To be a child means the chance to go to school. What happens when your school is in the middle of a 11km 2 minefield?
A long time ago, before the war, Muhamalai was a bustling place, with a daily market and a large church that drew visitors from far and wide. The Muhamalai Mixed School was first opened in 1958 and prior to the conflict had many young students.
A decade of disruption led to hundreds of people in the nearby villages of Intherapuram and Ampalavali being displaced. School desks sat empty as numbers dwindled. Even after the ceasefire in 2009, locals could not return to the land because it remained so heavily mined. However, thanks to clearance work by The HALO Trust, what was once no-man’s land is being brought back to life.
Today, tucked away behind mango trees, you will find a brand new bright orange primary school. Known as ‘Sector B’, this tract of land, measuring just one third of a km2 was contaminated by 5,304 anti-personnel mines, 220 anti-tank mines and 871 pieces of unexploded ordnance. In 2015, HALO was able to clear the area, allowing the school to be rebuilt, coconut plantations to grow and a church to be constructed.
Recovery takes time but, thanks to generous donors, HALO is gradually able to release more areas of Muhamalai for resettlement. Currently the school has 23 students, with three of these from newly returned families. The school’s principal, Mahalingasivam Piratheepan, estimates that once more land is made safe numbers will rise to over 200 children. For those who have already been able to return to education, the joy of learning is evident, with word competitions the favourite lesson of the day!