A SURVIVOR'S DIARY: `Schools are open again, but pupils can't concentrate'

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The Independent Online
The week started badly, with rumours of another tsunami. One of the national newspapers had a story saying it was on the way after another earthquake in Indonesia, and it caused panic along the south coast. People were trying to protect their homes by blocking the doors with heavy objects so that water couldn't get in.

Parents rushed to school to collect their children. People were driving away from the coast. There were many accidents. Police were driving around, announcing over loudspeakers that people should leave coastal areas.

I was at work in Matara when it happened, and rushed home to see if my parents were OK. When I got home, we realised that it was just a rumour. I felt angry, because it is irresponsible for the papers to be doing this.

The papers are also saying that there will be another tsunami in Sri Lanka in the next 10 years. We've been told it will be so big that the only town to survive will be Kandy. Only when these kinds of rumours stop will people be able to start living a normal life again.

Children are starting to go back to school. Although schools reopened a few weeks ago, until last week three-quarters of pupils were said to be staying away. Walking through Dickwella, it is sad to see schoolchildren who have no books, uniforms or bags. They are trying to dry their things in the sun outside their broken homes and tents, but it's not much good because they are all stained with the muddy tsunami water.

The children at the end of my road can't afford to buy new things for school, and they have to go in casual clothes. It doesn't sound very important, but they're embarrassed when the other children are wearing clean, white uniforms. Some of the aid agencies are starting to distribute school items, and that makes me really happy.

Going back to school does not mean a return to normality, though. My neighbour's children now go to a different school, because theirs was destroyed by the tsunami. There are twice as many children in the school. The Education Ministry has had to put up tents as temporary classrooms.

My mother, a teacher, says it's going to be a long time before children start learning again - they are finding it difficult to study. I have a friend who's supposed to take her A-levels in August. She's worried because she can't concentrate. The government now says that students can postpone their exams if necessary.

Staff, students and parents at my mother's school have held special meetings to come up with practical strategies to help children start learning again. But I don't know how effective these will be. Only time will tell.

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