Notes from the Field

From Sri Lanka: Delivering Books to War & Disaster Ravaged Areas

September 5, 2007

Nearly three years have passed since a Tsunami devastated Sri Lanka’s eastern, southern, and northern coasts. In addition to supporting other recovery activities, The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program has helped to rebuild destroyed school and public libraries by providing 100,000 new, high-quality textbooks and children’s books.  

Operating in Sri Lanka since 1956, Books for Asia has made a significant contribution to growth in literacy, expansion of English Language skills in Sri Lanka, and improved education. English has been re-introduced as a subject in Sri Lankan schools, and the books have encouraged students and teachers alike to improve their reading skills.  English text books often provide more advanced instruction than books that are available in the vernacular languages, and students use the books to complement their government-recommended reading lists, as well as for more in-depth research.  School and university teachers ” even ones who teach in the vernacular — often rely on these texts to prepare their lecture notes.  Children’s picture books are coveted by children, parents, and teachers alike and are useful for teaching youngsters English.

After the Tsunami, Books for Asia worked with local partners to help identify and distribute books to all affected areas. Working alongside The Asia Foundation’s other tsunami recovery programs, Books for Asia distributed 100,000 books to local schools and libraries in tsunami-affected Eastern, Southern, and Northern Provinces of the island, to help rebuild those facilities.  Specifically, along the southern coast, more than a thousand books were provided to libraries built by the NGO Sarvodaya in Tsunami-affected villages. In the southern towns of Hambantota, Hikkaduwa, and Galle, libraries were refurbished with hundreds of books, as was a new library reconstructed in the Vadamarachchi area of the Jaffna peninsula in the north.

More recently, Books for Asia identified 28 schools in the east affected by both the Tsunami and the resurgence of civil conflict to receive books. This commitment to provide tools for increased literacy and knowledge to areas ravaged by war and disaster continues. It is not just the schools, universities, and libraries that are benefiting from the thousands of donated books. Soon, mobile libraries in the form of retrofitted buses stocked with Asia Foundation books will be launched to help tsunami- and conflict-affected areas where English books are scarce and libraries are often run-down, thus ensuring that more Sri Lankans can advance their education, no matter where they live.

Mr. Anton Nallathamby is the Director of The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program in Sri Lanka; Ms. Shamindrini Asirwatham is a Program Officer for Books for Asia in Sri Lanka.

View all posts by Anton Nallathamby

View all posts by Shamindrini Asirwatham

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