Batticaloa/ Maṭṭakkaḷappu School Project

By Aphiraa

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The Batticaloa School Project connects people from Canada (and other parts of the world) with Paalarsenai village in Eastern Sri Lanka. It’s our goal to build an efficiently functioning school for the children of this village to attend on a daily basis. The families and educators of Paalarsenai have already taken steps to provide an education for these children, and today, the Batticaloa School Project is building support for their initiative.

My name is Aphiraa, from Toronto, Canada. I was lucky enough to spend time with the children and volunteer staff on site, and I worked on a portrait series with the students. Here’s the background to their stories.

Three hundred seventy-five families reside in Paalarsenai, in the district of Batticaloa (or Maṭṭakkaḷappu in Tamil), located in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province. Most live in poverty. The nearest school is located five kilometres away, but many households cannot afford transportation. Their children would have to walk to school and back–ten kilometres every day. For many, this was impossible.

As a solution to this problem, a group of volunteers started to build a school here. The school is run by three teachers, a principal, and a coordinator. Each of them has donated both their time and personal funds towards this project. Classes have now begun in Paalarsenai for 35 children, from the ages of 5 to 10.

The school’s coordinator, Param Sothy Malar, left Canada to live and work in Batticaloa/Maṭṭakkaḷappu for this project. As a retired school teacher–with over 40 years of experience as an educator, activist, and social worker–she has been overseeing the curriculum and conducting lessons for the students enrolled so far. She knows the potential of the students, and how quickly they pick up on content when they are given the chance. But, she also knows the many difficulties that the students face.

Currently, the students are being taught under a tree, in a poorly-constructed outdoor classroom without a roof. The makeshift structure cannot survive the rainy season. This area is also heavily inhabited by snakes, which are a danger to the children.

There are no washrooms or drinking water facilities, so the children carry buckets of water to class. Most students cannot afford a filling meal every day. They receive lunch at the school, provided by the volunteers. The students’ meals and uniforms are only possible because of existing donors who have contributed towards this project.

Many more children would like to attend classes, but cannot, because there is simply no more space. There are no facilities to have separate classrooms based on age range. The teachers divide them into smaller groups based on their knowledge. Right now, some of the older children are still learning the Tamil alphabet, because they haven’t had access to education before.

The Batticaloa School Project is raising the funds to build a solid building–with a functioning, safe classroom for all seasons, washroom facilities, and a well which can provide clean water. The school needs the funds to feed students, build classrooms, and hire teachers to properly teach them. My photographs narrate these young people's ambitions, which they can only attain with an accessible education.

Education is a fundamental human right for all people. However, in places where children are facing poverty and displacement, schooling is inaccessible. You can join us in supporting these children’s right to education by contributing towards this cause and/or sharing it to your networks! All help would be greatly appreciated.

Please contact [email protected] if you have any questions or would like more information on how to get involved!

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