Many adults in Sri Lanka are against the use of social media, especially Facebook, as they see only the negative sides of it. Public school principals and teachers are the most vociferous among them. But today I am going to talk about a public school principal who does a yeoman service for the students and the community in Mahawilachchiya.
He is none other than Mr. Kularathna Rajapaksha, a social servant in Mahawilachchiya. He started his career as a science teacher since he was still a high school boy. I was one of his students while I was in Grade 11. We had no science teachers during that time as most of the teachers in my alma mater, Thakshila Public School in the village got transferred to their villages. So, we had no science teachers to prepare us for the Ordinary Level (OL) exam which is held to identify which students can go for high schools. Kularathna came to our rescue by teaching us every weekend. The best thing about his teaching was that he had this special talent to teach most complicated areas in science like physics and chemistry in a very interesting way. Usually experienced and trained regular science teachers dreaded to teach those parts in science and only taught biology parts of the subject while this schoolboy-teacher showed us how easy those subject areas were. Thanks to him, a lot of students in our classes got good results for Ordinary Level (OL) national level exams.
Kularathna is 50 now and recently was promoted to the post of principal in Seevali Primary School in Mahawilachchiya. I am not too sure if the promotion as a principal will hamper his talents as a teacher. Too much administrative work has affected many good teachers.
Kularathna started his Facebook account in 2014, much later than I did but mastered the craft in no time. I can still remember his first Facebook post which he posted about the need of library books for Thakshila Public School where he then taught. The post brought a lot of donors donating books to the school and today the school library boasts of having 4,000 odd books. He did not stop there and constructed a separate building to store and read the books with the help of his donors and the members of the Civil Defense Force who volunteered with their labor.
Kularathna spends about 3-4 hours with Facebook on a daily basis. He does all his work through his old desktop computer, recently acquired laptop and the smart phone while taveling. He spends around 3,000 LKR (20 USD) monthly with his own funding. But he works for the others in the village. This is a good example for most of the ICT teaches in the country who do not do much with government sponsored 24X7 internet facilities at their computer labs with 30-40 PCs connected to internet.
Kularathna does not stop his duty by just donating money or resources. He ensures that the money and the resources he collects and disseminates are properly used. He visits the people whom he helps and monitors if the money is spent on the intended purposes. He has to spend a lot for traveling too. (I think it is the high time his donors work on reimbursing his internet, phone and fuel expenses. Otherwise he will end up broke just like I did.)
Kularathna’s biggest achievements are building a school library, building houses for those who cannot afford them, providing scholarships for the needy students, and providing RO water filters to the village. He does all these through the funds donated by both local and overseas Sri Lankans whom he befriends through Facebook. He has won the trust and the respect from those donors as he spends the money frugally and monitors the result of these interventions.
When asked how the teenagers and the youth should use Facebook, his answer was “Use Facebook in such a way you educate you and work for the social good.” This is easier said than done though. Teenagers and the youth tend to use Facebook mostly for time and money consuming fun and have romantic relationships.
Kularathna also says that the other teachers who use Facebook should use it in such a way that they improve their knowledge by subscribing to educational Facebook feeds and also changing the negative attitudes towards the social media.
Ongoing drought in and around Mahawilachchiya disturbs the villagers’ lives as they either do not have or cannot afford drinking water. Kularathna shared this with his Facebook contacts and they promptly collected funds and sent to Kularathna so that he could hire a small tractor with a plastic barrel and distribute drinking water totally free of charge to the villagers. Such is the trust he has gained from his donors.
When asked what were his biggest challenges with FB and his community work, his answer was, “Not yet.” That is the spirit.