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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 December 2006, 13:12 GMT
School Day 24: Sri Lanka
Tamil schoolchildren
Many children pass through checkpoints on their way to school

The BBC hosted a conversation between students in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, Tamil youth in Vavunia in the north and Sinhala pupils in Seruwila in the east.

Since the civil war started, there has been little communication between the two main communities. The Sinhala language is not spoken by many Tamils, who speak their own language, while many Sinhala children believe all Tamils support the rebels, who they see as terrorists.

The link-up was delayed due to ongoing fighting - shells were flying over the school in Seruwila and the children in Vavunia had to leave after only few questions because they had to be home before curfew.

Question from Kumar in Colombo to both sets of pupils:

I get to school every day in the school van, which picks me up from home. How do you get to school?

Eelavarni, Vavunia: We have to start very early because we have to walk part of the way and the buses are not always regular.

Apart from that we have so many checkpoints to go through. At most of these, everyone has to get off the bus and go through body searches. If there is a bomb blast, we end up arriving at school very late.

Deepika, Seruwila: We also have difficulties getting to school. Sometimes we are an hour or two late. But since the recent operations by the army, our lives have become a bit more secure.

Map
Eelavarni: We live and travel in fear. There are white vans without registration numbers which come around and take children away. They never come back.

Some say these children are abducted to become child soldiers by some faction.

One of our relatives was shot recently. My parents took me out of school that day. I missed two days of school because of that incident.

When a bomb or something goes off, the checkpoints become more of a problem.

The military increases its checks. I have to pass two military checkpoints on the way to school. We all hate going through them. Now I have a bicycle so I can be away from them faster. I ride quickly without looking back.

Deepika: Actually we feel secure because of the increased checkpoints because it gives us a feeling that we are protected by the government.

Eelavarni: We are intimidated by army checkpoints. Our relatives in the village were taken by the army and have never come back.

Question from Kumar in Colombo to both sets of pupils:

We play cricket here. We have separate grounds for cricket and netball and badminton courts. We also have photography club, chess club and other indoor activities. What kind of games do you play?

Deepika: Our playground is filled with many potholes. It is really overgrown. If we lose a ball in there, we never find it.

We fill in the potholes once a year for the annual sports meet.

Question from Deepika in Seruwila to Kumar in Colombo:

What do you do when you are not at school?

Kumar: We go out to the cinema or get a DVD and watch it at home.

At least once a month, we go away somewhere for the weekend. What about you?

Deepika: We are too poor to do that. We do not have facilities to watch movies.

The cinema is so far away and we do not have any way of getting back if we go that far. Also, it is not safe to go out in the dark.

Ganeshalingam, Vavunia: We can't do anything like that. We never leave home after we return from school.

Our parents do not let us go out because it is not safe.

No one leaves home after dark in this area.




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