Sinhalese and Tamil New Year Celebrations in Sri Lanka

Naomi Booth :: Friday 22nd April 2022 :: This Story

Picture: /files/blog/461/w288/ost-1.jpgIn Sri Lanka, new year celebrations start on 13th of April and end on 14th of the month. Sinhala and Tamil New Year. These celebration in Sri Lanka feature lots of rituals and customs. Based on the sun's movement from the Meena Rashiya (House of Pieces) to the Mesha Rashiya (House of Aries) Sri Lankan welcomes the new year in April with a lot of firecrackers, fireworks and gourmet of traditional sweets...


Also known as the sun festival, the Sinhala and Tamil new year is a ritual performed to honour the God of Sun.

Picture: /files/blog/461/w288/ost2.jpgUnique rituals and the traditions are what make Sinhala and Tamil new year special and memorable. The new year rituals start on 13th of April with a ritual called neutral period or Nonagathe. During this time people keep off from all work and do nothing but engage in religious activities to get the blessing of their religion to prepare for the new year.

Lighting the hearth (Lipa gini melaweema)

Once the dawn of the new year comes the first ritual of Sri Lankans is the lighting the hearth of the house to prepare milk rice a must have a traditional dish on the new year feast that symbolises prosperity.

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First meal at the Avurudu table (Ahara anubawaya)

Food plays a major role in new year celebrations in Sri Lanka. A huge table with Kiribath, bananas, sweets like kavum, kokis, thalaguli, aggala, aasmi, aluwa and many other traditional sweets become the centrepiece of any house. Every family in Sri Lanka enjoys the feast at an auspicious time after lighting an oil lamp. Starting work and exchanging money (Weda alleema saha ganu denu kireema) Once the family finishes the new year meal people do some work to symbolise starting to work in the new year. This ritual is called weda ellima. Next people perform transactions among family members and other respected parties and even with the well to thank for the clear water it had provided you during the last year. Anointing oil (Hisa thel gaama) Here a series of oils are anointed on peoples' heads young and old to bless with health and healing.

All these rituals are performed during an auspicious time. Meaning the entire country cooks, eats and engages in work at the sometime. The Tamils also celebrate the New Year that commonly known as 'Puththandu'. Their new year also has traditions and rituals practised over the years which are slightly different to those of the Sinhalese.

Sinhala and Tamil New Year Sweets

Konda Kewum- Made with coconut trickle and rice Konda Keum is a deep-fried fluffy cake. Kokis A deep-fried, crispy sweet made from rice flour and coconut milk Asmi A crunchy traditional sweet topped with a traditional caramel syrup Mon kewum -A diamond-shaped sweet that comes with a crunchy crust with a sweet paste of sweetened green grams inside.

Avurudu Music and games Sinhala and Tamil new year is a season it's all about family-focused celebrations. During this season people work in cities return to their hometown or village and celebrates the new year with their extended family. Fun games and activities also play an important part in new year celebrations.

Playing the Rabana Rabana is a large drum people sit around and play during happy occasions. This is mainly played by elderly females and sometimes involves dancing as well.

Traditional board games Olinda Keliya and Pancha Demima are two board games mostly Sri Lankan ladies play during this season which involve two or more players. All the items used in such games are natural. For example, boards of the games are made of wood and use plant seeds and seashells to play.

New year festival games During this season, the whole village gets together and organise events that include many traditional games to celebrate the season.

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Chairing OST Trustee Board

Naomi Booth :: Friday 25th March 2022 :: This Story

The Beginning

Maureen on her journeySo, where and how do I begin to describe my role as Chairperson of OST.  Perhaps as I am now almost at the end of my tenure of this post, it is best to go right back to the beginning. 

And for me that beginning is 2005 when Dilanee first set up Ocean Stars Trust in response to the devastation and destruction in Sri Lanka caused by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.  I was teaching in a local school at that time, and we were keen to get involved and support OST's work as well as was possible. Several years later, 2008, I was part of the first team of volunteers to go and work in OST preschools. It was that visit that truly cemented my passion for OST, its vision and the communities it seeks to support.  I've revisited on a further 5 occasions – each trip has been different, but always inspirational. I've grown to love the place and especially the people.

Maureen in Sri LankaBecoming a Trustee and Chair

In 2010 I became a trustee and began attending Trustee Board meetings.  I had no previous experience of formal management or governance meetings, so it took me time to find my place and gain some understanding of board protocol! And to be honest, I'm still learning ...

Then in 2016 due to a necessary reshuffling of board 'roles', I became Chair of OST. My knowledge of the role at that time was what I had observed from my predecessor (John). I soon realised what I'd seen was a small part of what the role really involves.

There are so many aspects to it. OST trustee board meetings take place at 2 monthly intervals so 6 meetings in a year.  These meetings form the most visible part of the role– collating reports and documents needed for the meeting, preparing agendas etc Then there is the actual running and management of the meetings themselves.  I initially found this really daunting.  It was only the advice and encouragement I received from Dan, another of our trustees, that enabled me to 'survive' those early days.  I do feel more confident these days but it's not an aspect of the role that I ever find easy and I'm very grateful to the OST team of trustees who are patient with me and give me great support.

TrusteesGetting to know the diversity of the work of Ocean Stars Trust

Apart from board meetings, there are a number of less visible parts to the role, and it is these aspects of the work that I particularly value and enjoy.  As Chair of the charity, I quickly realised I needed to be well informed about every aspect of the charity's work.  As an early years teacher myself, my passion is to see all children have that educational opportunity so I'm naturally drawn to involvement with OST's preschool and Child Development programmes. Then there's our cultural links work with schools and preschools, the sponsorship programme and community projects which I can also easily connect with. The world of finance and understanding budgets, business plans etc which are an essential and vital part of charity governance, has been more of a struggle for me.  It's given me headaches!!  However, I have had a lot of support and have learnt a great deal.

Moving On

In a couple of months' time, I will leave this role but to some extent I doubt its impact will ever leave me. Yes, there have been challenges but to be part of the OST team and to work with and learn from our teams both here in the UK and in Sri Lanka has been a privilege for me.

Bringing Young People Together: Ocean Stars Cultural Exchange Programme

Naomi Booth :: Friday 25th February 2022 :: This Story

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Visiting schools and preschools in Sri Lanka can be a life-changing experience. Post tsunami students were learning under trees, in temporary huts, in the mid-day sun and anywhere that learning could place. 18 years on it is 2022 and rural schools still do not have the resources that we take for granted in the UK. Yet the welcome and warmth they show towards anyone who cares to visit them can be very moving. Seeing how thirsty the young people in SL were for friendship and knowing that most of them will never get a chance to travel abroad, the concept of bringing young people together and taking UK to Sri Lanka was born.

Picture: /files/blog/448/w288/ost-1.jpgSecondary Schools

Ocean Stars Trust in its mission statement is committed to, identifying, and overcoming the barriers to equal opportunity for children in Sri Lanka through education and social enrichment, supporting their families and communities, sharing friendship hope and joy.

Through our cultural exchanges programme, we seek to develop links with secondary schools in the UK with secondary schools in Sri Lanka. We focus our programme with communities in the East and Northern Sri Lanka, areas where young Sri Lankan students would never get the opportunity to meet students from other countries.

Secondary School trip to Sri LankaOur first Cultural exchange began in 2013 when we took a group of 15 students and 3 teachers from Calthorpe Park School, Fleet to visit their link schools in Eastern Sri Lanka. Trips took place for 6 consecutive years till the 2019 Easter Sunday Bombings and Covid-19 temporarily suspended our programme. Plans are being made for the Cultural exchanges programme to restart in 2023. Over 125 students from Calthorpe Park school have visited SL and lives have been enriched changed for both sets of students. Avonbourne School in Bournemouth took a group of students out in 2018 and in 2023 the Royal Hospital School in Ipswich are planning to take a group of students out to SL.


 Ocean Stars Trust also promotes cultural links between preschools schools in the UK and preschools in Sri Lanka. OST runs 30 preschools in SL and several of these preschools are linked with preschools and primary schools in the UK. Heatherside Infant School in Fleet has been linked with Ampilanthurai preschool for 15 years. The children in the UK have raised money for a new playground, for uniforms for the school children and regularly exchange drawings from the children. Crookham Junior School raised money for a tap for Pattipalai preschool. The UK students learn that not all children have access to drinking water and play areas and the Sri Lankan students' lives are transformed by these links. School resources are often sent out to Sri Lanka and many students in SL have had hours of fun playing with parachutes.

Picture: /files/blog/448/w288/ost-4.jpgIMPACT

When it is time to leave the tears from both sides tell their own story. For the Sri Lankan students, they have experienced a different style of learning which is more interactive using resources they would normally not have access to. They form unforgettable friendships which the students will always treasure. The UK teachers get to know the SL students and colleagues as they visit each year and share their stories. The smiles and joy on the SL student's faces provides a warm welcome wherever they go. The SL students value everything that is given to them. UK students begin to feel how lucky they are when they see students who don't have shoes for school or are wearing shoes that are falling apart." They have so little but give us so much" is a constant reflection from students who go on our cultural links programmes. 

Schools together on exchangeThe Headteachers of the schools in Sri Lanka talk about how the cultural exchange improves the mental health and wellbeing of Sri Lankan students. Having a boost of feel-good interactions for a week leaves the SL students motivated and eager to continue with their own learning. UK Headteachers also comment on how the students develop their leadership skills and awareness of being global citizens.

For more details of our cultural links programmes or if you would like to from a link with a school in SL, please visit our website:

Child development programme - Teacher Training

Naomi Booth :: Friday 11th February 2022 :: This Story

Building Confidence and developing skills

Picture: /files/blog/447/w288/line.jpgSince 2005, OST has been working in some of the poorest parts of Sri Lanka developing livelihood and education programmes which aim to bring hope for a better future to the many living in poverty.  The work in preschools and the development of educational opportunity for all children is central to its work.

At the heart of all preschool planning is the aim of providing a quality of education programme and a crucial dimension of this is an emphasis on regular, engaging, and supportive teacher training. Training of teachers is a priority. OST currently supports 28 preschools attended by 819 children and employs 58 teachers.

Teacher trainingTeacher Training

Since 2008 when OST began taking teams of volunteers to visit and work in its schools, annual teacher training sessions have been delivered.  I was privileged to be part of the very first training day and the memories will always stay with me. I will never forget the air of excitement in the room and the commitment of the teachers to learning and to working with us.  And as an early years teacher myself, I was challenged and moved by just how much I had to learn from their experiences of working in classrooms devoid of the furniture and resources I so took for granted.

Whilst the content of the training delivered on these occasions has developed over the years, the format of the day has remained much the same.  Basically, it follows a thematic approach.  The teachers are presented with a story, or a topic and 4 or 5 related learning activities are shared with them.  These activities seek to encourage and support growth in important areas of child development.

Child Development Programme

Over the years as OST has developed its own Child Development Programme, Teacher Training sessions have become more targeted.  An Assessment Tool which aims to track a child's progress and monitor the development of essential skills has been introduced.  Consequently, our training sessions now seek to support teachers in creating suitable learning opportunities for their children in these key areas and so aid the development of these skills. 

The introduction of the Assessment Tool has also meant training teachers to use tablets and specifically 'Kobo' tool to record data and track development.  Regular training sessions now take place. Apart from the recording and storage of data, the tablets also provide better communication channels with preschool teachers which enables OST to bring further support and help when it is necessary.

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So over time, the teacher training programme has expanded and developed as OST continues to build a quality education programme in its preschools. Importantly, in recent years, this development has been helped and enabled by funding received from Fonthill Foundation. It is their support that has enabled the purchase of tablets for each of our preschools, the follow-up training and, for the past 3 years, the running of a 3-day teacher training event in Batticaloa. These residential events have been a great success giving teachers an opportunity to come together from across the island, to practise existing skills, learn new ones and support each other. OST is extremely grateful to Fonthill Foundation for its ongoing commitment and support. A crucial dimension of our emphasis on building a quality education programme for all our preschools is regular, innovative, and engaging teacher training.

Building Businesses: Hope House Projects

Naomi Booth :: Sunday 30th January 2022 :: This Story

The Beginning

In 2015 Ocean Stars was contacted by a TV company who were making a programme about business entrepreneurs and were looking for charities to benefit from the project.

As Jess Butcher MBE explains:

Jess Butcher MBE In November 2015 I was privileged enough to be invited on one of the biggest and most eye-opening adventures of my life. I was selected to get involved in the filming of an episode for the National Geographic documentary series, 'Undercover Angel' - a format designed to drop successful business entrepreneurs into underprivileged areas around the globe in the hope that they could use their business experience and means to initiate and set-up sustainable projects to help support and develop struggling communities.

Hope House in 2015

As part of the project, Jess sourced an unused community building and funded its transformation through refurbishing the building and equipping it with sewing machines and computers – establishing Hope House. A space for local women to come and learn new skills and to grow in confidence to set up their own businesses and earn a living. All this was done in 4 days and now 7 years later Hope House is the hub of the community in the village of Ampilanthurai.

Hope House in 2022

Over 200 ladies in the local community have learnt to sew and use sewing machines. Some women have gone on to set up their own sewing businesses. Others have managed to get jobs in a large garment factory which opened up nearby. As well as sewing classes local people have been able to follow computer classes and learn skills needed for the workplace.

Hope House 2

Following the success of Hope House 1, Hope House 2 was set up in 2018 in the village of Karaveddy. Women enrol for 6-month classes at a local community centre and then go on to set up their own sewing business, making their own clothes and getting employment at the local garment factory.

Hope House Stories

Manchula, the Sewing teacher in Ampilanthurai Hope houseHi, I am Manchula, and I work as the Sewing teacher in Ampilanthurai Hope house. I started my career because of family illness, and we did not have money to buy clothes. I decided to learn to sew clothes for myself and my family. I walked 5 kilometres to follow a sewing class for six months. After that with sponsorship from the children's fund, I did a twelve-day training course at the Ampilanthurai Rural Development Association Building where I learnt how to sew in a variety of new designs. After that, I joined as a sewing teacher in Ampilanthurai Hope House in 2020. I get 10,000LKR in every month. This income is very useful to my family and my children's education.  Many thanks to Ampilanthurai Hope House and Ocean stars Lanka AND Jess Butcher for giving me hope and an income to support my family. I love my job.

Picture: /files/blog/446/w288/img-1105%20%281%29.jpgWe followed a six-month sewing course in 2018 at Hope House 1. The skills we learnt helped us with applying for jobs at the local Brandix garment factory. We would never have got these jobs and been able to earn a good wage if we did not attend the Hope House sewing courses. Our future is now secure, and we bring money home for our children. We work 10-hour shifts, but we all work together and travel by bus together, so we are very happy. Thank you very much Ocean Stars Lanka, UK, and Hope House for changing our lives.

following six-month sewing course in Ampilanthurai hope houseHi, I am Sharmila. I live in Ampilanthurai. I am currently following six-month sewing course in Ampilanthurai hope house. At first, I was not really interested in sewing but my mother forced me to do this course as she thought I would enjoy it. Now having followed the course for four months I really understand the value of this course and learning a new skill, and I have developed a passion for sewing. This is a good way for me to earn money and for me to do my own business. Our sewing teacher is very helpful to me, she teaches me very patiently. In the future, I would like to open a small sewing shop in our area with my friends.

Kilmiya's Story

Naomi Booth :: Friday 14th January 2022 :: This Story

Ocean Stars Trust sponsors over 150 children in Sri Lanka. The scheme was first set up in 2005 so the children who started with us in 2005 are now young adults. Some of them have gone straight into employment and other are studying at university. This is Kilmiya's story.


I'm Abdul Majeed Kilmiya Banu from Karumalaiyootru, Vellaimanal, China bay, Trincomalee. My father's name is M.H. Abdul Majeed and my mother's name is H.M. Sithy Nahuma and I have two elder sisters. I was born on 1998. June. 07. I started my studies at age of six at the nursery in my village. When I was in grade one Tsunami came and it attacked my village. Our house and economy were destroyed by Tsunami. At that time some organizations organized temporary residence for us. On 2005 Ocean stars team came to our village. They saw us and gave some gift for us. Like toys, food and they played games with us.  They were collecting our details and data. And they decided to give sponsorship for students who struggled to study.


My father is a fisherman. We had no income as it was war time, and he was not allowed to fish. At that time, I was also selected for sponsorship which given by Ocean Stars team. I was studying at T/AL/Azhar Muslim Maha Vidyalaya at my village from 2005 – 2017 approximately 13 years Mrs. Shona Holroyd sponsored me for my studies. It was helpful to my studies. I attempted ordinary level (O-level) examination on 2014 December and I passed with 6A,2B, C. I chose science field for my advance level studies. I studied at T/Kin/Kinniya girl's college from 2015-2017 in science field I was sitting for advance level examination on 2017 and I passed it with A,2S result.


Then I applied and was selected for my higher studies in biological science field. I am the first girl from my village to go to university. I was accepted by the Faculty of Science at the University of Jaffna. I informed this news to Dilanee madam who is a founder of Ocean Stars team. They gave me some gifts and Ocean Stars team arranged a function for me and encouraged me for my higher studies. Now I am studying at University of Jaffna, now also Ocean Stars team sponsored me for my studies. At my second year in University I was selected for honor degree in zoology subject. On 2019 coronavirus attacked our country all the educations were stopped, and in person lectures and practical were changed to online lectures and practical's via zoom. But I didn't have a proper smart phone or a laptop for attend the online lectures. I was faced many struggles to attend my online lectures and I missed many classes via online. At that time Dilanee madam arranged a zoom meeting with me, and I was explained my situation to Dilanee madam, then madam said that she will talk with the trustees and team. After that she helped me. Then one day Dilanee madam called me, and she said that Ocean stars team decided to give me a laptop and I was very happy after heard that, then arranged to buy a laptop and gave me a brand-new laptop, I am very thankful to Dilanee madam and Ocean stars team. The laptop which was given by Ocean stars team is very helpful to me nowadays in many ways. Ocean stars team help me from 2005 to until now. Now I am studying 3rd year and this is my story. Thank you so much Ocean stars team.

Christmas in Sri Lanka Food and Festivities

Naomi Booth :: Friday 17th December 2021 :: This Story

As we enter the holiday season we thought we'd share some experiences of a Sri Lankan Christmas with you all for our last blog of 2021.

Christmas in Sri Lanka

Christmas in Sri Lanka is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Although 7% of the population are Christian, Christmas is seen as a time of love, friendship and sharing of food for families of all faiths.

Christmas Traditions

Picture: /files/blog/442/w288/christmas-in-sri-lanka.pngChristmas traditions across SL are very much influenced by our colonial past. Portuguese, Dutch, British and Sri Lankan customs intermingle to make a very special time of celebrations.

When I was growing up in Colombo, the preparations usually began in November when my mother used to make the Christmas cake and pudding. The SL Christmas Cake includes ingredients like mixed peel, brandy, spices, rose water and cashew nuts. The Christmas cake is cut into pieces and each piece of cake is wrapped individually so the whole cake making is a process with family coming together.

Christmas is also celebrated in non-Christian households with decorations and trees. The 25th of December is a public holiday and at midnight on the 24th of December the churches are cathedrals are filled to the brim with congregations frequently outside the church celebrating Midnight Mass.

In Sinhalese Christmas is called Naththala and in Tamil Christmas is called Nathar Pandikai.

Christmas for our OSL Team in Batticaloa

I was curious to know what our OSL team get up to over the Christmas period, so I asked Shalini, Chitra and Dilukshi from OSL about what they typically do for Christmas.

Does your family have any Christmas traditions?

Shalini: My family and I go to Midnight Mass and then visit my extended family. We also go to seven churches throughout the day and say prayers.

Chitra: We go to Morning Mass and then all of my family visits my house, where I have a big Christmas tree and decorations.

Dilukshi: We go to Midnight Mass and then on Christmas Day we always wear new clothes and have prayers for our family and friends. We visit relatives, sing and dance at night and play games. In the lead up to Christmas, Santa visits all the children in my village and gives them chocolate.

What do you typically eat for Christmas dinner?

All: We typically have meat biryani (beef or chicken) with curries and Christmas cake, murukku and other sweets.

Does your family buy each other presents at Christmas?

Shalini: In my family, we give each other Christmas dresses.

Chitra: I have six grandchildren, so we give them the t-shirts, hair accessories.

Dilukshi: Yes, we give dresses or a purse.


Happy Christmas and New Year from Ocean Stars

On behalf of Oceans Stars Trust and Ocean Stars Lanka, I'd like to wish you all a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year holidays.

Although the last two years have been tough, with no doubt more COVID-19 challenges ahead, we are pleased to report that Ocean Stars is in a strong position to continue and grow our work in Sri Lanka.

This would not be possible without your valuable support.

We really thank all of our supporters for your continued support towards our mission of providing children with access to quality early years education provision in Sri Lanka.

The Ocean Stars family is at an exciting stage of development and we look forward to sharing more content about our work with you in 2022.

Origins to Now: The Mahadeva Story

Naomi Booth :: Friday 26th November 2021 :: This Story

In my last blog I wrote about the importance of being educated. This week I am going to talk about a project that has educated me about the core values of humanity through the Mahadeva story and its founder Mr Rasanayagam.

The Beginning

In 2011 Ocean Stars received a request for funding to buy clothes for children at a children's home in Kilinochchi, northern Sri Lanka. This is where the story begins. In 2012 some of our volunteers visited the children's home for the first time and they spoke about the unique atmosphere they had encountered and the inspirational Founder of the home Mr Rasanayagam who set up the home, Mahadeva Achchirama Children Home in 1996. It had to be closed down soon after due to the ethnic conflict. The Home opened again in 2010.

Picture: /files/blog/440/w288/img-0269.jpgThe Founder Mr Rasanayagam

Mr Rasanayagam had worked as a Government Agent during the war and had seen first-hand the suffering of the children and the trauma of families being separated and living in displaced camps. Through his contacts, he obtained a plot of land and started his dream of offering a secure, safe home for the displaced children of the war.

I first met Mr Rasanayagam in 2013. He was a quiet, soft-spoken, gentle person dressed in the traditional white Sri Lanka Tamil Verdi and a white shirt. He radiated love and compassion and was deeply respected by those around him. He was and continues to be my Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi. In creating Mahadeva children's home he had created a piece of heaven on earth.


Picture: /files/blog/440/w288/img-0245.jpgMahadeva Achchirama Children Home

There were over 400 children when I first visited the home which had four compounds on different sites. At the main compound was the girls home for children from baby to 13 years of age. On another, there were the older girls aged 13-18. On another site was the boys' home for boys aged 2-18. The overwhelming atmosphere in each of these homes was one of love, agape. The children having lived through war were given a space to heal, to have someone listen to their stories and be offered genuine and unconditional love.

I visited Mahadeva children's home with my 80-year-old mother in 2013. Mr Rasanayagam, my mum, and I visited the younger girls home. The children all ran out to meet us and immediately wanted us to come and see their dorms. They wanted to show us their bed and the little locker in which they kept all their life possessions. We sat on the beds and the children were chatting to my mum and me in Tamil - a language that neither of us spoke as we are of Sinhalese origin. The universal power of love was the language that linked us together. I watched as the children looked out for each other, combed each other's beautiful long black hair, chatted together and were asking us questions. A baby had arrived at this home a week before. Her mother has been unable to look after her and she had been abandoned at the local temple. But here was this baby loved more than I thought was possible, she was surrounded by sisters and mothers and would be saturated with love that her own mother was unable to provide for her. We were in a dorm with over 100 children. Mr Rasanayagam asked the children to sing us a song. Suddenly the space was filled with the voices of children singing and clapping. The volume and passion of the singing was uplifting, and I found myself drifting in my head to a spiritual and heavenly place.


Picture: /files/blog/440/w288/dsc-4227.jpgOcean Stars and Mahadeva

Over the years through Ocean Stars, we have taken several volunteers to Mahadeva, and they all come away richer in their hearts for what they find and experience there. The home aims to be self-sustaining and they grow their own crops and have their own farm. The kitchen is a hub where meals are cooked for everyone at Mahadeva. The staff are always smiling and welcoming.

Now in 2021 Ocean Stars continues to work closely with Mahadeva. The pandemic has meant that we have not been able to visit but our support continues. Over the years Ocean Stars has provided the preschool linked with Mahadeva a new playground, a kitchen, a study room, as well as providing resources for the preschools. Ocean Stars also provides a monthly donation towards the expenses of the children at Mahadeva.

I feel very humbled that through Ocean Stars I came to know, Mr Rasanayagam, the children, and the staff of Mahadeva. Though I feel sad that we have not been able to visit them in person our work with them continues and they continue to very much at the heart of Ocean Stars empowering children through education.

Mr Rasanayagam passed away on 2nd of November 2018. The foundations that he put down mean that his legacy lives on. There is a management committee that manages the home on a day-to-day basis. Ocean Stars continues to work with Mr Rasanayagam's son Sasi, who is also a member of the management board. 


Picture: /files/blog/440/w288/img-1358.jpgThe Future

Moving forwards the home plans to have a care plan for each child when they leave Mahadeva at the age of 18 years. They want to prepare the children to use their time at Mahadeva to learn life skills that will help them live independently as global citizens. Along with Ocean Stars, the mission of Mahadeva is to empower the children in their care through education and a well-balanced holistic life to become global ambassadors.

Dilanee Bunter



Monitoring Preschool Learning Outcomes in an Innovative Way

Naomi Booth :: Friday 12th November 2021 :: This Story

The Ocean Stars Trust (OST) Child Development Programme is a combination of an assessment tool, teacher training and resourcing.  It aims to deliver a quality of education programme and help preschool teachers monitor the knowledge and skills development of children in a systematic way.

In 2018, I had the great pleasure of working in Sri Lanka for Ocean Stars Trust for a three-month period. The focus of my work was building monitoring and evaluation capacity among OST's in-country organisation, Ocean Stars Lanka (OSL).

This blog outlines the development of an innovative, knowledge-based programme to support quality early years education provision which was developed by OST in the last few years.

Problem Definition

One of the specific tasks during my working period in Sri Lanka was to survey OST preschool teachers and understand their current methods and systems for measuring child development. What we found was a great disparity between preschools and no coherent, systematic approach.

Focusing on quality education provision has been central to OST's mission in recent years. OST was also aware of a World Bank Report (2014) which highlighted low-levels of parental engagement in the child development process in Sri Lanka.

In light of the findings from preschool teachers and the World Bank, OST decided to launch a Child Development Programme (CDP), with a focus on providing preschool teachers with an easy-to-use tool to monitor child development outcomes. The programme also included teacher training provision and additional resourcing of schools to support the programme implementation.  

Devising the Assessment Tool

The CDP assessment tool was devised by UK-based early years education experts. To date, the tool focuses on three prime development areas:

  • Personal, social and emotional development
  • Physical development
  • Creative development

Under each development area are specified activities and learning goals in which teachers assess children. Examples of activities for each development area are found in the table below.

Development Area


Personal, social and emotional development

Watches other children play – Shows interest and observes other children playing

Physical development

Can show some control of large movements – can balance on one foot when shown. Can sit still, stand still, run, jump.

Creative development

Responds to a variety of sensory experiences – Begins to join in with familiar action songs, rhymes or ring games. Begins to move in response to music.


To ensure easy implementation, teachers are asked to answer 'Yes' or 'No' when assessing whether a child can complete an activity at a specified time. The tool is translated into Tamil to support teacher understanding and implementation.

CDP Implementation

It was decided that the CDP should be implemented at three separate times across the preschool year: Baseline (Jan-Feb), Midline (June-July) and Endline (Nov-Dec). This ensures that the preschool children's development can be tracked at regular intervals throughout the year and takes into account that each child's developmental pathway is unique.

Additionally, to address issues to do with parental engagement in child development, parent meetings were also to be held during each assessment period, so parents were aware of the tool and the importance of their own role in early years development.

Picture: /files/blog/439/w288/img-3337.jpg
Parents interviews during the Assessment tool

CDP Philosophy

OST has a clear philosophy when it comes to the CDP. We regularly inform and remind teachers that the CDP tool is not an assessment of teachers but rather a tool to guide their teaching in the classroom, support with tracking progress and help identify learning needs.

This message is key to achieve buy-in to the CDP process so that teachers feel at ease and support the implementation of the tool.

Pilot Programme 2019

Before enrolling the programme to all OST preschools, it was decided best to pilot the programme in 3 preschools. This was successfully conducted in the 2019 school year with very positive feedback from the participating preschools.

The advantage of having a pilot year was that it has enabled a community of practice where we encouraged pilot teachers to act as lead teachers for the 2020 enrolment. Lead teachers then led CDP training sessions to other teachers and were a contact point for teachers who had questions about the tool or CDP implementation.

Tablet-based Implementation

Tablet Training for our Ocean Stars teachers in Sri LankaTo remove the need for paperwork and make data management much easier, the CDP tool has been programmed in Kobo Toolbox software. Thanks to funding from Fonthill Foundation, all OST preschools were equipped with a tablet and receive regular tablet training sessions to ensure they are familiar with conducting the assessment.

The advantage of tablet implementation has enabled OSL to manage the programme remotely and also make it easier to track data collection progress and troubleshooting


Teachers attended training on Assessment Tool recentlyCDP in 2021

We are currently in our second year of all OST preschools using the CDP tool. While there are always some issues with implementation, and in the last two years added challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are extremely pleased with what we have achieved so far.

 Achievements include:

  • Development data recorded for over 1,000 preschool children.
  • Regular parent-teacher communication about child development.
  • Over 300 children provided with certificates in 2020 to take into primary school charting their development progress in preschool.


Next Steps

Following the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we expect 2022 to be a consolidation year for the CDP. With preschools closed for most of this year, it will be great to have a smooth run and see children attending preschool regularly and teachers conduct the assessments in a more conventional manner.

In the future, we very much hope to engage further with early years education stakeholders in Sri Lanka and discuss possibilities for more preschools outside the OST family, to gain access and training in the CDP.

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Our students were assessed at home during Covid -19. Our home learning programme incorporated early learning goals, and this helped our teachers with assessing the students.

Our Thanks

We must say a sincere thanks to Fonthill Foundation who have supported the CDP from its inception in 2019. We are very excited about the future and how the CDP can contribute to quality early years education provision in Sri Lanka.

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Teachers working together on their experiences of the Assessment Tool and sharing ideas.

Written by Dan Bunter on behalf of the OST CDP Team 

The Importance of being educated

Naomi Booth :: Friday 29th October 2021 :: This Story

Early Years

As a child growing up in Colombo, Sri Lanka (SL) my first experience of being educated was at a private girl's school set up by British missionaries during colonial times. Sri Lanka is a multi-faith country and the girls in my class were Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

This was an education. I learnt about all the different religions from a very young age. As well as religion being part of my early education, I also had in my class girls who were Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burghers who are descended from our colonial past of Dutch, Portuguese and British rule.

As I was growing up a message that was fed to me by my parents, family and teachers was "You must get a good education. Study hard and the world will be open to you."

I was also very much aware that my life was a relatively privileged one and I always observed school children going to poorer schools in Colombo where they would have to go either in the morning or afternoon as there were no facilities for them to be educated full time. Some of these children did not have school shoes. Some went to school in flip flops.

I was socially aware of the injustices when it came to accessing education from a fairly young age and a seed was planted in my head about somehow wanting to make a difference.

Moving Abroad

As SL entered a period of unrest and civil war in the 1970's my parents made the decision to emigrate so that their children could access an education that was not disrupted by curfews and constant closures due to political unrest. And so, the message from my family and teachers changed "You are going to England? You must study hard and do well. Education in England will give you lots of opportunities."

Education is part of my being, and I went on to become a teacher continued to be educated by my students as well being an educator to many children.

OST Origins

When the Tsunami happened on Boxing Day in 2004 somehow the seed that had been planted in my brain as a child sprang into action and I was overwhelmed by a powerful feeling of wanting to do something to make a difference to the children and families whose lives had been devastated.

Thus began my journey of travelling to SL after the Tsunami, coming back to the UK and setting up "Ocean Stars Trust" and our mission is "empowering children through education."

Preschools were being presented to me as wanting support as there was no government provision for all island early years education in a fair and systemic way. We are now in our 17th year of operation. Thousands of young children have passed through our Ocean Stars Preschools and started their journey of life and education by having access to a rich and diverse early years curriculum.

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Equality of Opportunity

I feel passionately that a child whether growing up in a city or in rural remote village should have access to a fair and equal education. Nelson Mandela said that "Education is the route out of poverty."

I have spoken to many village parents who had to leave school aged 12-15, who did not do exams and did not have a chance of following their hopes and dreams. These parents want their children to get an education, to study hard and do well for themselves. My childhood message of "study hard" is being repeated by parents almost 50 years later.

So why this message of study hard?

Education through a system that provides access to quality learning opens doors for us to shine and develop our potential.  Walking around a secondary school in a remote village, children had graffitied on the walls in chalk "I love my school" "I love my teachers". School for them is a means to a better life and education is a pathway that is very much valued and invested in by the students in countries where education is seen as a way out of poverty.

Child Educational Sponsorship

Picture: /files/blog/437/w288/blog-4-photo-1.jpgAs well as running 26 preschools in SL, Ocean Stars also has a sponsorship scheme where we sponsor children from poor families so they can indeed have access to a fair playing field when it comes to exams and learning.

One of our sponsor children from way back in 2005, graduated this year as a doctor. This was a very proud moment for Ocean Stars seeing one of our own living their dream and doing their community proud.

Picture: /files/blog/437/w288/blog-4-photo-2.jpgAnother sponsor student studying bioscience at university was following online lectures on her small phone. She had 4-hour practicals which she was following with difficulty. Her life was transformed when Ocean Stars donated a laptop to her so that she can access her learning and studies and poverty was not going to get in her way.

Importance of Education

I have found in the last 17 years the value of education be it in the classroom, taking students and volunteers from the UK to Sri Lanka, meeting people from different walks of life, just being engaged with life is profound, liberating and enriching. Having benefitted from being educated in the West and being able to make a difference to children in Sri Lanka has been a dream come true and I feel privileged that education provided me with the tools to make this happen.



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