Monday, December 21, 2009

Room to Read builds libraries in Sri Lanka

By David Pilling

Published FT Weekend Edition: December 18 2009 23:17

It looks like a normal prize-giving ceremony at a normal school. Children are arranged by age on rows of seats in the barn-like hall. They wait patiently, a burble of chatter rising on the boiling air towards the tin roof. On a raised concrete dais is a small table on which sit the books to be presented as prizes. A teacher reads out the name of each winning child who moves shyly to the front to collect their prize with a gracious bow.

Students of Mullipothane school
Mullipothane school
But the school is not ordinary. Its children’s lives have been tugged, tossed and sometimes shattered by the civil war that has raged in Sri Lanka for the past 26 years. Since the conflict ended in May, the number of pupils, all Tamil, at the Mullipothane Vigneswara school near Trincomalee on the eastern coast has risen sharply as parents settle back to something like a normal life. One of the teachers says many children have war-related psychological scars, in addition to the physical ones some bear: “If you speak loudly, they get anxious,” she says.

Room to Read, the educational charity that stocked Mullipothane’s previously bereft library – with 299 books, says the proud librarian in a green sari – normally steers clear of war-torn countries. But it made an exception for Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami that swept across the island, killing 40,000 people and reducing hundreds of schools to rubble. Room to Read, which the FT is supporting in its seasonal appeal this year, builds schools and libraries, publishes local-language children’s books and provides scholarships to girls in nine poor countries. So far, according to Glenfrey De Mel, country director, the Sri Lankan arm has built 200 schools, started 665 libraries and funded 1,200 girls’ scholarships.

Read the rest at FT Weekend online.

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