picture book box project stimulates rural pre-schoolers
A little learning
By Vidushi Seneviratne
Building blocks, sand pits, the alphabet. ...some memories
just don't go away. Those carefree pre-school years are definitely
some of the best in anyone's life. Certainly for children in the
cities, but what of young ones in the rural areas of this country?
Voluntary Services (SVS), an NGO set up in 1992 by Ms. Shigeko Baba
is working to create a better environment for pre-school children.
Ms. Baba came to Sri Lanka initially in 1987 as a Japan Overseas
Co-operation Volunteer. She has a M.S.C in Education, Culture and
Society, from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.S.C. in International
Relations from the Asia University, Tokyo, and is determined to
channel her expertise for the benefit of under-privileged little
They have so
far worked with more than 5000 children and about 225 pre-schools,
teachers and community resource persons. Not limited to the typical
classroom activities, they also rebuild and develop rural pre-schools,
organizing 'Shramadana' or community clean ups etc. They are also
concerned about the status of pre-school teachers. Says Ms. Baba,
"Teachers are an overlooked lot in Sri Lanka. Most of them
are oppressed. Their economic situation too, should improve."
almost a decade ago, Surangani Voluntary Services has launched a
new project to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Referred to as 'Ali
pencha', this picture box book programme has proven to be an extremely
effective way to improve children's visual literacy, creativity
and imaginative thinking. Children are taught how to use books with
care and respect.
of a wooden display box on wheels, designed to create the impression
of a library, the box contains about 25-30 picture books. A box
is usually given to one pre-school in a selected area, and is kept
there for one month. During this period, children have access to
the books and every child gets to take home a book over the weekend.
After one preschool utilizes the picture book box, it is given to
another pre-school of the area, and thus is shared among all the
schools in the vicinity.
Some 14 boxes
are being distributed in the trial process among schools such as
Surangani Pre-School, Peliyagoda, Hangumi Pre-School, Godakawela
and Piyasi Pre-School, Kirindiwela. One of Sri Lanka's most famous
authors, illustrators and story tellers for children, Ms.Sybil Wettasinghe,
has played an important role in designing this project.
The SVS team
consists of just five members including director Ms. Baba. Chinthani
Dharmasekara and Sharmalee Prathapasinghe are both pre-school education
instructors, G.D. Siriwardene is the secretary, and Nalin Vipulendra
co-ordinates all their projects and services.
Though a number
of picture book boxes have been distributed, according to the members
of SVS, 60 boxes are needed per year, to maintain an adequate service.
the economic factor is an expected evil. To prepare one picture
book box costs Rs.8000. About 60 donors from Japan do most of the
funding for SVS, along with about five from the USA. But more funds
are required to expand the project.
If people in the city think they can save a large amount
and stem their overdraft dependency by living in a village, perish
the thought. It is not possible. Unless one doesn't mind being referred
to as "tight fisted" . That does not mean that one has
to make it plain that one is well endowed. No, that would be a hazard
whenever the occasion demands, is what the village mainly seeks,
and those occasions are numerous. Living in the village needs a
great deal of diplomacy. Never count the cost. An open purse is
always the passport to good relationships in the village. You will
end up feeding a host of family members outside your own. That is
why cutting your ties with the city is not recommended.
To all those
who would like to live in the village - live a quiet, retired life
and be a philanthropist on a limited budget: Make sure to give a
special place to the word "simple" without being "austere".
Occasionally when you feel the need of a good village diet, invite
friends over from the city and ask some of the village women to
cook for you. That way you can cut costs and keep living expenses
breeds contempt. Always seem friendly and approachable. But show
a little reserve. Do not let them accost you on the road and make
you give ear to their troubles.
If it is a
financial situation you can tell them that your great-aunt is ailing
and your expenditure at the moment is high, you are sympathetic
and would like to help them... but this is all you can offer....
does ask you for a loan don't pull your purse out immediately. You
are in the village to live a simple, rural life. Be sure to always
know the amount given by the village as a gift purse, and then give
a little more. In our village if it's a bereavement it's Rs.100/-.
And it's important how you conduct yourself - Go before the actual
funeral takes place, (this is marking your attendance). Walk in
quietly, there will be the usual pathos and drama as soon as you're
sighted and look sympathetic, while the family members talk their
grief out, then press a Rs.100/- quietly into the hand of the chief
mourner and leave.
They will invite
you for the 7 days, 3 months and the first anniversary remembrances.
Don't think you can get away by giving some of the produce requested
from your garden only. They always feed about 300 people. Give them
at least Rs.500/-. If you do not help them, whom will you have?
require at least Rs.500/-. Don't think of giving the couple gifts
of bowls and cups that are still lying in your cupboard in their
gift-wrappings. You can also give them that, but money is always
appreciated. After all, they have to meet their expenditure too.
has also to be made for all those emergency loans. Start by having
a little till, in which you can save at least Rs.50/- a week. No
sooner you put it in, there will be a necessity to pull it out.
Write it off as soon as you have given it. They think you can afford
it, and they don't intend paying you back. If you think they will
feel bad about asking you again, you've got to be naive. Most people
tend to have a hole in their memory when it comes to returning money.
If you want
to square up fairly, you are treading on a thorny path. You will
become unpopular and help will not be forthcoming in your hour of
need and they will turn sullen.
So the most
you can do is always stay alert. Plan your itinerary away from the
village during alms givings, weddings - of course you cannot anticipate
a funeral, unless the person has been a long time dying. Good budgeting
is always important.