Teachers, parents and more than a thousand children from a small fishing town in southern Sri Lanka celebrated the opening of their new public school on 20 February.
In an emotional inauguration ceremony, students in beautiful costumes danced and sang to demonstrate their gratitude for their new opportunities to learn in a beautiful, well-equipped building.
One of eight schools built in Sri Lanka through the EI-Oxfam Novib post-tsunami reconstruction project, the Ahangama Shariputhra Navodya College will enrol 1,100 students from Grades 1 through 13, with three classes in each grade.
Most of the students are sons and daughters of fishers whose homes and livelihood were wiped out by the enormous tsunami that struck in December 2004. Their new school now is protected by a high tsunami wall on the seaward side of the building.
General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen and Chief Regional Coordinator Aloysius Matthews attended to represent EI and to officially hand over the school to the public authorities.
“In opening this school we are opening 1,100 little doors,” van Leeuwen said. “We think that all the boys and girls should step through those doors, work hard, and work together for their parents, their local community and their country.”
The devastating impact of the tsunami worsened an already difficult situation for Sri Lankans, who have endured more than 20 years of ongoing civil war between the government, predominantly ethnic Sinhalese, and separatist militants known as the Tamil Tigers.
Van Leeuwen said one particularly touching moment in the opening ceremony came when a little Sinhalese boy gave a speech in Tamil. “It became so clear how important it is we build these schools,” he said. “It is a real contribution to peace.”
The school auditorium is named after Basil de Silva, former coordinator of the EI-Oxfam Novib School Reconstruction project, who died in April 2006 after a courageous battle against cancer.
“Basil was deeply committed to helping the teachers and children of Sri Lanka overcome the painful consequences of the tsunami,” said van Leeuwen. “He would have been proud to see this wonderful school come to completion.”