Travel Reports


Zahira School in Hambantota

In Hambantota, two kindergarten schools were completely destroyed.  Other schools were destroyed to different extents and in some cases could be repaired.

Die Soldaten bei der Arbeit Im Hof der SchuleOnce again, we met the Pakistani army unit at the Zahira School where they had already restored the classrooms and were working on the auditorium. 

A few words to clarify the terminology regarding the sri lankan school system.  “School” means from first grade until graduation.  These would be government schools, and free for those attending.  Most time Grade 1 through Grade 9 are under the same roof.  The classrooms are very basic and most of the time, at least 40 children are in one class.

“Kindergarten” schools children, ages 3 to 6, before they enter the government schools.  They are all private with parents paying a small fee and no funding or support from the government.  With that in mind, they are located in privately owned buildings.

In a corner of the Zahira School compound the children of a destroyed Montessori Kindergarten found temporary shelter and during the rainy season they were to be allowed to use the back of the auditorium. 

Other than the two kindergarten buildings that will have to be rebuilt, there is no space problem in the schools as a lot of children were among the victims.  For this Montessori Kindergarten, before the tsunami there were 100 students;  after 50.  It was so heartbreaking.

The children were provided with some colorful plastic chairs and the atmosphere was very oppressive.

Despite my protest Humaid and Michel had bought enough candy and chocolate to get even the first and second graders smeared to different extent one hour before lunchtime.

Used to very loud and cheerful children in Sri Lanka, it was a strange sight to watch the children eating silently.  In a country with extremely slow working government it is unthinkable that the children will get psychological help.

We handed over the fabric for the school uniforms, the costs being shared by Humaid and ourselves.  Humaid also paid for the tailoring.  Roy had given me a piece of fabric to find the proper school colors in Colombo and only after holding it against many bolts of fabric I figured out that I was holding a torn piece of a little shirt.

Mister Rizan, the Headmaster of the school told us that they had been supplied from UNICEF with more than enough for the repair of the government school, and the basic inventory needed.  However, that did not include toys and playground equipment for the little ones of the private Kindergarten.  There was a need, and we could help.

Die Kinder beim Schkolade essenBeim Schokolade essen
















In Sri Lanka, everything takes forever and a day!  The chances to realize a playground during our stay were very slim and under normal circumstances we would not even have tried.  As soon as the local people discovered that the help was meant for the remote Hambantota, they became immensely helpful.  It truly made us a bit jaunty. 

The following Saturday we set off to find playground equipment and found it in Nugegoda, a suburb of Colombo.  After many “no problem” they offered us a delivery in two weeks.

“No – Tomorrow!” was Michel’s stereotyped answer and all who know him, also know that his stubbornness is legendary.  Except, that stubbornness usually does not get you anywhere in Sri Lanka.

Die SchaukelBeim Bau des Spielplatzes













However, after more than a dozen “No – Tomorrow!” being uttered by Michel, we did get an “OK”.

To our advantage, all the locals went to any extent to help the victims.  That the equipment was for one of the hardest hit areas probably did the rest.

Sunday morning at 4 a.m., four men with a truck started in Colombo and we set off at seven from Bentota.  Humaid maintained contact by phone between the men, the Headmaster of the school and us.

Arriving at noon at the school compound, we could hardly believe our eyes:  four sweat drenched men anchoring the equipment to the ground; the Headmaster and the kindergarten teachers were there.  We had to admit that we had some doubts about the outcome.

Die Kinder bringen uns Blumen

After they finished the work the four men returned to Colombo with a good tip from us.  The Headmaster invited us to return on Monday at 9 a.m.

We showed up with Swiss punctuality!  The Headmaster with some embarrassment asked us to wait outside the school compound, as they were not quite finished with the preparation.

A short while later, we were invited in and there the children stood in their brand-new neat uniforms, with the teachers trying to keep them in line – without much success!

Three of the children had flowers and a basket with a beautiful shell where the name of the school was engraved.  After several pushes from the Headmaster for them to present their gifts, they finally trotted off … straight past us!

They only had eyes for the playground and it was apparent that they had not been allowed to touch anything.  A teacher tried to catch them and put them back in row.  The Schoolmaster was smart enough to only say two short sentences from which all we understood was “auntie” and “uncle”.  The children clapped their hands, presented their gifts and then there was no way of stopping them anymore!  A dash to try out all the new playground equipment was next.  After witnessing the sad silence when they were eating the chocolate, it was ever so good to see they were children “again”.

There is no existing waste management in the country, so we did all we could to avoid items that would not eventually compost.  We shopped carefully, so as not to bring plastic items to the south.  We only chose thermoses made from stainless steel.  We also bought 150 paper bags (instead of plastic) in Pettah to package the blankets, sarongs, etc. that we would be gifting to the people. 

Because of the lack of space there was no way to install a big slide and after some considerations we had bought a portable one out of plastic and a basketball hoop.  The way the children enjoyed those two items made us forget our hesitations about its being plastic and not so environmentally friendly. They will also have the advantage of being able to move the slide and the basketball hoop into the auditorium during the rainy season. Steel ones would need to have been permanently mounted. 

They had been promised land to build a new kindergarten.  Roy had already held talks with possible donors for the construction.

Gruppenbild mit den Kindern

In the thank you letter from the school they expressed their hope for further cooperation.  We thought that meant that they will have space for a big slide by then and we will happily provide it.

Next to the children that will never return to the kindergarten, it was sad that only 30 out of the 50 children attended kindergarten that morning.  All the others were kept home by their parents in fear of a new tsunami.  The press had spread panic once again.

It was quite strange for us that the people did not lose their Asian smile even if they were suffering from their losses.  But as soon as there was mention of the tsunami, the smile died away and there was blank horror in their eyes.

I was so impressed about the way these people were dealing with that disaster.  I think they do not suffer more or less than we do when we lose a loved one.  But they do not ask questions. What if he had left five minutes later?  What if I would not have talked to him?    What if ……….. ?  They accept it as their fate and believe that everything has a reason in a big universe and that a human being is too small to see the purpose of all of it.  They accept almost everything as their karma and always have a smile in their face. 

But the impact of the tsunami must have been so devastating to them that they were asking questions for the first time.

Die Kinder auf der SchaukelAuf der Rutschbahn











Ein Mädchen auf der SchaukelAuf der Rutschbahn










Beim Basketball

Das Klettergerüst










Grosser Andrang bei der Rutsche

Auf der Schaukel





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