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Marist Bulletin - Number 178


Kalutaras Marist School - A Story of Hope from Sri Lanka

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Forty-six kilometres south of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital city, is the small coastal fish-ing village of Kalutara. The Marist Brothers came to Kalutara twenty-seven years ago to do what they do best: educate children. The tsunami that hit Sri Lanka and many other countries in the region during the morning of 26th December 2004, killed over one hundred and fifty thousand people, left millions home-less and destroyed hundreds of small vil-lages like Kalutara.

Holy Cross College, the Marist Brothers’ school in Kalutara, serves 1600 students, all boys, aged six to nineteen. Brother Michael de Wass, Provincial of Sri Lanka and Paki-stan, reported that on a recent visit to Kalu-tara, “some teachers and students have been affected. We still do not know the ex-act numbers. We do know that there are about seven members of the staff who have lost their properties either fully or partially. There are students in the refugee camps. They are being identified now. Most of them have lost their properties completely. Our community, under the guidance of Brother Ranjith, the Principal of the school, is work-ing with the staff to help both groups. My sense is that this school will need a long-term plan to help the victims and survivors. The Old Boys Association is fully behind the brothers.”

Last year, in Payagala, a few kilometres away from the main campus, a small branch school was built to accommodate the in-creasing number of students who wanted to attend Holy Cross College. One hundred and twenty boys (120) are enrolled in this school for grades one and two. This school, built close to the beach, was completely de-stroyed. Brother Sales, a teacher at Holy Cross said, “when the gigantic waves hit the school, the walls gave way and the roof col-lapsed and everything inside -- desks, chairs, schools supplies, books -- everything was destroyed. Luckily the tsunami hit on a day when the school was closed or most of our students would have died here as well.” It is estimated that of all those who died in Sri Lanka’s tsunami, forty percent were children.

Brother Mervyn, Vice-Provincial of the Prov-ince of Sri Lanka and Pakistan, who has been staying recently in our General House as a member of the Preparatory Commission of the General Conference, reports that a few days after the wave came on shore, the brothers in Kalutara made an attempt to gather the students and teachers of the school to see if they were all right and to talk to them about the terrible events that hap-pened only a few days before. The brothers estimate that, of those who attended, about 400 students were affected by the tsunami. “We don’t know much more about those we did not see. Some may have moved inland along with their family, some may still be trying to find relatives. We hope they are all right. It will take some time before we know for sure.”

Anticipating the beginning of classes, the brothers and teachers distributed uniforms and supplies to the boys who attended the post-tsunami school meeting. Following the meeting, students and teachers spent time helping the people of the area to clean and remove debris left by the wave and the high water. “We need to open the school and begin teaching as soon as possible. The sooner we and our students can get back into a routine, the faster we can feel a sense of normalcy and begin to overcome the fear that many of us are feeling these days. Nothing like this has ever happened in Sri Lanka. It is all new for us.”

The brothers and lay teachers intend to be-gin classes on the 10th of January. Brother Mervyn says, “We are still not sure where the students in the branch school will meet…maybe in the church just near the school or outside under the trees, or under a tent, but we intend to will begin classes on the 10th.”

Recently, after a two-day tour of flood soaked Sri Lanka, UNICEF Executive Direc-tor Carol Bellamy identified four priorities for recovery as far as children are concerned. Keeping children alive, caring for separated children, ensuring that children are protected from exploitation, and getting children back to school as quickly as possible and training teachers and health workers to deal with them, are needed “to give this devastated tsunami generation a fighting chance” says Bellamy.

About the role schools play in recovery, Bellamy goes on to say, “Nothing will signal hope more clearly than rebuilding and re-opening schools. Being in a learning envi-ronment gives children something positive to focus on, and enables the adults around them to go about the business of rebuilding with greater confidence.”
Based on the latest reports coming from the area, about 200 schools were severely dam-aged in Sri Lanka. The Holy Cross College branch school in Payagala was one of them. “Rebuilding of the extension school will have to come later. Now we need to find an alter-native place for classes,” says Brother Mer-vyn. When asked what was needed to as-sist, Brother Mervyn said, “We need text books, exercise books, pencils, desks, chairs, writing boards and markers, uniforms and training for teachers who will need to help the students cope with what has hap-pened…we will need much help, but we must begin to bring our students together and do what we do best: educate them for a better tomorrow.”

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