Mapalagama SEN

News of the extraordinary success of the Navungala and Panangala Special Education Needs Units has travelled fast, and Mr Ajit, the principal of Mapalagama School has been encouraging Extra Cover to resource a similar operation on his premises … and we have agreed to give it our best shot.

Mapalagama 1

The corner room of one of the long buildings at the school has been set aside for the SEN, and Extra Cover has paid for the place to be cleaned, tidied up and prepared for up to ten children with learning difficulties. A couple already come to the unit, even though its resources are currently very limited.

Mapalagama 2

It all boils down to transport: we have agreed to cover the cost of the children getting to and from school, and if this proves to be as popular as our other two outfits, it is quite possible that we will have a fourth Extra Cover tuk tuk in operation in the not too distant future.

“Chicken Day” at Watahena

Watahena Junior School is a “difficult” school – so labelled by the Galle Education District because of its inaccessibility. To get there this July, the pupils from Brighton College had to get out of their van and travel the final teeth-rattling twenty minutes by tuk-tuk. They arrived to find that five large teacher desks, paid for by Extra Cover, were being delivered that very morning, much to the delight of the hard-working teachers who until then, had had to use small tables for all their marking and other administration.

New Tables for Watahena

Robert spoke to a teacher about the diet of the children. The teacher explained that the pupils rarely ate any meat (chicken or fish) because it was simply too expensive for their parents and, as such, they were deprived of crucial protein and nutrients. What, Robert asked, would be the cost of providing chicken to every child one day a month? The answer was approximately 5,000 rupees (£25.00).
The first ever “Chicken Day” was held at Watahena on July 30th, the final day of term. The 35 pupils ate “chicken fried rice”, each getting their own drumstick. Individual houses at Brighton College have volunteered to sponsor chicken days from September to December.

Monkey Noises at Watahena

Hashan and Heshan’s House

How do you build a house? For the uninitiated, like Robert, you get a blueprint and start form the ground up. Well not quite. While the foundations are certainly the first thing to be installed, the next thing on a builder’s to-do list is actually the roof. While out in Sri Lanka this past July, Robert checked on the progress of the construction of the house for Hashan and Heshan and their family.


Hashan at home

Hashan at home


Hashan and Heshan are brothers, and both suffer from cerebral palsy, and both are pupils at the Navungala Special Education Needs unit, which (bar the senior teacher) is resourced entirely by Extra Cover.


Heshan with Father Robert at school

Heshan with Robert at school


Last year Matthew and Jill and Robert visited the boys at their home and were shocked at the conditions in which the two boys (and their four year-old younger brother) were living. Their home was nothing but a concrete shell and while their mother kept the place as clean as a whistle and as neat as a pin, it was utterly unsuitable for boys in their condition.


Hashan & Heshan's Original Home
Hashan & Heshan’s Original Home


Unable to walk, they spent most of their time on a bed, damp with urine, staring up at the ceiling. There was no bathroom to speak of, no privacy whatsoever and a big tarpaulin-covered hole where there was meant to be a window. Extra Cover decided to build the boys a simple house that would cater to their physical needs.


Hashan and Heshan's Original Living Room
Hashan and Heshan’s Original Living Room

This summer Robert found that the washroom – so important for the two boys given their disabilities – had not been finalised, and that curiously an extra door had been added to the plans for reasons of superstition. Newton and his son Angelo helped to confirm the dimensions and requirements of the washroom, and ensured that the roof would have no asbestos, even though this increased the costs by two hundred pounds or so.
There were promises that the building would be habitable by the end of July. Given the recent heavy rains, however, it may now be the end of August before the two boys, their younger brother and parents can move into their new home. It will have been a long wait – but ultimately worth it.

15-15 Cricket “Bash” raises an amazing £1000.

Forget the Ashes. The cricket match of the 2015 season was held at East Brighton Park in early August, when three teams competed for perhaps the ugliest trophy in sporting history.


Idyllic surroundings


Two Brighton pubs (The Round Georges and the Hand in Hand) and a group of Guardian newspaper contributors fielded sides in a triangular contest for the much coveted Extra Cover 20-20 Cup. Given the fitness levels of some of the players, the games were reduced to fifteen overs per team.
The quality of cricket was curate’s eggish – excellent in parts – but the bonhomie, fuelled by terrific barbequed food and a couple of small barrels of beer, was without equal. The Round Georges emerged victors and all three teams agreed to return next year for an even bigger “bash”.


The winning team


Entry fees and a raffle raised the total for Extra Cover to nearly £1000, and thanks must go to Dom Jones and Stuart and Mo Samson for their wonderful work in organising such an enjoyable, family-friendly and slightly surreal day of cricket.


Captain Dom Jones receives the coveted trophy

Extra Cover’s first tuk-tuk

On our visit to Navungala School in early July, we were able to see Extra Cover’s first tuk-tuk in action, taking the Special Educational Needs Unit pupils back home after a full day of classes and fun.


Extra Cover's first tuk-tuk


The bright green tuk-tuk is now a feature of the local landscape, scuttling from house to house every day, picking up and dropping off disabled children.


Extra Cover's tuk-tuk


When not acting as the Navungala SEN school bus, it is also used to ferry fertileser and tea saplings for Extra Cover tea “plantations”.

See previous post – Here – for information on our two newest tul-tuks, servicing children and young adults with learning difficulties in Panangala.

Panangala – a Central, Dual Programme

The village of Panangala may be a long way from anywhere – it’s a two hour slog from Galle, through winding and crumbling roads – but it is now a central hub for Extra Cover. A half hour journey from the town of Udugama and you reach what is now the Extra Cover Vocational Training Centre (VTC) for locals with leaning difficulties. A further ten minutes down the road and you arrive at Panangala School with its Special Education Needs (SEN) unit, entirely funded and resourced by Extra Cover as well.

Panangala VTC

While others might like to take credit, this is, in truth, the brain child of a 23 year-old woman called Chatumali, who pressed Extra Cover into considering opening a centre for people with learning difficulties where they could learn all-important life skills … skills that could possibly enable them to enjoy some level of independence, and even generate some income. With two teachers now employed by Extra Cover (Sunitha, who teaches at the Nawala VTC, now teaches sewing and handicrafts for three days a week and a man comes in for the other two days and teaches coir-making and basket-weaving), her dream is a reality. And perhaps beyond her wildest dreams.


Panangala VTC Before 1




In July both Brighton College pupils visited the centre and painted the outside a bright “sunrise orange” and a couple of the interior rooms magnolia and brilliant white. The centre is now fit for purpose, and as of the end of August fully functional.


Panangala VTC After 1



With resources and teachers in place, the main problem was that of getting the young adults to and from the centre. It is a time-consuming affair, not least because women must not share a tuk-tuk with men. But thanks to the generosity of some people in West Sussex, a solution has been found in the shape of the VTC’s very own tuk-tuk. The bright blue Piaggio will be up and running in early August and will ferry the students back and forth.
The quality of work produced by these students has to be seen to be believed. Robert has ordered his Christmas cards from the centre and it is likely that the students’ wares will go on sale at a weekly crafts market in Galle.
So who “wins” with such an unusual outfit now in place in such a remote corner of Sri Lanka? Well, the students of course, as they interact with others (often for the first time in their lives) and develop their vocational skills. Secondly the students’ parents who now have free time in the day to find profitable work themselves. Thirdly the teachers who have a steady income, and fourthly Chatumali herself who Extra Cover now employs as the day-to-day overseer and coordinator of the programme. It must be remembered that across Sri Lanka those with learning difficulties are widely considered a burden and a punishment for the indiscretions and sins of previous lives. In its own way, Extra Cover is quietly conducting a revolution to change hearts and minds, and to celebrate the potential of all human beings.

Panangala SEN

This school goes from strength to strength. The children are growing in confidence, thoroughly relishing each others’ company, and giving their parents much-needed respite. And the ongoing problem of transport (and transport costs) has now been solved with the provision of a second tuk-tuk, thanks to the wonderful kindness of Sussex donors. Bright blue like its cousin down the road at the VTC, this will ferry children to and from school, and no doubt increase attendance. Once again, Extra Cover finds itself to be something of an unwitting prisoner – challenging attitudes to those with learning difficulties not through words, but through action, through bricks and mortar, through bright blue Piaggio tuk-tuks, the unlikeliest of school buses, trundling through the jungle.

Two possible new schools – Kumburuhena and Garaduwa

Extra Cover is most at home, and perhaps closest to its original mission, when it helps smaller schools. To the under-educated eye, it appears that these schools, of about 50 or fewer pupils, can be overlooked as the shifting political scene delivers (or does not deliver) educational aid. And Kumburuhena is a case in point



This is something of a Cinderella school, unloved compared with its two nearby sisters.


Kumburuhena School


Kumburuhena has competition from two schools on either side – both are larger, better resourced (which is not hard) and with a stronger academic focus. As such, only the poorest families keep their children in the local school. Unable to afford the transport costs, they leave them in the care of Mrs. Chandra and her indomitable colleagues.


The pupils of Kumburuhena


It is a school of nine children. When I visited in mid-July there were two additional children who were not in uniform. These were two “informal educational” pupils (i.e. children who have not been to school as their parents have allowed them to work on the plantations) who had been assigned the least attractive educational establishment where they could start their studies in reading, writing and arithmetic.
The water supply is in good shape, and the government food programme is in place (the elderly baker was keen to tell me how she provided daily meals as regularly as clockwork), but the one toilet was a disgrace and several of the pupils had no shoes, and stick thin legs, suggesting a lack of nutrition and nourishment. The principal gave me a wish-list, amongst which was a recognition of the need for more hygienic facilities and clothing for the pupils. I have asked for a quote for the repair of the existing toilet and for the provision of a second toilet – one for pupils, one for staff.


Kumburuhena's toilet


I have also asked for quotes for the entire school body to be furnished with shoes, a new uniform and a second daily meal. With these changes, more local parents will perhaps be be happy to send their children here.



An elemental requirement for Extra Cover to have an NGO in Sri Lanka is that assists two educational regions, in our case the Galle and Matara educational districts. We only have three schools in the latter, and with Garaduwa on our books, our case can only be strengthened. Garaduwa is a well run outfit of some 59 children.

Assembly at Garaduwa

On our visit in late July, a small band welcomed us and then a Grade 3 girl danced beautifully as a sign of welcome. Tidy, well-resourced and well-disciplined, the school badly needs repairs to its playground equipment (the rusted and broken edges of the slide were a horrific health hazard and the “whirligig” was severed in two) we have asked for a quote.

Extra Cover does not want to stretch itself too far, leading to a lack of control over any programme. These two schools are comparatively simple projects, however, and the Extra Cover board may consider that the benefits to the seven dozen or so children outweigh any demands on our time or resources.


Playing among the thirty young pupils at the Mahalapitiya Montessori this July was a little boy wearing regular clothing … and a big smile. His name was Lakindu and he turned out to be the younger brother of one of the pupils. And he will, if all goes well, join the school next January.


Lakindu and Bubbles


The problem, his mother was happy to show us, is that Lakindu has a hole in his heart and, as his scarred chest made apparent, has recently undergone a major operation. To stay healthy – in truth to stay alive – Lakindu has to take a number of pills, costing some 4000 rupees (or about£20) a month, but the government only gives Lakindu’s mother 250 rupees (or about £1.25). She was understandably distraught and Robert quickly handed over the seed money to set up an account in his name, to be overseen by the Head Master of Bembada School, who has ultimate control over the Mahalapitiya programme. The family of a member of the first trip of Brighton College pupils to Sri Lanka this year has said it will pay for Lakindu’s pills for the time being, and we look forward to seeing him in a Mahalapitiya uniform next year.

Special Education for children with disabilities


In January 2014, Extra Cover started 2 ‘Special Education’ units for children with disabilities, the video below was kindly made by Rob Powell of BBC south today when he visited in October and shows how well they are now working. 24 children now have the chance to attend school, many for the first time.