Sri Lanka Project
Since 2005, I have had the honor of being part of a special project conceived by Dr. B. Anandkumar in Sri Lanka. He is in the process of building non-profit schools for special needs children. These schools will be unique in the country.
The students of God's Own Children Schools will be between 4 to 18 years old. It is expected that there will be approximately 100 children served by 10 teachers per school. The children will be ones who have been disabled and traumatized by the tsunami of 2004,the civil war and continuing related violence. They may have related learning and physical disabilities. It will be a collection of very special children. These children, thanks to this project, will have the opportunity to construct a future for themselves. They will have the chance to rebuild their hopes and optimism, after all the suffering they have been through. Perhaps one day, they will be able to pursue higher education in local colleges or universities. Perhaps one day they themselves will be teaching at a God's Own Children School.
- applications for funding from various sources including the Canadian International Development Agency materialized and then disappeared as fighting renewed.
- Dr. Anandkumar visited Toronto, Canada for several weeks in late 2005. He was inserviced and immersed in many areas of special education including the "Accent on Essential Life Skills" skills training.
disabled children's hospitals
gifted program centers/schools
special education classes in public and separate schools
specialized book vendors
Ontario Ministry of Education-Special Education Department
a gymnastics school
holistic private schools
parents and teachers of gifted and other special needs students
Dr. Anandkumar visited Toronto again in 2006 seeking contributions. The Canadian Sri Lankan community helped as best it could. During a visit to Toronto, Dr. Anandkumar and several of his staff visited Canadian charitable organizations to solicit funds. They received welcome assistance from some that were approached but it was not enough to get all four schools going.
Here is one of his letters explaining the situation:
"I am an education consultant by profession and am the managing director of a private business college namely the British Business College (PVT) Limited. The college operates early learning centres, primary schools, English language schools for children and adults. We relocated to the former war torn areas of our island as soon as the current peace process was started. There was a flood of inquiries and enrollments flourished. Over time, we began to get inquiries about help for intellectually and physically disabled children and we found that we could not accommodate them in these schools for various reasons:
1. The parents of the children already there objected.
2. We did not have experienced and qualified teachers to handle special children.
As a result, myself and group of teachers who were committed to the well-being of special needs children decided to start a separate school to accommodate to their needs. Since most of the children are from poor families, our policy was to not charge school fees. We also decided to register the school as a charity – a non-profit organization.
As the promoter and head of the school, I needed some exposure in the field of special education. After careful research, I contacted a special education and gifted education consultant - Otto Schmidt – and he arranged a course and program of capacity building for me. A trip to Canada last September, course fees and other related costs were privately funded by myself. We also sent a teacher to enroll in a diploma special education course in the Maritimes. She has successfully completed the course and is currently doing her post-graduate work placement in a primary school to gain experience. Our original plan was to build special needs schools in the four different locations most drastically and cruelly affected by the tsunami and the war. Unfortunately, we did not obtain funds. We also hoped to hire a consultant to train our staff. Again, due to the current volatile situation and lack of funds, we were unable to implement our plan.
Despite the situation, we could not postpone our efforts in providing for the affected children a quality education. Every day of delay was retarding their progress. We decided not to go for our original infrastructure buildings and instead rent out large buildings from a relation of mine. She gave us her building rent free for three years. A professor gave his building for a very small rental also for three years. During my training visit to Canada last September, I met the management of Bloorview MacMillan Children’s Hospital and they donated their surplus furniture and equipment to us. It was sufficient to start operating two schools. I trained the teachers on all that Otto Schmidt had trained me in his life skills course and a friend also did a short training course for our teachers.
The two schools set up have a total of 80 intellectually and physically disabled children there. So many more want to come. We also need to start more schools in other locations. Currently, our aim is to start at least two disability resource centres for disabled children and youth. The teacher salaries are being funded by my British Business College. We have a small number of donations totaling about $1000 US for the purchase of play and educational equipment. We also need to upgrade and improve the facilities. Our government openly discriminates against the former war torn regions due to the conflict with the rebels who are demanding autonomy.
Disabled children are being neglected. Aid sent by international donors has not reached the regions that need it. That is why we, as caring and civil members of society thought of doing things on our own. Even the container shipment of furniture and equipment from Bloorview were taxed by the government and we had to request donations to meet the bill. Referees and references can be provided of people who can vouch for our credibility. One is a Canadian professor who is currently working on a project in Sri Lanka and the other is the director of World Vision – a Christian relief organization. Validating letters are also available from a government agent, child protection authority, and our social service ministry.
My current visit to Canada is to request assistance for our functioning disability centres and also to raise funds for our own future other schools.
Dr. B. Anandkumar, JP
Approximately 40 new teachers were to be hired for the schools. They were to be involved in an intensive multi-week inservice and immersed in teaching/working with special needs students. They would also be fully trained in teaching personal life skills.
Update 2006: Just before January 2006, there was a resurgence of violence which escalated to almost full civil war again. It was too dangerous to travel there. A group of teachers was hired and through generosity of some people there, two buildings were renovated enough to accommodate groups of the most needy young children. Funding was very limited. Attempts to revive and survive are ongoing.
In collaboration with God's Own Children teachers and directors, a holistic educational curriculum will be designed to meet the needs of the special students of God's Own Children schools. Emphasis will be on real-life, hands-on experiences and skills development - for personal development, potential jobs/careers, self maintenance and support on physical, intellectual and spiritual levels.
(The general public is welcome to support and promote this cause. Your contributions of goods, services and financial donations would be most appreciated. Please see the brochures above for direct donations information or contact Otto Schmidt via this website for related information.)
Since the project began, organizers have managed to open two schools despite limited accommodations and many adverse conditions. These were outfitted to a large extent by the generosity of the Bloorview Children's Hospital in Toronto, Canada which sent a large container of assistive devices and school materials, furniture, etc.
As of February 2008,as violence re-escalated, two new schools were opened with an even smaller budget because so many new children required assistance. The need was so great that they just had to be opened. In the new schools, the children are sitting on mats.
In the spring of 2008 Dr. Anandkumar was caught up in the violence of the country. He was seriously burned on his back by shrapnel from a nearby exploding bomb and was hospitalized for well over a month and is still receiving treatments.
The GOC organization receives an award from the Princess Diana Institute of Peace.
2009 Photos in a GOC School
Update: July 2009
The civil war in Sri Lanka ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, however, new problems arose. The death and destruction of many people left over 30,000 orphans who needed to be cared for.
Because the organization has experience looking after special needs children, God's Own Children was contacted by the country's Ministry of Social Services and was asked to take in and care for 500 orphans. Through a great deal of luck, a set of about 8 homes on one property was found and the children are presently living there.
Your donations of any kind - monetary or material goods - would be most appreciated. See their website for contact details.
Efforts are being made to get charitable donations here in Canada. If you wish to donate, please contact me, Otto Schmidt, via this site's "Contact Us" link and I can give you further details and advice.
Opening of Sewing & Skills Centre