We are a UK-based charity dedicated to supporting schools in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, and working to aid, inspire and empower disadvantaged children.
Samanalaya is the Sinhala word for “butterfly,” chosen to reflect our mission statement of bringing bright, vibrant change into the lives of deprived young people.
There are still over 47,000 primary-school-aged children in Sri Lanka who cannot afford a fair education. Help us to change that.
It all started 6 years ago on the South coast of Sri Lanka in Hikkaduwa. I had been traveling around Bangladesh and India and had finally come to a standstill in Sri Lanka, where my travel buddies and I wasted no time involving ourselves in the multitude of independent volunteer projects running in the area.
One typically splendid afternoon stolen to soak up the tropical sun on the beach, I noticed a tiny Sinhalese lady making her way up the seashore in a perfectly pressed and starched sari. She looked hot and weary as she approached, so I beckoned for her to come and take shade under my parasol and ordered her a lemonade.
Little did either of us know that this would be the start of a great friendship and philanthropic partnership. Her name was Blanche, and over the next few days we would meet and talk for hours about her past, the devastating effects of the tsunami, my passions, Sri Lanka’s history… But one subject that kept coming up was education.
Blanche was a school teacher by profession and had witnessed many things in the education system that disturbed her. The main issue I could not shake was the problem of state education versus private tutoring.
Happily, the state provides free basic education, but, what with teaching wages being so low, the majority of public school teachers find it necessary to supplement their salaries by charging for private after-school tutoring.
What’s the problem with that? Well, with this additional source of income becoming a priority for the majority of school teachers, it didn’t take long for the quality of state education to decline to the point where private after-school tutoring became, to all intents and purposes, mandatory for students wanting to pass the school year.
Naturally, this leaves the poorest families with quite the dilemma; keep their children in education – despite their minimal chances of success within the hamstrung public schooling system – or, keep them at home to work.
Unfortunately, but understandably, a large proportion opt for the latter.
Blanche had gone from relative wealth and comfort, to stark poverty following a series of misfortunes, including the devastation of the Tsunami two years previously. As such she had been reduced from privately tutoring those who could afford it, and doing the same gratis for those who couldn’t, to begging from tourists on the beach in order to afford the rent on the tiny room she was using as a teaching space.
I decided to challenge her. Living hand to mouth like this was ludicrous. We needed a permanent roof and a grander vision. Samanalaya was born.
Things moved quickly from that moment on. I hoisted her tiny frame onto the back of my moped and we began tearing our way through land plots in the jungle, knocking on everyone’s doors, negotiating like we had the actual money to back our dreams… It wasn’t long before we did.
Blanche had kept a note of every holiday-maker’s email address who had ever extended a donation towards her rent. As such, I compiled a cumbersome but detailed email with all the passion of a Pentecostal pulpit preacher, outlining our intentions and all the estimated costs involved. We were asking for any sort of contribution, from educational resources or to plain old fashioned money.
Out of about 70 people, only two gave me a response.
The first was from a well-meaning, but pessimistic lady, urging me to drop the entire idea, but informing me that, if I wouldn’t, she had a sewing machine she could ship over.
And the second changed everything.
Enter Warren Lockner, by far the most generous and trusting man I have ever known – although, not yet met. He has been working hand in hand with us since the outset and, without him, none of this would ever have left the ground. With Warren’s help, the school gradually began to take form.
Six years of civil war, university/professional diversions and rainy seasons later, it is time we finished this incredibly deserving project. Now, united as trustees of this newly-formed and exciting charity, and with the addition of my unfalteringly dedicated and amazingly skilled boyfriend, nothing is going to stop us!
I was 19.
Our aim at Samanalaya is to provide free after-school tutoring for the children left out in the cold by a mercenary education system. Further to this we would like Samanalaya to become a centre of activity for young minds to come and expand their horizons.
We intend to hold vocational classes such as bricklaying and sewing, as well introducing discussion groups and personal development workshops aimed to help cultivate and harmonize independent thinking with community-mindedness. They will be provided the opportunity to acquire skills often overlooked in traditional academic institutions, including social responsibility, mind-mapping, the art of contribution, and communication tools.
We would like to see volunteers come and work with the children for a month, or however long they can spare, to run photography workshops, help build a volleyball pitch, plant a vegetable patch, teach the importance of recycling and waste management or to simply pass on the contemporary language of opportunity: English.
The children will be given the responsibility of looking after the general upkeep and maintenance of the building and grounds, and for the vibrant decoration of the entire school site. We want them to feel fully involved with the centre: we want it to be a second home for them.
Cressida Newbury has been volunteering in Sri Lanka since 2006, collaborating with charities such as Teardrop Relief. Originally from the north of Italy, Cressida is an accomplished linguist, fluent in English, Italian and French. Her passions include philosophy, spoken word and making a liability of herself on ski-slopes!
Cressida is the chairwoman and founder of Samanalaya.
Benedict Murrell has traveled extensively throughout Asia, volunteering in schools and colleges in Cambodia and China. He taught English on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme for two years and was appointed a ‘Distinguished Friend of Kagoshima’. His interests include English Renaissance drama, running and (vainly) studying Italian.
Benedict is the treasurer of Samanalaya.