Sri Lanka welcomes Durham undergraduates on humanitarian mission
(8 September 2011)
Durham students are helping the continued rebuild of Sri Lanka this summer following the 2004 tsunami.
Two teams of undergraduates are taking part in Project Sri Lanka - the humanitarian initiative set up by Durham University in 2005 - working across nine preschools and community buildings for 10 weeks.
16 students have gone to the tsunami affected Southern Province and eight sports students have gone to an inland province, where they also teach at Sabaragamuwa University.
Now an independent charitable company, Project Sri Lanka was established in the wake of the almost unimaginable destruction caused by the 2004 Boxing Day disaster. It has gone on to achieve tremendous success assisting in the essential regeneration effort, most recently resulting in the construction of a ninth preschool and community building, this time in the village of Aththudawa.
Student, Laura Thurman, 31, a second year Primary Education student, said: "It's been seven years since the disaster but there is still much work to do as Sri Lanka is a developing country and poverty is an enduring problem. It's important to retain a level of focus long after the world's media has moved on so that the momentum from all the international aid is not lost, ensuring the country continues to recover.
"At Durham University I'm training to be a teacher therefore I'm able to provide teaching expertise for the newly constructed pre-schools. The ability of a country to offer a good education is a critical step for its future development.
"Helping local teachers learn the English language, which is valued as an international language, can also help them secure future employment and assist pupils in developing useful broader skills.
"We learn so much from the villagers who we spend a large amount of quality time with - it is a truly rewarding experience."
Project Sri Lanka has seen Durham University staff, students and alumni offering support in terms of manpower, research expertise and fund-raising. The success achieved over the years has enabled the project to grow and gain independent charitable status, though it will still maintain its strong connections with the University.
The project's successful humanitarian model could be rolled out to other countries and a similar project has already been launched in Thailand with the purpose of responding to community support and development needs.
The Director of Project Sri Lanka Professor Joy Palmer-Cooper, a former Pro Vice Chancellor at Durham University, who has been in charge of the project since its inception.
She said: "Since it was created Project Sri Lanka has built nine multi-purpose community buildings that also serve as schools in villages in Sri Lanka - six in tsunami devastated communities and three inland through forging a strong partnership between Durham University and the Sri Lankan people.
"The aim was always to help rebuild the disaster area but in a way that would provide sustainable recovery long into the future not just through financial support.
"As an independent charity we will now be able to take the humanitarian model we created to address the 2004 disaster and apply it to other parts of Sri Lanka with urgent humanitarian needs, areas that include the east and the far north which are suffering the effects of recent armed conflict."
Project Sri Lanka has witnessed a coming together of numerous groups including Durham University students, academic staff and alumni, volunteers from communities in the north east of England, 12 Sri Lankan village communities and several Sri Lankan universities all with the goal of revitalising areas of the country ravaged by the tsunami. This work has been supported by the British Council in Colombo and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).
The project has also focused on academic research, allowing Durham academics who regularly visit Sri Lanka to forge links through collaborative research.
With the end of the long running and bloody civil war, there are many other parts of Sri Lanka in need of attention that are now accessible to outside assistance for the first time.
Professor Palmer-Cooper leads the new charity as its chair with a group of experienced trustees who have already played a significant role. These include her husband David Cooper, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy with a special interest in Asian thought, and Emeritus Professor of Modern Languages Jane Taylor.
Professor Palmer-Cooper said: "We will have five trustees to begin with but will be looking to appoint more particularly from among our Sri Lankan partners.
"I want to build on the success we have had so the communities in Sri Lanka can continue to benefit from our academic, cultural and indigenous links with the region.
"The charitable status will enable us to do this and continue to grow the work even further throughout Sri Lanka and is a model that can be used in other parts of the world."