Piyawara – a successful decade of nurturing children

This story began in 2002 when the Hemas Group launched its CSR initiative following discussions with the then Ministry of Social Welfare on the national needs. Determined to create an impact in a focussed area and benefit the community, we focussed on Early Childhood Development in Sri Lanka.

As a first step towards sustainability, the Hemas Group, through the ‘Hemas Outreach Foundation’ partnered with the Children’s Secretariat of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs, a dedicated and committed facilitator.

The project was named ‘Piyawara’, signifying the initial steps taken by a child at the beginning of the journey through life. Its vision was to nurture children with good care and provide a solid foundation for life. Its focus is on children between 03-05 years, the most important stage when 80% of brain development takes place.

Piyawara thus embarked on its long journey …..

Piyawara began by upgrading existing pre-schools in 10 districts to the level of model schools. The first was in Kurunegala with 02 teachers, and 22 children on role. There was great enthusiasm. The project took shape. It began touching the lives of an increasing number of children across the country. Two years later in 2004 the Tsunami hit Sri Lanka.

Hemas immediately set up temporary schools and play areas in 29 make-shift camps, thus addressing the emotional needs of these vulnerable, displaced children. Going a step further it launched a massive pre-school development programme. 20 state-of-the-art Piyawara pre-schools costing approximately Rs. 120 million were constructed and handed over to Local Councils in their respective areas.

Over the years, the number of schools grew. So did the teachers … and the students …

Today, a dozen years later in 2014, Piyawara spans the length and breadth of Sri Lanka with 39 pre-schools, over 100 teachers and enriching lives of over 3000 children daily.

This is not about merely building with bricks and mortar … but rather a holistic approach to ;

  1. creating parental awareness
  2. engaging in teacher training
  3. improving recreational facilities
  4. empowering children with special needs
  5. working towards eradicating child abuse 
  6. improving infrastructure development : adding model pre-schools to the national network or upgrading existing schools to meet minimum standards
  7. emergency intervention during national disasters

Over the years, Piyawara has made a significant and long lasting impact on the standards of pre-schools in Sri Lanka.

The post-war era saw many traumatised children in the make-shift camps at Menik Farm. Hemas, together with the Children’s Secretariat, set up pre-schools and play areas to keep them occupied even under difficult circumstances.

As a long term measure we’re building model pre-schools in the now accessible North. The first-ever was opened in Jaffna in 2011, as we planned for other districts too. As a first-time initiative, the Piyawara Community Pre-School concept is being adopted to assist marginalised rural communities in Sri Lanka. The first such school of its kind is in Ambalnagar, 10kms from Kilinochchi Town, where resettlement has taken place. Many such pre-schools have been established to date, while more are being added on.

A project of this magnitude also incurs recurrent costs on a very frequent basis. Over the years, Piyawara’s success story attracted foreign business partners who rallied round in a show of solidarity with continued financial support. Among them is a key donor DerTouristik Germany, a pillar of strength in this journey. 

In October 2007, Piyawara won the Award of Excellence for Support and Improvement of Education in the Asian Region as an outstanding, innovative and sustainable project in Asia, at the annual Asian CSR Awards.

Piyawara has touched the lives of thousands of children from all parts of Sri Lanka, from North to South and East to West, thereby resulting in a better quality of education. Hemas is now on the National Co-ordination Committee on Early Childhood Development, the body which oversees the development and implementation of the National Policy.

Piyawara stands today as a successful initiative, a sustainable and ongoing project by Hemas and the Children’s Secretariat, demonstrating the success of government – private sector partnerships in addressing national issues and going beyond the geographical divide.