’s faith in the police. This is a vital step in the reconciliation process. On Monday, April 16th, the national, Tamil language newspaper Virakesari carried a story about these Awareness Programs in which a police spokesman formally thanked Rose Charities for the valuable assistance we have given them in combating alcoholism and violence in rural communities.
There are four more Awareness programs scheduled for the coming months.
Since the beginning of 2012, four separate Mother and Child Programs have been conducted by Rose Charities Sri Lanka. In order to address the most marginalized communities in the Eastern Province, Rose Charities has extended its operations northward, into the Porathivupattu D.S. Division which comprises the border areas between Ampara and Batticaloa Districts. Government services in these areas are almost nonexistent and Rose Charities has been working closely with the Office of the Divisional Secretary and the Office of the District Health Officer to ensure that the young and expectant mothers in these villages have the tools and knowledge which they need to improve the health and nutrition of their infants.
The first meeting of the year was held in January in the village of Sinnawattai. Over one hundred women were in attendance, many of them accompanied by their young children. There were a large number of widows in the audience. Sinnawattai has a mixed Sinhalese and Tamil population and both communities participated equally in the day’s program. There has been little reconciliation between the Sinhalese and Tamils following the conclusion of the Sri Lankan Civil War but hopeful signs are emerging. At this meeting, one of the women present asked for an English language preschool to be established in the village so that children from both lingual groups could “learn together.”
In February, the second meeting of the year was held in Ganeshapuram. This meeting drew together mothers from two separate villages; Ganeshapuram and the 14th Village. During the colonial period the British established new villages, or ‘colonies’ throughout this area and these were given numbers instead of names. Over time, most of these communities have discarded their numerical designations but some of the most rural communities still retain their same old number. These are generally the most isolated and impoverished communities in a given area and, therefore, the ones most in need of assistance. In April, The Mother and Child Program moved to the village of Mavetkudah, a very poor village which is situated within a reasonably well-developed area. There were 90 women present.
The most recent program was held at the beginning of April in Vivekanandapuram, another of the border communities. 95 women came from the surrounding area and the program was similar to what had been offered at previous events. First, Mr. N. Parasuraman, the Administrative Officer of Rose Charities Sri Lanka and a retired nursing officer, spoke to the women about the value of Early Childhood Education and the responsibilities of parenthood. The other speakers included the District Medical Office, the Divisional Secretary, and a senior Nursing Sister. The Health Officer informed the women about infectious diseases affecting small children and how to prevent them. Dengue fever is a serious hazard in this part of the country, particularly during the rainy season. He then spoke about the necessary course of vaccinations which every child needs to begin soon after being born. He also spoke about the dangers posed by dysentery and explained some simple remedies for dehydration, like young cocoanut, which can be given to a child suffering from diarrhea.
The Nursing Sister moderated a lively discussion among the women about breastfeeding and added a great deal of advice of her own about the correct feeding position, how to hold the child, how to get infants to latch on and other common problems. She also outlined the science of brain development in young children and the importance of breast milk as a source of nutrients for children at this formative stage of life. She frequently used simple call-an-response exercises to emphasize important points and questions from the audience were encouraged throughout.
Following this discussion, another doctor took the floor and expanded upon some of the issues raised so far and also gave important information to the women about their own health and how to ensure that they are physically well enough to conceive. He spoke about the complications which arise when women have babies too early or too frequently. The Divisional Secretary closed the meeting with a few remarks of his own to the assembled women.
This village, like the rest of Sri Lanka, is suffering badly from the daily increase in the cost of basic necessities. One woman reported that now she is cooking only a half kilo of rice for her family’s evening meal as opposed to the whole kilo which she used to be able to afford. This village produces an abundance of nutritious produce, including maize and vegetables, but these are all sent to the market and some of the profits from their sale used to buy cheaper food from the city. The village is, in fact, exporting nutritious food and importing inferior stuff. The women were advised to hold back some of their own produce to feed to their families.
All of the women and children who attend these events are given a nutritious snack and a high-protein drink. In addition, they receive some kind of useful gift, like an umbrella, a child’s mosquito net, or a set of bed sheets. In the coming months, 6 more workshops like these are already being planned in order to continue raising awareness about health and nutrition in the more impoverished villages of the area.
The results of last year’s GCE (Ordinary Level) Examinations were released recently and demonstrate that enrichment classes provided to students by Rose Charities Sri Lanka have led to remarkable improvements in student performance. Last year, 461 students from 9 schools received after school enrichment prior to writing their O/L exams. These examinations are difficult for any student to pass, particularly students who come from underdeveloped and isolated villages in the Eastern Province but, on average, the students who received enrichment showed a significant improvement in every subject.
The results from one school, Vellavely Kalaimahal Mahavidyealayam, illustrate what the Secondary Enrichment Program has been able to accomplish. In 2010, before enrichment classes were introduced, the pass rate for science exams was 19%. In 2011, the rate had increased to 26%. In mathematics, only 27% of those who wrote the exam in 2010 passed. Last year, however, 60% of students succeeded in passing the exam. The most astonishing improvement, however, was in the English exam results. In 2010, the pass rate for students writing the O/L exam in English at this school was just under 5%. A single year of Secondary Enrichment administered by Rose resulted in a 2011 pass rate of 50%. These results are a testament to the hard work of the students and the dedication of Rose’s experienced teaching staff. This school achieved an overall pass rate of 60% for all exams attempted, which was markedly higher than in previous years. Of the 41 students who were writing the O levels for the first time in 2011, 23 passed.
Rose Charities Sri Lanka is set to resume GCE (Ordinary Level) enrichment classes in May of this year and it is hoped that the outstanding results of last year’s beneficiaries will be matched or exceeded this year.
This year, Rose Charities Sri Lanka is providing free enrichment courses for 40 students in the arts stream in preparation for the August sitting of the GC (Advanced Level) Examination. These students will be writing the GC Exams for the second time and, with extra instruction and the help of review books prepared by Rose, it is expected that many of these young men and women will be able to pass the exam this time around and go on to continue their studies at university.
Five teachers working out of one education centre have been prepping these students after school since March. The program will continue through the month of July, after which the students will write the exam. English enrichment is provided by Rose’s Education Coordinator, Mr. N. Raveendran, who traverses the unpaved roads of this area by motorcycle day after day to teach English to students in isolated rural villages. The inhabitants of these villages could not afford to pay tutors even if they were available. It is only through Rose’s Enrichment Program that they can get the effective extra classes which they need to score well on the GC Exams.
These students are all from the Porathivupattu D.S. Division which lies on the border between Ampara and Batticaloa Districts. This area was completely isolated for decades while being held by the LTTE and suffered badly in the final campaigns of the Civil War. Years after the conclusion of hostilities, this area continues to lag behind the rest of the country in terms of education, income, and infrastructure.
There are almost no opportunities for young people in this area and a widespread feeling of hopelessness is one of the driving factors behind high rates of alcoholism, criminality, and violence. Education is one of the best means of reversing this trend and Rose has been assisting students in this area to improve their performance in primary, secondary, and university studies. The Secondary Enrichment Program is one of the most successful aspects of our work in Porathivupattu and previous years’ results have shown a dramatic improvement in students’ exam scores after having received after school enrichment.
For the third year in a row, Rose Charities Sri Lanka conducted afterschool tutorial sessions in rural communities as part of our ongoing Primary Enrichment Program (PEP.) In Sri Lanka, every grade five student must face a standardized, government-administered exam, the results of which can prove as determinative of his or her future academic career as the SATs do for North American high school students.
Firstly, children who pass the National Scholarship Exam win a small, annual stipend to defray the costs of their subsequent schooling. In Sri Lanka, tuition from primary school all the way through university is paid for by the government but ancillary costs like transportation, uniforms, books, and extracurricular sports are the responsibility of the students’ families. These expenses can prove to be an unsupportable burden for families of limited mean. This often makes it difficult for disadvantaged children to pursue their educations as far as their talents would take them.
More significant than the money, however, is the fact that top-scoring students of the NSE have the option of continuing their studies at better-equipped, urban high schools. Taken as a whole, the education system in Sri Lanka is one of the best in the majority world but, unfortunately, the considerable resources which the country invests in education are not evenly distributed.
Many high schools in rural communities do not have the facilities needed to teach any science courses and, consequently, students who attend them cannot sit any Ordinary Level examinations in physics, chemistry or biology. It is still possible to earn a place at university but those that do will be restricted in the fields of study for which they are eligible and what jobs they can eventually get. It is not surprising that many families living in the countryside are willing to accept the increased expense of sending their children to a prestigious and well-funded high school in the city.
Even though parents are more than willing to make these sacrifices, very often they do not even get the opportunity to do so. The NSE is administered in an ostensibly egalitarian way and every child in the country writes the same exam and competes for the same number of scholarships in a single pool. In practice, however, this arrangement disadvantages impoverished rural students because better-off urban children have access to extracurricular tutorials and the means to pay for them. Rural children have neither of these things and yet they must compete against those that do. The playing field is, therefore, no more even before they begin high school than it is afterwards.
PEP was created to ensure that as many primary school children as possible get the opportunity to take part in afterschool tutorials in preparation for the NSE. Demand for the program was immediate and has only increased in succeeding years. The classes give instruction in the two core subjects of the Scholarship Exam and this year 870 students are enrolled in the program, which offers afterschool classes three days a week in 17 different locations. Two of the communities are so isolated, however, that it is not even possible for one of our teachers to reach them on a regular basis. These villages have been supplied with educational materials, including model exam papers, which the children are able to work through under local supervision. All of these materials, like the instruction of our trained teachers, are given to the children free of charge.
Students who pass the Scholarship Exam are far less likely to drop out before at least completing their O Levels and we expect that the increased pass rate which has been observed as a direct result of our program will have a long-term impact on social and economic progress of rural Sri Lanka.
On March 17th, Rose Women’s Groups held a large conference to celebrate International Women’s Day. Over 1000 women from various communities in Ampara District met at the E.L.I. Auditorium in Kalmunai to discuss the themes of the conference, which were “Empowering Rural Women” and “Ending Hunger and Poverty.”
The conference was organized by the Rose Women’s Group coordinator Ms. M. Nilujani and the chairperson was Ms. Kethika Subramaniam, one of the many outstanding young women who have benefitted from the work of Rose Charities Sri Lanka in and around Kalmunai. Ms. Kethika participated in secondary school enrichment classes run by Rose Charities which helped her to excel on her A Level exams and win a place at the University of Vavuniya. She continued her education with the help of a scholarship provided by Education Generation and, in 2011 she received a Bachelor’s Degree in ICT (Information and Communication Technology) and was immediately hired by her university, where she continues to work.
The panel featured local government officials, Rose Charities program staff, and representatives of several locally-active N.G.Os and community-based organizations. After a brief opening ceremony a series of speakers addressed the assembled women on the issues facing their communities. A Human Rights Investigating Officer gave a speech about women’s rights and the Area Development and Planning Officer spoke about the government’s role in ensuring local security and development. The most empowering speeches were delivered by prominent women from the various levels of government.
This conference also functioned as an AGM for all of the Rose Women’s Groups and they took the opportunity to bring their personal perspectives to bear on the future direction of the program. The conference was closed with a vote of thanks to everyone who had been involved in organizing the event and every woman was presented with an umbrella- indispensible in Sri Lanka, rain or shine¬- emblazoned with the Rose logo. These umbrellas are a common sight in the villages around Kalmunai and serve to symbolize the feelings of unity and solidarity between and within the groups.
On February 26th, Rose Charities Srilanka hosted the annual Rose Girl’s Clubs Sports Meet. Girls between the ages of 12 and 16, representing all eleven clubs in Ampara District, began arriving early in the morning to test their athletic skills in a number of games and events. As in previous years, the meet was held on a grand scale- there were 260 participants- and served to showcase the high standard of coaching which the girls received over the preceding year as well as their innate talent and good sportsmanship.
Each team represented their own village in spirited games of basketball, volleyball, netball, cricket, and elle (pronounced el-lay, this is a traditional Sri Lankan game, similar to baseball, but played with a bat made from a section of bamboo culm.) In addition, the girls braved the midday heat to run a number of track and field events which tested their endurance and speed under the most adverse conditions. Having trained for months in anticipation of this day, the girls lived up to the high standards of athleticism set in previous years.
Promoting girls’ basketball has always been a particular focus for Rose Charities and the basketball final was the main event of the day. The basketball teams train every Saturday and Sunday under the direction of the national coach of Sri Lanka. Basketball is popular in Sri Lanka but mainly in the cities because most villages have no basketball courts. Annamalai Girl’s Club won the championship in a hotly contested and thrilling final game. With characteristic understatement, the girls reported that they “felt happy” about the result. It was the first time that the team from Annamalai had won the championship. They hope, in future, to compete in district and provincial tournaments.
The Girls’ Clubs have been running for the past four years and provide a unique opportunity for the girls to train in sports and learn teamwork and leadership. Members of the club executive serve a one-year term which gives a large number of girls the chance to take a leadership role in organizing practices and events. The girls are also given instruction in personal finances and are encouraged to increase their savings with annual prizes being given to whoever saves the most money. The club also has its own small library from which the girls can borrow books. These aspects of the program are all in addition to the main draw, which is, obviously, the sports.
This meet is the only time during the year that the girls from all the Rose clubs get a chance to meet and compete against each other. It is a refreshing break for the girls from the pressures of school and, consequently, there was a festive atmosphere throughout the day. The prize giving ceremony at the close recognized the winning teams in each event with trophies and prizes and allowed the assembled supporters to celebrate the girls’ achievements.