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Embassy English 19 February 2016 - by Luke Sikorski, Global Product Manager

Building Futures is Alive—My trip to Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka


As part of a global education provider, we seek to make a difference by funding the construction of schools in disadvantaged communities. Through our charitable initiative Building Futures, run by Study Group, we identify communities where the building of a school will contribute to the preservation of the social structure for future generations. Recently, Luke Sikorski, Global Product Manager, received the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to visit Sri Lanka to see one of our Building Futures projects in action.

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I’m finding it very hard to put into words the emotional, inspiring, and eye-opening week it was being present for the opening of Abhayaraja Primary School, which was our 2015 Building Futures project that we funded through our fundraising efforts.  I got to share this experience with 6 other Study Group staff members.  Our project was funded by Study Group, but our nonprofit partner, Plan International, are the ones who facilitated the construction of the school and got the entire student body, their family, and the surrounding community involved.  They are a child-centered international development organization and the work they do in Sri Lanka and many other countries, is nothing short of incredible.

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After over 24 hours of flying, a security brief in Colombo, and a 5 hour car ride to the north that had our heart rates rather high because of driving conditions, we arrived in Anuradhapura for a day of seeing the full breadth of the education work Plan does in Sri Lanka, as well as the major highlight of being present for the opening of the primary school our fundraising efforts funded.   Day 1 had us visiting five schools that Plan has ongoing projects at, starting with a pre-school, then primary school, secondary school, and two vocational school projects (a mechanical school and beauty school).  It was not only incredible to see the diverse number of projects Plan is involved in—whether it infrastructure, teacher training and development, or even funding a handful of students education so they can gain a specific trade—it was so inspiring to see how happy, hard-working, and appreciative each and every one of the students were of what they had. 

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These schools are in very rural and poverty-stricken areas even a few hours drive outside the city we were staying in.  But, the one thing about this whole trip that stood out to me, and this was ever so present when visiting our Building Futures project school, was how involved and invested every student, their families, and the community was in each and every project.  Plan’s model for development is actually a grassroots one where you build trust within the community, get them involved in every aspect of design, construction, and implementation of a project, and the result is long-term sustainability because of how emotionally invested they are.  Yes, Plan facilitates the specific project, but they don’t own it.  The community does.  It not only means the community is invested, but it also gives them the skills and knowhow for its long term sustainability, which thus further helps these communities build themselves out of poverty.  Seeing all of this really proved to me how much every project we at Study Group have funded through Plan has fully transformed an entire community and made a difference that I can’t even put into words.

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The second day truly was the main highlight of the week and a longtime coming; witnessing the fulfilment of a project that we all spent a year fundraising for the opening of Abhayaraja Primary School, providing primary aged children with quality education they so desperately need and so desperately deserve.  It really was a big celebration that brought in the Ministers of Education both at the national and regional level, a sea of students with their parents, and many other people from the surrounding community.  I was having one conversation with one of the regional ministers and he had told me that none of the government had ever been to this area because it was on the border with the Eastern province and thus admitted it had been neglected.  Seeing how inspired he was witnessing this day gave me confidence in the further support they now will give to this area.

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The site of the school building, the classrooms stocked with new supplies, and seeing the excitement on the students faces, their parents, and all the teachers was truly unbelievable.  My cheeks never have hurt more than they did after that day because a smile never left my face.  While our fundraising efforts were able to fully fund two new buildings of classrooms and fully supply them, Plan gathered the teachers and parents, who all helped in the design of the school and helped clear land to make way for construction.  All the murals that were painted on the school buildings were done by the students and parents, each of them portraying a classic fairytale offering a valuable lesson.  Our funding also was able to build a traditional Sri Lankan cultural hut with traditional kitchen so they can learn their roots as well as how to cook traditional meals.  There also was a garden where students will grow spices and herbs, and each of us had a group of students help plant a fruit-bearing tree to commemorate the opening and provide a healthy snack for all students once grown.  Practical education is extremely important and I was so happy to see how big of a part it will play in the new school.

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Interacting with the students, teachers, and parents was absolutely my favorite…as I got to hear firsthand the impact this new school has both short and long term for each of them, as well as what they are most excited about.  We got to witness some really amazing cultural dances put on by the students and then reciprocated by getting a handful of them to join us and we taught everyone the “hokey pokey”….which everyone had a blast with.  They also thoroughly enjoyed learning how to take “selfies”as well as learning how to give a proper “fist pump.”   Interacting with the children brought us all nothing but joy not only because of how much fun they were, but knowing the impact this school already has had on them and their community and how it really will transform an entire generations education. 

This was an experience I will never forget and it truly brought Building Futures alive.  I hope this kind of opportunity continues to happen year after year because nothing beats seeing the positive impact our efforts bring to a community every year.  It also showcases the great partnership we have with Plan International and the unbelievable work they do in so many communities around the world.  If you want to see the full project from start to finish, watch the video above, and I know will touch your heart as much as it did mine.

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To learn more about our Building Futures campaign and Embassy English, contact us today! 

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