From the darkness of war to the light of education
The fragrance of talcum powder enveloped the dusty, hot morning air.
With big black ‘pottus’ small girls and boys, clad in clean uniforms and
holding each other’s hands were coming to school - a temporary school-
with huts and tents. Rain or shine, they all attend school.
‘Children of war’, who cried and hid in fear and saw only sights of
blood and flesh a few months ago, are slowly erasing their bitter
memories. Their innocent smiles greeted us on this bright day.
Back in their own world, full of big dreams, they are now finding
solace in books. It gives inspiration to us too, their courage to see
the light at end of the tunnel through education.
Sri Padmanathan Priyanthi is a special kid among all the others in
the primary section of the school in the Kadirgamar Welfare Village in
Vavuniya. Of all the Grade Five students who sat for the Year Five
Scholarship examination in 2009 from the school, she scored the highest
marks, 162 and becoming fifth from the Kilinochchi district. The little
girl, displaced several times escaped Puthumathalan amidst heavy
fighting and shooting carried out by the LTTE to stop them fleeing the
|They secured top marks at the Year Five Scholarship Examination -
* Mannar district - third place (Marks 146) - Thurairaja Gowarthini
* Kilinochchi district - fifth place (Marks 162) - Sri Padmanathan
* Vavuniya North - sixth place (Marks 123) - Parhithawan Parmilan
* Mullaitivu District - Ninth place (Marks 156) - Selvakumar
It is a small miracle, how these children with their nightmares and
horrific memories still fresh in their minds, and wounds deep in their
hearts could still focus their minds on books and do well in their
examinations. Forty three Grade Five students of the makeshift school
have passed the Year Five Scholarship Examination this year.
School bells rang for the interval, but the majority of children
didn’t run out of their classes. They flocked around the teachers to
clarify difficult sections of the lessons they had just learnt. Used to
a hard life from their birth and having seen only guns and bombs, they
now want to enjoy their lost childhood with toys and books.
Brimming with heaps of dreams, children in the Kadirgamar School want
to become doctors, engineers, lawyers... the list goes on with some even
aspiring to become musicians and singers.
“My name is Sivaviraj Sanjeewan. I am 10-years-old and in Grade Six.
I am from Kilinochchi and want to become a teacher”, he introduced
himself in English.
The children confidently ‘announced’ their ambitions. The little ones
recalled their harrowing journey to freedom; how they crossed the huge
earth bunds and braved the rains of bullets over their heads. These
little children fled from Mallavi to Kilinochchi to Dharmapuram to
Visuwamadhu to Mullaitivu. Sanjeewan walked over five km from
Puthumathalan to the last point where soldiers saved their lives at
Vellimullivaikkal. Twelve-year-old Anuskala from Mullaitivu and
Pithursan (12) had the same story to tell. Both want to become doctors,
whom they said were ‘saviours’ of lives.
The Sarvodaya Mobile Library with story books and textbooks, coming
from Chettdikulam was popular among these children as well as their
parents. “We read science fiction books borrowed from the library”, they
Their families are not fully re-united as the sisters or brothers of
some children are in rehabilitation centres.
Kamalakanthan Varajihan, an 18-year-old Advanced Level student, had
narrowly escaped becoming a child soldier.
His life was saved by his parents, both teachers at the Vidyananda
College, Mullaitivu. The parents guarded the underground bunker where
they had hidden him, for months. Learning music for his A/Ls he wants to
become the ‘world’s best musician’.
The Kadirgamar School was opened with 408 students on February 2,
this year. With the mass exodus of displaced people from previously LTTE-dominated
areas during April and May, the number of enrolments to the school
increased to 5,160. The school holds classes from grade one to Advanced
Level. (The number of schoolchildren has reduced to 2,400 now as they
have returned home under the resettlement program.)
Support from all
Lt. Col. Donald de Mel, the Zonal Commander, Kadirgamar Relief
Village said the Army together with the Ministry of Education have
provided all equipment and facilities for the children to continue their
lost education until they return home.
He said that before the students sat for the Advanced Level
examination, teachers from popular schools in Colombo, including Royal,
Ananda, Nalanda and schools in Batticaloa and Trincomalee held special
classes for them to catch up on the missed lessons. “All equipment and
stationery for these children are provided by the 21st Division of the
Army. We receive lots of support from the Ministry and also from the
Zonal Directors of Education to upgrade the standards of the school,
though it is a temporary school”, he said.
Lt. Col. de Mel attributed the dedication of children, parents and
school staff for the school’s performance. “The Government teachers
volunteer to give tuition to these children and they have classes in
their temporary shelters. Before the A/Ls, children asked permission
from me to use the school in the evenings for their studies. They got
into groups and studied hard”, he said.
“I always tell the parents to give their children a good education so
they will not take up arms”, the Zonal Commander said.
Sinna Thanmi Raja, the Principal said there are 315 government
teachers in the school and over 2,048 children in the primary section.
No permanent buildings
From the principal to teachers and children, all were displaced and
sheltered in the Kadirgamar Welfare Village. With no permanent
buildings, the classes were held in huts and tents in an area of three
Raja, the former Principal of the Vatarappalai Maha Vidyalaya said
that all subjects in the Primary and Advanced Levels are taught at the
school. Some teachers travel from Vavuniya daily.
He said that children are very keen on studies and the Ministry of
Education is supporting him to run the school.
Asked how he and his teachers and students feel now, the Principal
said that ‘life is 100 per cent better’.
Earlier government servants including teachers did not have the
freedom to perform their duties. “We all had to respect and obey the
LTTE rules. They openly propagated the LTTE in schools. We watched
helplessly”. He kept away his two daughters from the evil eyes of the
The LTTE surrounded his house but his teaching staff helped him to
save his daughters. “I am lucky I got their support, but how many
parents who have not been so lucky lost their children in the battle?
They openly snatched underaged children while the parents cried,
pleading and cursing the LTTE”, he recalled.
He said the LTTE opened the ‘gates’ for their kith and kin and
supporters to escape the battle while throwing more innocent children
and elders to the forward defence lines to fight.
While the battle was getting fierce and the LTTE was becoming more
ruthless, Raja with 100 other villagers, fled the LTTE dominated areas,
carrying only vital certificates, he surrendered to the Army.
Raja said that every parent wanted to give their children a good
education which they lost due to the war. The Vanni people, who lag
behind in development and education, are ready to ensure a good
education for their children who have entered a new era - a future
without guns and bombs.
They know they can rejuvenate the minds of children of war only