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Students help to rebuild Sri Lankan community struck by tsunami

(28 November 2005)

Sri Lanka Project

Durham University students are taking the leading role in a remarkable scheme officially being launched on Friday 2 December to help with the rehabilitation and reconstruction of a community in Sri Lanka struck by the East Asian tsunami last year.

It is thought to be one of the most comprehensive university schemes in the UK with elements of fundraising, teaching and research included and partners involved from across the University and the region. Fifteen Durham student volunteers have been selected to spend eight weeks in Sri Lanka to engage in a wide range of activities including working in a pre-school at Palana West which will be built and equipped from funds raised by these students and the Durham University Charities Kommittee (DUCK) over the next six months. The Durham students will also help with the teaching of fellow students at the University of Ruhuna, at the heart of the tsunami-devastated southern province, and in a school at Moraketiara, which is being funded by Alnwick Council, Rotarians and other North East regional sponsors. On Friday, the students will meet Dr Vinya Ariyaratne, Chief Executive of Sri Lankan organisation Sarvodaya Shramadana which works to rebuild post-tsunami Sri Lanka. Ed Uff, Director of DUCK will present Dr Ariyaratne with a cheque for ?5,000 to kick-start the building work of the pre-school in Palana West. The project is supported by the people in Durham City, the congregation of Durham Cathedral, schools and organisations in the North East as well as staff and students at the University in a joint effort to raise funds for the education of children in their adopted village of Palana West. Even the very smallest members of Durham University?s wider community will be involved. The students will act as a link between the University Nursery and the pre-school in Palana West and take messages and gifts from children in Durham to Sri Lanka. Professor Joy Palmer-Cooper, Director of the Centre for Research on Environmental Awareness and Management and Project Sri Lanka Leader at Durham University has just returned from Sri Lanka where she set up the student placement scheme. Speaking of her hopes, Professor Palmer-Cooper said: ?We are planning to adopt and help to support, revitalise and rebuild this entire community, making an impact on the lives of every person within it in some way, and on the future of the young in particular. We aim to ensure that all children in the area, regardless of whether or not they were orphaned by the tsunami, have access to a complete education to the age of 16 or 18. ?On my visits to Palana West, I had hugely positive experiences but at the same time some deeply upsetting moments. A lot of families had lost everything but still stayed optimistic. They really do appreciate what people in the North East are doing for them and they are looking forward to their situation getting better as time goes on.? Long-term links between the Universities of Durham and Ruhuna will be developed as part of this project with an exchange of academic staff between the two institutions initially in the areas of geography, engineering, business, biological sciences and health. Staff will also collaborate on a wide range of research in areas including community health, environmental understanding and bio-medical engineering, and contribute to curriculum development in the Department of English Studies at the University of Ruhuna. Professor Ranjith Senaratne, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ruhuna said: ?In the past couple of years we have been trying to find a compatible British partner with genuine interest in long-term partnership. We are so happy to have found Durham. I am greatly impressed by their genuine and profound commitment to our partnership. Such commitment by senior academics and officials of such high standing, quite frankly, I have never seen before. "We are paving the way for a high-impact, long term alliance. We are confident that this will blossom into a showcase project with a lasting impact and we are so proud of being a party to it."

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