We thought it time that we wrote a report on what is happening with regard to Extra Cover’s work in Sri Lanka. It has been a little remiss of us not to have been in touch before, but our minds seem to have been elsewhere since March.
Below is a quite a detailed report, which we hope you will enjoy reading to the end! However, if time prevents, to summarise: Extra Cover, throughout 2020 where possible with Covid restrictions, continues to support 26 schools, Special Education Needs units and Vocational Training Centres, feeding over 1200 children every school day. More than 60 people with disabilities can now go to school or to a Vocational Training Centre and countless other individual projects continue to receive help from Extra Cover.
If you do have time (as many of us do at the moment!) please read on to find out more.
Extra Cover 2020 report
Firstly, can we just thank so many of you for your amazing support, even in this most difficult of years. The donations keep flowing in after our pier to pier walk last week, and now totals over £5000. Just incredible! Thank you so much!
Although Sri Lanka has been in lockdown as much as here in the UK, there is still plenty to report for 2020. In comparison with much of the world, the Covid situation in Sri Lanka has been very mild, but the economy has been badly damaged and hardship is even greater than ever in the areas we work. At the end of this email, please find another report from someone we know well, a Sri Lankan who sums up the situation for locals and the challenges they face.
As for us at Extra Cover, the year started with no dramas and the following summarises where we were then:
Support for Government schools
Extra Cover currently support 15 Government-run schools, and our priority is to give nutritious food to a total of 1033 children every school day. These schools all cater for the poorest children in these remote areas. Often, they get very little at home and rely on getting vital nourishment when at school. Some 100 of the most needy children also get monthly dry ration packs to support them at home. These schools have also received funding as needed to help with educational resources, providing new toilets, wash basins and the occasional educational trip. We have taken on a new school called Ganegama North KV where all the thirty children had little or no breakfast before they arrived to learn, and no lunch, because, for some reason, the government had stopped supplying food here. And so Extra Cover has stepped in.
Special Educational Needs units (SENs)
Extra Cover has set up three SEN units to give children with disabilities the opportunity of going to school for the first time. We work with local government who provide a teacher for each SEN, but then Extra Cover organises and pays for everything else. We resource an accessible classroom, pay for assistant teachers, build appropriate toilets, provide food plus transport to get the children to and from school.
These schools have been a great success. On average, we are giving between 30 and 40 children the chance of a basic education, but more importantly we are helping them understand how to socialise and be part of a community, rather than being hidden away at home with little or no life at all.
Vocational Training Centres (VTCs)
After the first few pupils left our SENs, Extra Cover realised that there was then little for these disabled young adults to do and their vocational skills were limited. And so, we set up two VTCs to help give them some basic skills and possibly the opportunity to make items to sell. The type of skills taught are needlework, sewing, woodwork, ekel broom manufacture (made from various bits of the coconut tree), greeting card design, gardening and cooking.
These VTCs are amazing, working with between 30 and 35 young adults with disabilities and again giving a wonderful opportunity for those who have often been left out the chance to learn, make friends and have a great time. As with the SENs, Extra Cover organises a dance teacher to visit as often as possible, always an event of pure joy! If you ever come out to Sri Lanka, a visit to a school dance lesson is a must!
Both VTC’s are completely paid for by Extra Cover, renting buildings, paying for teachers, resources, transport and food.
A few years ago we purchased a piece of land with buildings to develop our own base, volunteer centre and VTC. It is called Suhada, which translates appropriately as ‘kind hearted’ and now grows tea, pepper, cinnamon and vegetables. Students learn many different skills but importantly learn about cultivating, harvesting and selling products, which could be of invaluable help to them and their families in the future. Some are encouraged to help prepare and cook their daily meals.
Several of the VTC students have gone on to set up their own small businesses, with seed money from Extra Cover – always given with some pride!
Extra Cover runs six Pre-schools for around 90 children, often housed within government schools but fully resourced by us. They are a vital resource for the poorest families, not only preparing the children for ‘big school’, but also giving the parents the chance to work and earn some vital rupees. It is also a vital time for these often tiny children to get regular nutritious food, which Extra Cover always make sure they get.
Scholarships and individual support
Extra Cover is regularly approached to help individuals or families. It may be for medical help, extra nutrition, help with finance for further education for talented children that come through our schools (like Kavindi pictured above, who is off to University) or even a new prosthetic leg or two! A great example of this work is Oshada and his family.
Oshada and family
Last year, Oshada, one of the pupils from Gonalagoda, a school that Extra Cover supports, was involved in a horrific bus crash. The result was truly upsetting so read on with care. Both his parents were severely injured: his father lost a third of his skull and is brain-damaged; his mother has a crushed pelvis, hip, knee and ankle and was unlikely ever to be able to walk properly again. Oshada was relatively lucky. He lost two toes, a part of his foot and has a huge dent in his shin but when we last saw him, he was well enough to hobble around with a cricket bat in hand! (see picture below)
Extra Cover ensured that this family made it to all their medical and physiotherapy appointments (the hospital was a 40 minute tuk-tuk journey) and that they all had enough food. Oshada’s family was in severe poverty before the crash and has been reliant on his mother’s sister who has neither the money nor the resources to care for them all long term.
We’re delighted to report that the family’s fortunes are turning round; Oshada is walking well, his father has had his skull repaired and, although very slow and deliberate, is getting back to some sort of normality and his mum, having been told by doctors that they should amputate her leg (she refused), is walking again although her legs are now different lengths. Incredibly they have even started a small business selling fruit and vegetables that they source from the village.
Extra Cover will continue to support this inspirational family and are looking to help them achieve their dream of having their own home
Over the years Extra Cover has built more than 50 houses for families in desperate need, many of these post-tsunami. But every year we seem to come across a family who just need something to help make their life more bearable, so Extra Cover steps in and builds a basic, but to them ‘top end’, three-room house and outside toilet. Going back to visit them is always a joyous occasion.
What’s happened since March?
Rather annoyingly we were on our way to the airport for a visit to Extra Cover on the 15th March when travel to Sri Lanka was cancelled. Since then Sri Lanka has been in lockdown for all but a few weeks so performing any of our normal work has become almost impossible. The poorest in society, unfortunately, have been badly affected. Mass redundancies in low-paid work, especially in tourism and agriculture providing virtually no casual labour, coupled with the fact that children were not receiving vital school food, have made it very difficult. Extra Cover did manage to carry on supporting many individuals but it was made impossible to help many, no matter how hard we tried, especially as travel was so restricted and delivery of aid made so difficult due to the remote areas we work in. We have worked closely with the schools to help make them Covid secure, including wash stations, and PPE equipment.
Extra Cover has continued to pay all the amazing teachers, tuk-tuk drivers and others in our employ, fully to start with and now currently at a rate of 66% until the re-opening of the schools. All are very grateful, as so many others in the country have received little or nothing.
When we get the go ahead and schools re-open, Extra Cover will be back helping as many as we can – probably more than ever considering there will be a lot more people in need.
All this is only made possible by so many people being incredibly generous towards Extra Cover. We continue to promise that our expenses are kept to a minimum, UK costs are kept down to below 3% of donations as admin costs are absorbed by Hansfords Menswear, trustees claim no expenses and accountants wave their fees to audit and file our paperwork. In Sri Lanka, every rupee is carefully spent, the majority being spent on feeding over 1200 children every school day, paying for teachers, school resources and school transport for children. We only employ one person as Charity Co-ordinator, who works with two volunteer trustees who claim minimal expenses. We value every penny that is donated.
2020 has quite obviously been a disaster for fundraising; we have had to cancel three major events (a golf day, our 15 year anniversary dinner and a charity walk). We understand that it is not only tough for people in Sri Lanka, but also here in the UK and also understand people may be as keen to support children who are going hungry and are in hardship closer to home.
Luckily to date, we have not had to cut back any of our work in Sri Lanka. Due to some prudent financial planning, we put aside enough money to get us through any fallow times. Other charities in the areas we work have not planned so well and we have been approached by several for help, as funds from their European sponsors have dried up. Earlier this year we had started working with “Smile” (pictured below), a wonderful VTC supporting some 50 young adults with disabilities, by providing a food programme for them, but all their funding has now dried up. So to the end of 2020, we have offered to keep the place going and will actively seek a sponsor to fund the project, that amazingly only costs about £1500 a month to pay for teachers, admin staff, electricity, resources, food etc. There is so much to tell, so we will send a separate email about this project..
It goes without saying that we need donations to keep all this work going and we would be delighted to receive any today, but will understand completely if that is not possible as life is just not easy for so many people at this time.
Thanks for being interested enough to read this far!
All the best
Matthew, Jill and Robert
Covid situation report from Sri Lanka (Oct 2020):
|With the onset of the virus in March and consequent lock-down, government encouraged people in the villages to grow more rice and vegetables. As usual government failed to provide the farmers with free fertilizer etc. as promised, and the campaign was not a great success story.
As you are aware, many people living in Galle interior such as in Extra Cover school villages own a small piece of land where they grow tea as a cash crop. As they do not employ labour and all the work from weeding to plucking buds is done by the family members, they are able to derive an income by growing tea although it is insufficient to meet their day to day needs. Some young boys and girls in these families work in the city mainly in Tourist industry, construction field and the girls especially in garment factories. With the pandemic most of these young people have lost their jobs. However, as most of the villagers have their own place to live and with their basic life styles, they somehow manage to make a living with their meager income.
Government gave Rs.5,000/= (£20) per family per month for three months. Some complain that they received this only for two months. People with disabilities too received the same amount.
The worst affected were those involved in the tourist industry. Hotels, guest houses, restaurants and gift shop owners, tour operators, drivers and guides and hotel employees come under this category. Normally, the hotels employ the workers on a temporary basis. The employer sends them home during the off season thereby discontinuing their service so that they need not pay them certain benefits and can fire them at any time they wish. As such many young people who contribute to the family economy have lost their jobs. Most of the hotels, guest houses and restaurants have closed down keeping a skeletal staff just to do the maintenance work. Some of these people are paid only 50% of their salary. Hotel employees normally get a low salary and they depend mostly on service charges and tips. Under any other circumstances, such as the tsunami, these men had the opportunity to go for Middle East jobs. This is an entirely different situation.
Only the tourist drivers and driver guides who are registered in the government received Rs.20,000/= (£80) each for the whole period, but the drivers such as those at the Flower Garden Hotel were not entitled to this. There are many drivers and driver guides who have bought vehicles with loans from banks and financial institutions. Government has arranged with these lending institutions to give them a six to twelve month grace period to pay back the loans, but they still have to pay the interest.
All companies, especially small ones are going through a hard time. Some have closed down thereby all employees losing their jobs and some places keep going with a minimal staff, paying them only half the salary. Meanwhile many people who worked in the Middle East have lost their jobs and come back. Chances of getting new jobs for these people either here or abroad are very remote.
So, generally almost everybody in the low to mid income category are going through a difficult time. To make things worse, price of all basic food items from rice to dhall and all day to day needs have shot up.
People had high hopes that Covid will be soon over and things will be back to normal at least by the beginning of January. After two months, with the appearance of a Covid infected woman from a Brandix garment factory close to the airport (outside the free trade zone) this week, we all are devastated. This is worse than anything we experienced since March. They carried out PCR tests on all employees of the Brandix factory and by last night the number of infected people has risen, increasing the cluster to 1040. Two days ago, they imposed curfew in the area and directed the patients to various hospitals and their families to quarantine centres. Some of the infected factory workers have been travelling to various parts of the island over the last couple of weeks. Worst thing is they say about three hundred workers are missing and the authorities fear they will spread the virus from their hiding places.
Some of the beach hotels have been converted to quarantine centres where you have to spend 14 days paying Rs,7500/= (£30) per person per night. You will have to confine to your room and are not allowed to use hotel facilities. Food is brought to the room. Those who are unable to pay are sent to very basic quarantine camps. Anybody coming from abroad will have to spend 14 days at a quarantine centre and another 14 days at home on self quarantine monitored by the health authorities.
We all fear that there will be another lock-down in Colombo. The super markets are already being cleaned by those who can afford to do so.
Sri Lanka’s main foreign exchange sources are, 1. Sri Lankans working abroad, 2. Tourism, 3. Export of garments, 4.Export of agricultural produce such as tea and 5. Foreign investments.
Covid has destroyed all the above avenues. The economists say that the government will have to borrow again to pay only the interest for loans already taken, coming up before the end of the year.
I know that economies globally are suffering due to Covid, but the problems here were created long before and Covid is now driving the last nail. The tragedy is the poor and the innocent will be the victims.
I hope the above account will give you a general picture of things happening over here.