Sri Lanka


A large tropical island just twenty miles off the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka is home to 20 million people. Its palm-fringed beaches and breath-taking beauty belie the challenging history of Sri Lanka.

Numerous attempts at colonization culminated in the establishment of a British colony known as Ceylon until the mid-twentieth century. In 1972, decades after the country had achieved independence, the name Sri Lanka, meaning Resplendent Island, was adopted. In the 1980's, all-out civil war erupted between the Tamil in the north and east and the Sinhalese majority, which continued until 2009 and resulted in the deaths of more than 60,000 people.

This difficult history has translated into suffering for many Sri Lankans. Almost one third of the children under five years old are underweight according to the World Food Programme, and 22% of the population is malnourished without sustainable access to water.

Although loyalty and respect for others are central to the Sri Lankan value system, ethnic divisions in the country run deep and have caused social and political fissures over the years.

Population 21 million
Land area 65,600 Km2
National languages of instruction Sinhala, Tamil
Launch of operations 2005
Room to Read office Colombo
Regions where we work Anuradhapura, Monaragala, 
Badulla, Vavuniya, Nuwara, EliyaMatale, Colombo, Mannar, Puttalam, Trincomalee

Educational Landscape

Education is highly regarded in Sri Lanka and adult literacy rates are among the highest in Asia, thanks to a free and compulsory primary and secondary education system.

Those statistics only tell part of the story, however. A lack of quality infrastructure, unequal access, and a lack of quality materials have plagued the Sri Lankan education system for years—factors only exacerbated by civil conflict and the tsunami of 2004.

Even before the devastating tsunami, educational disparities have long existed in impoverished regions of the island, such as the estate populations of the central highlands. In those areas, it is not uncommon for girls to work long hours for low wages instead of attending school—resulting in a literacy gender gap.

Because 45% of Sri Lanka’s population lives on less than US$2 per day, purchasing quality reading material is essentially out of the question for most people. While libraries do exist in some schools, they are typically filled with old, dusty books that have little or no relevance for children, and do not foster imagination.

Programs & Results

In a bold move only days after the December 26, 2004 tsunami, Room to Read decided to expedite our expansion into Sri Lanka by one year. Founder John Wood appeared on CNN in the days following the tsunami pledging our support for those affected, and kicking off a US$200,000 fundraising campaign to rebuild schools in tsunami impacted and make longer-term infrastructure improvements.

Under the leadership of our local team, rebuilding efforts began in the Ampara District of Sri Lanka’s eastern coast, with the first school construction project taking place in the fishing village of Karaitivu.

After Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war came to a close in 2009, our team quickly responded by expanding our programs to the Mannar District in the Northern Peninsula—an area devastated by the conflict that is now focused on resettlement. Through a partnership with the Sri Lankan government, we are actively engaged in improving infrastructure in the region.

Since operations began in 2005, our Sri Lanka team has focused its efforts on constructing schools, establishing libraries and publishing children’s books to ensure all children have access to the materials they need to complete their education. We are also engaged in closing the gender gap in Sri Lanka, having launched our Girls’ Education program there in 2006. Our most recent programmatic endeavor was to launch our Reading and Writing Instruction program to improve the quality of literacy learning in schools.

Cumulative results
Libraries established 1,694
Book titles published 163
School construction projects 402
Girls' Education participants 4,248

Results updated annually


Key partners in Sri Lanka include: The Asia Foundation (TAF), Centre for the Study of Human Rights (CSHR), Janatharana Padanama (JTP), Lanka Sakthi, Plantation Rural Education and Development Organization (PREDO), Reachout, Rotary Club, Saviya Development Foundation (SDF), Social Education Language and Development Association (SELDA), Social Institute for Development of Plantation (SIDP), Social Network Development Organization (SOND), Society for Welfare, Educational and Awareness Training (SWEAT), Sri Lanka Educational, Cultural and Welfare Foundation (SECWF), Up-Country Social Action Committee (UPSAC)

Meet our local staff:
Chandra Ranawickrama, Country Director

With a background in rural sociology, Chandra joined Room to Read with more than 20 years of senior management experience in development. “I am a firm believer in Room to Read’s vision and have great passion for the importance of children’s literacy,” he says.

Seeing children using the facilities and resources Room to Read provides, along with watching them meet the challenges in their lives successfully, says Chandra, are the highlights of his position as country director. When he’s not working, Chandra enjoys reading scientific literature and exploring new types of cuisine

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