Features

Cycles of change in Kanniyadi, Batticaloa

By Dimithri Wijesinghe

In a town called Murrukkanthivu in Kanniyadi, Batticaloa, 18-year-old Lojini gets on the ferry every
Saturday morning, paying the toll of Rs. 10, including the fee for her bike, to get to Aharam Institute in
the mainland, where she attends tuition classes conducted by old students from in and around
Batticaloa; returnees to the area who have decided to give back to their community by conducting
classes for Ordinary Level (O/L) and Advanced Level (A/L) students to assist them in going to state
university.

The Aharam Institute is essentially a patch of land covered entirely in sand with four huts temporarily
constructed and houses a whiteboard and wooden benches that can accommodate at least 20 students
in each class. A university student stands at the head of the class sharing what they know with a batch of
hopeful youth who spend their entire afternoons, evenings, and sometimes even full weekends at the
institute, studying in order to get through their exams.

The institute has been established courtesy of World Vision Lanka (WVL), which has established some of
its community officers in the area and has provided the necessary guidance for the small village to
continue with this initiative. WVL works on providing connectivity and assistance to broader society in
order for the community to grow. They do this by providing assistance in lead projects borne by the
community.

The Aharam Institute has already seen great success in Kanniyadi, as the school in the village finally had
reason to establish an A/L class for its students, with so many students passing their O/Ls. Speaking to
Lojini, she shared that the class is a temporary structure and floods when it rains, but she is happy it
exists.

She said that her ambition and drive came from the fact that she is given support to realise what she can
and would like to do in life, and a means to achieve it. Lojini, who lives with her grandmother, shared
that her mother who is abroad had made her a promise that if she passes her A/Ls, she would come
down to see her. As a first-year A/L student taking the exam at the end of this year, she stated that she
makes the effort because she believes by herself now.

Lojini is part of the second batch of the institute pursuing A/Ls. The first batch of 2019 has already
produced some students who were accepted into university now awaiting their selections and semester
to start.

One such student who has “made it” is Prashanthan, aged 20, who is awaiting the next batch intake at
state university. Prashanthan is part of the very first O/L batch at Aharam Institute and he went on to sit
for his A/Ls in 2019. He has now qualified for university entrance.

Prashanthan shared with us his secret for success – his teacher at Aharam, Kanakarethanam
Sivatharsan, who took an interest in him as he showed promise while doing his O/Ls. He said that he
wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what he did at his exams the way that he did if not for
Sivatharshan. “I used to find it so difficult to wake up in the morning and study, so I would stay overnight
at Sivatharsan Anna’s house. He would host me at his house and treat me like his own brother.

Whenever I seemed like I was about to doze off, he would pour me a nice cup of tea to make sure I stay
up and study. I am forever grateful for him, for being so kind to me,” he said.

Prashanthan, who is also a poet and avid reader, shared with us some of his work which truly blew us
away. He shared that he hopes to return to his community and just like his beloved mentor,
Kanakarethanam Sivatharsan, he too wishes to teach the young minds in his village and help them reach
their potential.

Many of the students in the Aharam Institute wish to return to their community and serve in any way
that they are able. They hope to instigate the gratitude they feel for allowing them an opportunity to do
something that is every child’s right in our country. Since Aharam was established, there have been
fewer child marriages and more children going to school than ever before. It is a clear yardstick
indicating a great deal of success.

Here, we observe the cycle of Prashanthan achieving success after seeing his teacher who went above
and beyond for him, and wanting to be just like his mentor to help other children reach their potential.
These cycles of growth will only continue if the systems in place do not break down and continue to
grow.

The community is nothing but hopeful, and as such, they are optimistic that the halfway-constructed
temporary classroom that the Kanniyadi school has built will soon be completed and a permanent
fixture, and that many students, girls and boys alike, will complete their full school careers with the
realistic hope of continuing with their higher education.