To School, on the “Ele Friendly” Bus
Living cheek by jowl with wild animals is often a tricky business. They invade your homes in search of food or block your path while they search for food and water.
For students living around the Wasgamuwa forests getting safely to school has always been dangerous. If an elephant or a herd is close to the path they take to school, they would have to return home and miss lessons that day. Often, parents would accompany them to school. It also means that in the process of chasing away the elephants, either man or beast would get hurt or killed.
Animals are not the only hazards, once the rainy season set in, students would often have to stay home.
But all that has changed with the Ele Friendly bus, which has been in operation for nearly five years. Operated by the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society as one of their community projects, the bus makes two runs. Leaving the SLWCS compound by 6.20 each school day morning, it picks up and drops students attending three schools in the vicinity. It does its second run around 1.30 p.m. to bring the children safely back home.
“It’s a blessing”, says one parent standing by the road, to see the kids safely off to school. “This way, we know they are safe, and it also helps us attend to our farm work. If not, an hour or two is spent accompanying them to school and back.”
Students aren’t the only ones to hitch a ride, which is free of charge; villagers hop on the bus to get to the closest stop where regular buses ply.
The day Counterpoint joined the school kids on the Ele Friendly bus, we met Lasantha Ratanayake a villager who used to walk to school during his time. He was off to his sister’s to work in her paddy field. “I would either have to walk or hop on a willing villager’s scooter to get to the nearest bus stop, but now we have this bus to get us part of the way”, he said.