still refugee camps
By Hiranthi Fernando
In a large tent in a school compound, a teacher tries to make herself
heard above the cacophony of voices in the next class. The young
students of grade one and two struggle to pay attention amidst distractions.
Two or three classes of primary school students are crammed into
this tent. A few feet away a smaller tent accommodates another class.
it is not a rural school in a remote area as one would have thought.
This is ‘Egoda Uyana Kanishta Vidyalaya’ in Moratuwa,
within the Colombo district. These students have been displaced
from their classrooms for the past six months while tsunami refugees
occupy a part of their school.
after the tsunami, 171 families were accommodated in this school.
Gradually, with the re-opening of the school, one hall was cleared
and then another. Today 41 families still languish in the school,
occupying two halls, while the children are put into great inconvenience
studying in their tented classrooms.
have notified all the authorities concerned to please clear the
school soon so that the children can get back to their studies without
disturbance,” said Bernard Fernando, the Principal. “Six
months is a long time to disrupt the children’s education.”
Mr. Fernando explained that grades one, two and six are accommodated
in tents in order to make way for the refugees. In the halls that
have been cleared several classes have been amalgamated due to lack
of space. The Ordinary Level exam students cannot use the Science
Laboratory, which is also occupied. The Home Science Room also cannot
be used, the Principal said.
teachers are very dedicated,” said the Principal. “They
have done an excellent job under difficult circumstances. The school,
which is co-educational has 523 students from grade one up to O.L.
About 75% of the students have been affected by the tsunami. They
are living in camps, with relatives or in temporary houses.
problems have surfaced, the Principal explains. “We have to
be very vigilant to ensure that the students are protected, with
so many refugees living inside the school. We don’t know what
sort of people they are. Most of the men do not go for work but
sit around the whole day. One of the teachers or I have to always
stay around the camp area.”
Swarnalatha, one of the refugees said she had been living at the
school with her husband and child since December 29. All those who
are at the camp are from the 100 metre buffer zone so they have
no place to go to. “We are grateful to the Principal for allowing
us to stay here. We do realize that we are disrupting the education
of the children here. We appeal for some place for us to live even
temporarily. We are willing to go away from the sea,” she
Recently, 30 of the families from this school relocated in temporary
houses built by Seva Lanka at a temple in the area. The refugees
who are fishermen, carpenters, masons and casual labourers, say
their names have also been entered on a list and are waiting for
temporary homes so that they can rebuild their lives.
Egodauyane Gnanawimala from the Bodhiraja Temple at the top of the
road, often visits the school to oversee the situation. He stresses
that it is high time the school is cleared of refugees so that the
students can carry on their education without disruption. “We
are mindful of the plight of the refugees and they were accommodated
here in the school as a temporary measure,” Rev. Gnanawimala
said. “The principal has been very sympathetic and cooperative.
But, although we are concerned about the refugee families, our priority
concern is for the children. Something has to be done quickly to
clear the school as it is not a good environment for the children.”
the same road, Sugathdharmadara Vidyalaya has 148 refugee families.
Twenty seven of them are occupying classrooms, while the rest are
in temporary houses built on the school premises. Still further
down, Sunanda Upananda Vidyalaya, also has about 140 families accommodated
in temporary houses built in their compound.