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First Tangalle scholarship student settling in

Canadian winter's cool reality confronts Nirasha Jayawarna daily as he sets his sights on the horizon, a horizon not nearly as distant as his native Sri Lanka.

Jayawarna, 16, is the first Sri Lankan student to take advantage of a new scholarship program offered by the Kamloops-Tangalle Friendship Committee.

"I want to be an engineer and I want to teach English," he said, carefully summoning the words he has learned so far.

Accompanied by committee members, the Grade 10 student arrived three weeks ago to attend Sa-hali secondary, where he'll study alongside local and international exchange students for the next six months.

His introduction to snow came en route over the Coquihalla Highway, but he's a fast learner. He's already tried skiing, has made new friends, and enjoys basketball and volleyball at school.

"It's good for Sri Lanka and it's good for many other children, especially since English is the main subject in Sri Lanka," he said.

Five years after the devastating Asian tsunami struck the island nation, Sri Lanka has come a long way towards rebuilding, but specific job skills remain in short supply. With his strength in mathematics coupled with a command of English he plans to acquire, Jayawarna's skills will be in demand when he returns to Tangalle.

"What we've been told repeatedly is that they want teachers," said Terry Shupe, committee chairman. "He will go to the English school at Ketakalawatta or to help teach at the Daffodil School in Tangalle."

Ultimately, Jayawarna will probably attend university in the capital of Colombo to obtain his engineering degree. The scholarship, hotly contested in Tangalle, is a key building block. It didn't take long for word to get around to local families.

"Kamloops has a pretty high profile in Tangalle," said Lorene Anders, whose family is hosting Jayawarna during his Kamloops stay.

"He had no idea how far it is or how cold it is," Shupe added.

First formed as a disaster assistance group in 2005, the Kamloops-Tangalle Friendship Committee has since helped to rebuild the southern coastal town, providing volunteer labour to build housing and funds to purchase infrastructure. The scholarship fund remains a work in progress with the goal of hosting a new student every term, Shupe said.

"There are plenty who are interested but the question is, can we raise the money?"

Opportunity aside, it was a tearful day in the Jayawarna household when Nirasha said farewell.

"They had all the volunteers to the house and, with usual Sri Lankan hospitality, there were bouquets of flowers, food and welcome," Shupe said. "The whole family said goodbye."

And what does he miss most about home?

"My auntie and my uncle, my grandparents, my mother and father, and sisters," he said, running down a mental list translated into English. He's been able to maintain contact, however, thanks to a cellphone and Skyping, pleasing his worried mother.

"She was very happy to have contact with me in Canada."

? Copyright 2018 Kamloops Daily News