TALES of woe are not uncommon along the country's tsunami-hit coastline from Bentota to Batticaloa to KKS. But to parents, grappling as best they could with the terrible disaster that has wrecked their lives, the worst possible nightmare must be to see their children dropping out of school for want of 'things' for their studies. During a recent visit to some of the hardest-hit villages in the South, the lament of parents was almost unbearable.
"Our children are sitting the scholarship examination this year. Their text books were destroyed in the tsunami and the school has not yet given them new books," cried two burley fishermen from Ambalangoda. "What can we do? We have spoken to the school and the grama niladhari. They say that they do not have enough stocks to give."
These fishermen were living in temporary tented accommodation in a patch of bare land by the sea, having lost all their possessions- homes, boats, nets and vehicles to the tsunami in December. One had even lost his wife and mother, both of whom had not been able to survive the surging waves.
"I had to get a loan from the local 'poli mudalali'to buy shoes and uniform for my son," said a mother from another coastal village. "I have no money. No income. My husband died in the tsunami, but my child just entered Year One and I did not want him to miss school. I have no idea of how I am going to pay this money back."
In the same village, 15-year-old Kaushalya has stopped schooling. She was to sit for her O/L exam this December but after the tsunami the child did not want to go back to school. "I have enough exercise books," she told me shyly. "But I have no uniform or shoes to wear to school." Were there others like her in the village? I asked. Parents replied in the affirmative. "We try to send them but some are too scared to be parted from their families for a long time. Others do not have the necessary uniforms, equipment or books, others attend for a few days and then drop out."
"We hope that when things go back to normal, the children will also restart their education. But it is such a burden on us to see them just loitering around the camps doing nothing and wasting their time," one mother cried. "Education is the only asset we can leave our children with. We have lost everything else. In other places, one set of uniform material has been given to children when it is more than obvious that a child needs at least two white uniforms. Others have got bits and parts- few exercise books, a school bag, a set of colour pencils, a lunch box, etc- but any parent knows that having a few things and a few books will not suffice for today's child. The exercise book requirement for schooling these days is enormous. There is little point in giving an O/L student whose book requirement is easily over 10, (160 pages) exercise books just four,(40 or 80 pages) books. And this is exactly what has happened in many of the tsunami devastated areas.