A sum of US$ 263,500 (approximately Rs. 30 million) was pledged on Monday for basic IT skills building programmes for youth in the North and East. Taking the form of a joint grant by HSBC (for hardware) and Microsoft (for software), this sum has been earmarked for the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, the programme's implementing agency, to set up "10 general awareness programmes to garner interest" followed by "50 village information centres".
With initial indications that centres are intended for Jaffna, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Ampara, Manmunai as well as other locations, the project plans to "conservatively" impact between 1,950 and 2,000 young people, according to Sarvodaya's Executive Director, Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, who also suggests that it "probably can reach more". Further, it was indicated that this was just the first phase of the project and, in two years, it would come under review by all parties.
Meanwhile, according to Chief Executive Officer of HSBC Sri Lanka and Maldives, Nick Nicolaou, the bank’s contribution to this project would be Rs. 14 million. Much of this will take the form of computers, which he estimated at 100 computers costing Rs. 70,000 each, as well as financial scholarships for those nominated by Sarvodya.
Further, again according to Dr. Ariyaratne, an IT project similar to this was attempted five years ago in partnership with Microsoft but could not reach past Vavuniya. Adding that today this situation had changed and most areas of the North and East could now be accessed, he also indicated that the government had recently given Sarvodya the "green light" to enter Jaffna and Mannar to help with the resettlement process by providing livelihood training.
Interestingly, when queried by a reporter regarding the status of Internet connectivity in the North and East, Dr. Ariyaratne indicated that, while the East had Internet connectivity in all districts, only Jaffna was connected in the North.