US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Visits SCORE Activities in the North

"Proud to increase educational opportunities and support COVID-19 response in Sri Lanka" – Ambassador Teplitz

By Kathya de Silva Senarath

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives Alaina Teplitz, with US Embassy delegates, visited the North of Sri Lanka on February 23 and 24, 2021 to oversee the Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Activity (SCORE) programs, funded by USAID and implemented by Global Communities. She expressed appreciation of the project and said  that the US is ”proud’ to connect students across the island and support Sri Lanka’s response to COVID-19”.

During the visit, Ambassador Teplitz ceremonially inaugurated the Virtual Classroom project at Poonthodam Maha Vidyalayam in Vavuniya, which has mostly Tamil students and a few  Muslim students, to link with Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim students at Trincomalee Mihindupura Vidyalaya. Eastern Province Chief Secretary Thusitha Wanigasingha, Secretary to the Northern Provincial Ministry of Education L. Ilaangovan, and other Provincial Education Ministry and Education Department officials were present.

The Virtual Classroom project was developed  following SCORE discussions with education authorities about  the need to equip two classrooms in Vavuniya and Trincomalee with  technology  to virtually bring diverse students together. In collaboration with the North and East Ministries of Provincial Education, SCORE set up equipment to enable Sinhala and Tamil students to interact. The devices make it possible for 625 students in the Vavuniya school and 255 in Trincomalee to learn each other’s languages and cultures, and share stories and experiences. 

The Ambassador tweeted: “Proud to inaugurate a new ‘smart’ classroom in Vavuniya… Together we’re connecting students across the island and increasing educational opportunities for Sri Lanka’s children.” 

Eastern Province Chief Secretary Wanigasingha said: “This is a timely attempt to promote technology during the COVID-19 pandemic when education had to shift to online learning. It serves another great purpose to connect students from diverse backgrounds, and create space for interaction to promote peace.”

Secretary to the Northern Provincial Ministry of Education Ilaangovan said: “This is a good opportunity to move forward with technology in this new era amid COVID-19. Now the avenues are open for students to link it with their online learning since facilities are now available.”

And Krishnaveni Nanthapalan, Principal of Poonthodam Maha Vidyalayam School, said the new center “is a precious gift for a rural school such as ours where we have a lot of children from low-income families studying. It will enable our Tamil children to interact with the Sinhala and Muslim children in Trincomalee to learn from each other, not only language but also each other's cultures, thereby building better relations between ethnicities.”

During the visit the  Ambassador visited  Jaffna University and handed over a real-time PCR testing machine and the related Laminar Flow and Micro Centrifuge to Jaffna University Vice Chancellor Prof. Sivakolundu Srisatkunarajah. The support was provided upon a request from the University of Jaffna Medical Faculty and in coordination with the Northern Provincial Ministry of Health to help  them  meet the increasing demands for PCR testing in the North. The existing equipment was insufficient for diagnostic services, but the new PCR testing machine, set up at the Department of Parasitology, can administer 300 PCR tests daily which is an increase from 30-60, enabling the university to respond to requirements more efficiently.

The SCORE activity, while expanding  capacity at the university, will also increase the quality of service to test other infectious diseases once COVID-19 has subsided.  

The Ambassador tweeted: “To help increase COVID 19 testing in the North, I presented a new PCR testing machine to Jaffna University. The American people are proud to support Sri Lanka’s response to COVID-19.”

Dr. Arumugam Ketheswaran, Director, Provincial Department of Health Services, Northern Province said that: “With the support from USAID, we can increase the testing and protect the people.” Prof. Subramaniam Raviraj, Dean, Faculty of Medicine added: “PCR testing at the university commenced in April 2020, serving the entire province, after approval from the Government of Sri Lanka. Since then, the demand for PCR testing kept increasing. Prior to USAID SCORE support, the university had to send samples to Anuradhapura (North Central Province) and Mulleriyawa (Western Province) labs, delaying results and increasing the risk of disease spread.  USAID’s timely support helps address delays and containment efforts.”

On the second day of her visit, the  the Ambassador met with 15 representatives of the Jaffna Women’s Federation and Amara, and the Federation of women-headed households in Jaffna at the office of the SCORE partner Viluthu. The women, supported through Viluthu, advocate for community issues at the district level through policy recommendations and assist in youth-led research of community issues. Viluthu provided the women with capacity building training on Transitional Justice, reconciliation and community research. They shared their experiences with the Ambassador on their advocacy work.

SCORE is collaborating with Viluthu to strengthen networks among women’s groups and SCORE will continue working with Viluthu on training and capacity building in the future.

Maithree Rajasingham, Viluthu Executive Director said: “We directly collaborate with the grassroots to [work with them to]  carry out advocacy work. We work with community members directly and design proposals with them to address issues prioritized by them. We are proud to be a partner of SCORE to improve capacities of women and build connections with stakeholders. The impact of SCORE is achieved through a process and we are glad to be a part of it.”