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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 January 2005, 00:35 GMT
Sri Lankan children urged back to school
By Lucy Wilkins
BBC News

Sri Lanka pupil
Not all pupils managed to return to school earlier this month

One month after the Boxing Day tsunami, another push is being made to encourage Sri Lankan children back to school.

Those who had been able and willing returned on 10 January, but this week more are being urged to resume their education as a step towards regaining a stable life.

The charity Save the Children has handed out 3,000 "back to school" kits in Galle and Matara, which included such items as crayons, pencils, a water bottle and lunch box.

Spokesman Damian Wilson told BBC News from Galle that it was "overwhelming" to see how happy the children were to receive the kits.

"It was quite overwhelming to see the children proudly going off with their rucksacks, happy to have something to do in their lives."

The children have had the indignity of living in camps for the past four weeks so they want to have something to do
Damian Wilson
Save the Children

While the majority of children had returned to school earlier this month, many had found it difficult to get back.

"Getting back to school is very important.

"The children have had the indignity of living in camps for the past four weeks so they want to have something to do, have a role in their communities," Mr Wilson said.

But school will not be the same as it was before the wave struck, killing about 31,000 Sri Lankans.

As well as probably being under a temporary tent, not all their classmates will be present.

"There is one school which before the tsunami hit had 1,800 children. Now only 800 have registered.

"The rest are missing - either internally displaced or worse, they are no longer alive," Mr Wilson said.

Tense times

"Returning to school will be a very tense time."

In the refugee camps, play activities have been held so that the children "can get back to being children".

Playing cricket, drawing on paper or playing a backgammon "makes the children as happy as they can be," he said.

Before the tsunami, the charity re-integrated child soldiers into their communities as the country had gone through decades of conflict.

Sri Lanka girl
Children will not be expected to resume lessons immediately

They will use the same techniques with the children who have suffered through the tsunami and its aftermath.

"The first few days back at school won't be lessons, they won't be learning maths," said Mr Wilson, one of about 175 Save the Children workers in Sri Lanka.

"Instead they'll be doing activities to learn how to cope with the disaster, such as drawing and talking."

Social work

The charity has also helped to match orphaned children with suitable carers - usually someone from their community if relatives cannot be found.

"Just like a social worker in the UK, we'll go back in a few weeks or months to check that everything is working out - that their schooling is going well, that the carers are coping.

"It's not enough just to find someone to look after them in the short term," Mr Wilson said.

A crèche has been set up to allow parents to find work.

"People's livelihoods have been ruined. If you drove a three-wheeled taxi before the tsunami you're not doing that now, if you were a fisherman you've lost your boat."

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