Feature story: Seeds for a brighter future

Feb 01, 2019 (LBO) – Rajnikansan Arushanandi’s son Brideman is in Grade 5 but he knows more about gardening than she does. “He has been learning at school and he comes home and tells us about organic fertilizer preparation, and how nutritional green leaves can be grown,” she says.

Another mother, Sobana Muhundan sees her son Sibiraj showing similar interest: “I have been growing organic vegetables in my garden at home for a long time now,” she says, “but now my son does most of the gardening.”

At the heart of this conversation is a small patch of earth at the J/Nadeshwara Kanista Vidyalayam, Kankesanthurai. The school reopened in 2016 after 27 years of closure, when families began returning to Kankesanthurai after the war. Teaching grades 1 to 5, the school re-started with just 30 students. Today, it has over 70.

It was chosen for support under The European Union Catalytic Support to Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka programme.

The €8.1 million programme is being implemented by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) in partnership with a range of state and non-state stakeholders.

Education as a priority

“The families who send their children to us are mostly recently resettled. Though some did not even have homes when they first came here, getting their children an education was a priority,” says Mrs. V. Sutharsan, the school’s principal. These families have typically been on the move for years, eventually finding their way to camps for the internally displaced – for their children, this meant near constant disruptions in their education.

Responding to the need, UNICEF and UNDP worked in synergy to support the school. UNICEF renovated the buildings, which were lacking even doors and windows at the time, and introduced a Smart Classroom system.

Smart Classroom

“The parents depend on the school fully,” says the principal explaining that these are families that typically cannot afford to send their kids for tuition classes. Because children attending are at different levels, the Smart Classroom concept allows teachers to identify slow learners and provide them the additional attention they need. “This has been good for our teachers also,” says Mrs. Sutharsan, explaining that teachers are more confident about dealing with students who are struggling. The school makes a particular effort to keep an eye on vulnerable children.

The classroom equipment, toys and furniture as well as educational and training materials provided have created beautiful, engaging spaces for the children to work in. As part of the intervention, a participatory planning process was implemented to create a school development plan which engaged parents and alumni.

Nutritious additional income

Now both Sobana and Arushanandi are regulars at the school, sometimes visiting every day to help out with the garden and pitch in on other events. They say they have also noticed the school’s attention to hygiene and nutrition has improved.

The model gardens which were established this year, with support from UNDP and the project’s implementing partner OfERR Ceylon, perfectly complement these efforts.

Explaining that many families also face financial constraints, Mrs. Sutharsan explains that nutrition can be a challenge. Families may not know enough or earn enough to incorporate healthy portions of vegetables into their diet – having their own gardens helps address such nutritional deficiencies and also provide some additional income.

UNDP provided the school with everything they needed to get started including plant materials, seeds, pod packages, a drip irrigation system and garden tools. Fencing is being erected along the boundary of the school. Training linkages between the school and the Department of Agriculture have also been established, and trainers drop by to instruct children on how to nourish and maintain an organic garden. Finally, regular monitoring and mentoring support is provided by UNDP through OfERR Ceylon.

“Now, our kids love coming to school,” says Mrs. Sutharsan.