Rural Knowledge Centers of Sri Lanka
 

Poonagala ICT Headstart Project

Mini-Telecenter during construction at Poonagala
Mini-Telecenter during construction at Poonagala
ICT instruction at Poonagala Telecenter
ICT instruction at Poonagala Telecenter
Poonagala Telecenter serves 140 local children
Poonagala Telecenter serves 140 local children
'Baba' Harwood manages Poonagala Telecenter
'Baba' Harwood manages Poonagala Telecenter

Poonagala in Haldummulla Division of Badulla District is famous for its cool climate and its tea estates. Overlooking Wellawaya with views covering several districts, Poonagala's outward beauty belies its isolation and the grinding poverty of its residents.

A single narrow road winds from Bandarawela via Poonagala and thence down to Koslanda. Scarcely a shop is to be seen along its length. In places, as at Poonagala, wild elephants are a hazard. Most families depend upon tea estates for low paying unskilled work.

Teachers, doctors and other state employees accept appointments here only in the initial stage of their careers, and soon request transfer to less remote communities. Children must walk long distances up and down steep paths daily to attend schools that provide only the most basic education.

Health, education, and employment opportunities in Poonagala are extremely limited. Some 400 families, most of them dependent entirely upon tea estates for their livelihood, reside in the vicinity under consideration.

The Sri Lanka Children's Trust is assisting with its strength in ICT and, using existing facilities in Poonagala Kunugalla and nearby Koslanda, and partnering with Microsoft and the Koslanda Nanasala (Rural Knowledge Center), has launched and operates a rural mini-telecenter with the aim of providing affordable access to ICT including training facilities targeting schoolchildren and unemployed women and youths.

Poonagala Telecentre project today serves Poonagala-2 and environs with free classes for schoolchildren, women, and underemployed youth in computer literacy. The Center also conducts regular open house screenings of videos promoting ICT as a medium for improving education, health, livelihood and e-government, etc. It will also offer free extension services through its resident UK volunteer Bob Harwood who teaches computer & English locally by invitation.

Poonagala Telecentre project serves one of the Hill Country's most remote and economically backward areas where access to and familiarity with ICT is minimal. It therefore target parents as well as schoolchildren, using the telecenter's main hall as an auditorium for digital projection of computer screenshots, PowerPoint presentations, video, photos, etc. It serves school leavers and unemployed youth, especially women, and gives them a sense of there being other livelihood possibilities in life besides working in tea gardens.

Poonagala Telecentre projectis unique in that it will be supported by the community through a monthly deduction plan conducted by the principle local employer, Poonagala Estate. It also draws upon the expertise of our foreign volunteers, who receive no salary but work unpaid to serve their host community. If this model succeeds, it may be replicated in other estate communities.