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Last Updated: Friday, 17 October 2003, 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK
Tamil techies master Blaster worm
frances harrison
By Frances Harrison
BBC correspondent in Colombo

A Vanni Institute of Technology class in north-east Sri Lanka
The students must stay in the area for two years after training
The pioneers of a new technology centre must have thought the jungles of rebel-controlled northern Sri Lanka would be the last place to expect the powerful Blaster Worm computer virus.

Overcoming a lack of electricity and telephone lines was hardship enough.

Bombs, shells and mortars still are a common danger. But the new computer training institute in rebel-held territory soon found the Blaster Worm a new sort of weapon.

The centre's systems administrator had to make a dash to Jaffna to download an antidote from the internet and save the network.

"We were all panicking," says the administrator, Senthil Kumaran, describing the day the virus hit the institute.

He sped to the army checkpoint armed only with a disc and made his way to the government-controlled Jaffna without even a change of clothes.

Mr Kumaran works at the Vanni Institute of Technology, the first hi-tech computer school in northern Sri Lanka.

I never even dreamed of these things; it's like a gift for us now
Sundarmoorthy, computer student

Like many Tamils, he left Sri Lanka as a child after the race riots in 1983 and went into exile in southern India.

He studied computer science in Madras and worked in IT in Bangalore.

Now there is a ceasefire he is back, along with the latest technology - routers, switchers, motherboards and all sorts of electronic components.

'Cutting edge'

This is no mere word-processing school.

"We would like to be the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) of the north-east," says Mr Kumaran.

He says the school has "cutting edge technology", with students learning the latest "C Sharp" technology tool.

Tamil Tigers
The truce with the Tamil Tigers has seen exiles returning from abroad

Sixty students - half of them young women - are doing courses such as networking communications, web design and web-based development applications.

The only condition is that when they have finished their training they must remain in the area for two years rather than go abroad in search of lucrative IT jobs.

"I never even dreamed of these things; it's like a gift for us now," says student Sundarmoorthy.

"If the war had continued we would never have got these computers or any of these opportunities."

Fellow student, Vishnudas, adds: "Now we have computers and... professionals to teach us IT, we can compete with other countries in the future."

Warm welcome

The training course is possible only because expatriate Tamils in the United States, Canada and Britain donated the $150,000 needed to buy the equipment.

Many of the teachers are volunteers from abroad, like 21-year-old Kalpana Nagendra from Canada, who left Sri Lanka at the age of three.

"It was definitely a culture shock for me," she says. "I was afraid and hesitant how the people would receive me - they might say 'who is this girl from Canada here to teach us'."

But she found a warm welcome teaching English and is now contemplating permanently moving back to northern Sri Lanka to start a family.

"I feel at home here with my people; it's not that Canada has not welcomed us or the Tamils," she says.

Most people in Sri Lanka assume that the hundreds of thousands of Tamil professionals who fled the country's civil war will never return - especially the younger generation brought up abroad.

People like Kalpana and Senthil are the pioneers who seem to be proving them wrong.

If you would like to contact the Vanni Institute of Technology you can email them at info@vanni.org or check their website on www.vanni.org.

They are keen to hear from anyone who would like to help them in any way - teaching or donations.

You can hear more on the Vanni Institute of Technology on the BBC World Service programme, Go Digital.

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