Boost for community development in Sri Lanka
(14 August 2008)
Six rural villages in Sri Lanka are to get new community learning centres thanks to a new partnership between UK and Sri Lankan organisations.
The community development, made possible by a grant from the British and Foreign School Society (BFSS) alongside on-going support from Durham University in the UK, will see the construction of centres inland as well as on the south coast with building work now underway. The centres can be used for teaching, as a common meeting place, and to connect isolated communities with the rest of the world through provision of IT facilities. This unique development brings together Durham University, Sri Lanka’s largest NGO, Sarvodaya, the Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka, and the British and Foreign School Society. The first community to benefit will be the village of Ihala Galagama in the Sabaragamuwa Province with its centre scheduled to open in February 2009. It will incorporate a pre-school, village meeting and training room, library and computer with internet access and email. It will act as a hub providing education, information and e-services at grassroots level. In addition to the establishment of a community learning centre, the project will also support the teaching and extra-curricular activities of school children by Durham University students who will spend around nine weeks working in the new facility next year in partnership with students from the Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka. Academic staff from Durham University will be collaborating with counterparts in Sabaragamuwa University on research and curriculum development projects in areas such as sports and sports science, Buddhism, applied ethics, environmental thinking, information technology, business and entrepreneurship, social work in communities, and land management. The support for the inland villages in Sri Lanka is the first step towards expanding Durham University’s humanitarian initiative, Project Sri Lanka, into central areas of the country with a clear focus on long-term community development. The Project was initially set up after the 2004 tsunami to provide community support to those areas affected along the south coast. It is planned to develop this ‘humanitarian model’ both in other areas of Sri Lanka and to transfer it to other countries with identified community needs. This year has seen the establishment of Project Thailand. Professor Joy Palmer-Cooper of Durham University who leads the project said: “We are all very excited about extending this project to other areas in Sri Lanka and I really hope it will help to empower people to develop self-sustaining computer-literate societies. “From my experience of visiting the rural areas of Sri Lanka and talking to people there, education and empowerment underpin success in helping individuals and village communities as a whole. We hope that by addressing problems such as lack of information, poor computer literacy and infrastructure facilities, we will enable rural areas to improve their capacity to set up businesses and generally explore ways to generate income, leading to long term sustainability. “Universities can play an important role in supporting community development processes and we very much look forward to working with the Vice Chancellor, staff and students at Sabaragamuwa University in Ihala Galagama and future ‘university villages’.” The funding from the BFSS allows Project Sri Lanka to establish two community learning centres each year for the next three years, one each year in the southern tsunami affected area, and the other in an inland location. Charles Crawford, Director of the British and Foreign School Society said, "Project Sri Lanka chimes very well with the aims of this 200 year old charity. Ever since its foundation in 1808 by Joseph Lancaster, who pioneered the provision of education to the poor in England, the Society has supported many projects around the world to provide education where it is most needed. We are delighted to carry forward our long association with Durham University by supporting its work in Sri Lanka." Dr Vinya Ariyaratne, Executive Director of Sarvodaya, added: “We are extremely happy that Sarvodaya is able to extend its partnership with Durham University to support the interior parts of Sri Lanka where there are many rural hamlets which would benefit from the unique development and learning model we have jointly developed. “At a time when globalization is having a negative impact on poor communities in the developing world, Sarvodaya strongly believes in and understands the importance of linking local communities and grass roots actions with international efforts that have a positive as well as practical academic orientation. This partnership shares not only physical resources but more importantly, knowledge resources and provides an opportunity for international students to learn from the villagers and vice versa”. Project Sri Lanka is one of the most comprehensive university schemes in the UK with elements of fundraising, teaching, research and student placement opportunities overseas. Durham University's partners in the UK include the University's student charity, DUCK and the British and Foreign School Society, with regional support from Rotary Clubs, schools and communities. Major partners in Sri Lanka are the Sarvodaya organisation and Rotary Sri Lanka as well as other higher education institutions. The combination of these elements has led the UK’s education funding body (Higher Education Funding Council for England) to recognising it as a landmark operation and a model project for the internationalisation of higher education which is transferable to other settings where real humanitarian needs are identified.