By Mervyn Fletcher
Vavuniya, Northern Sri Lanka, 10 October 2011- In a region which, until recently, had been mired in conflict, the joyful sound of high-pitched laughter danced in the air, as an audience of rapt children enthusiastically responded to the travelling company, ‘Clowns without Borders’. Charming the gathering of youth with their engaging brand of slapstick and puppetry, the troupe was there to help celebrate the opening of a new school.
The building’s construction – as well as the day’s entertainment- was facilitated by the Cathal Ryan Trust, from Ireland, whose remarkable generosity has already made so much possible in this part of the world. Investing millions of US dollars into education and health facilities in Sri Lanka, the trust team continues to assess future project possibilities in northern Sri Lanka.
Standing like a beacon in an otherwise barren landscape, the school includes 11 classrooms, which can accommodate 200 or more children, aged between 6 and 16. A child-friendly space, the building offers safe water and decent sanitation, as well as a computer unit and library.
Health and education
Thirteen-year-old Robinsini, a pupil at the school, expressed his gratitude to the Ryan Trust, while highlighting the difficulties of the past. “We had to move many times because of the conflict,” he said. “Now though, we’re proud. We are happy and we thank you for this wonderful school.”
Cathal Ryan Trust Spokesperson, Danielle Ryan, discussed the country’s future, and the strength of its people. “I’m very impressed by the way the country is progressing and a lot of that comes down to the people themselves,” she said. “They have an amazing resilience. We are trying to facilitate. We are trying to listen to what they want. They seem pleased and so I’m happy that they’re pleased.”
In addition to the school, the five-member trust team attended the opening of the new Periyapandivirchcharan Maternity Ward, near Vavuniya, which they also financed. The maternity ward will benefit a population of 11,000 women and includes antenatal and postnatal units, a labour room, doctors’ room, midwives’ room, and an examination room.
Building a better future
UNICEF Sri Lanka Representative, Reza Hossaini, stressed the importance of investment when discussing the country’s long-term future. “If you want a prosperous and peaceful Sri Lanka you have to invest in its children,” she said. “That’s why by giving a good start and investing in health and quality education it helps with the future development, prosperity and a lasting peace in the country.”
Sri Lanka’s north may still display the scars of its violent past, but now communities are returning here to rebuild their lives. Through UNICEF and in partnership with the government, the Cathal Ryan Trust is investing in the country’s most essential resource – its children. Investing in children provides for its future, a foundation that is about more than simply bricks and mortar.