First Opportunity Education Center- Sri Lanka

March 2017

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The preschool and early elementary shelves are almost completely full.  The Center is open on Saturday and Sunday currently.  Computers are being brought in July and we expect to increase our hours going into the summer study months.

We are in need of more high quality textbooks, piano, clarinet, guitar music books, current APA writing manuals, and University abroad study materials like SAT subject study guides.


December 2016

So many books and games on this trip, the shelves are filling!  We enjoyed family pizza and game night where the kids enjoyed playing Jenga for their first time.

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September 2016

The Education Center is ready for books!  Custom shelving was completed this month and volunteers are beginning to sort and organize the books we are receiving.

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Wish List:

  • Books!
    • College and High School level text books (Physics, Math, Chemistry, Biology, Earth Sciences, Environmental Sciences, Cultural Sciences, English Writing & Grammar, Computer Technologies and Software Development)
    • Classics (The Odyssey, Gulliver’s Travels, Don Quixote, Lord of the Rings, Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, A Brief History of Time, The Art of Happiness, Origin of Species, The Double Helix)
  • Games
    •  Checkers, Chess, Scrabble, Trouble, Jenga, Bingo, Sorry
  • Ipads and Laptops
  • Kindle, E-readers
  • $1,500 for outdoor furniture and garden


Amazon Wish List



May 2016

The construction is complete!!! We have just a few finishing touches before we can begin getting it ready for our grand opening in December 2016!   COLOR volunteers have already brought in 500 pounds of books and educational materials, with more book deliveries scheduled for September and early December.  Custom book shelves will be made this summer, while books and games remain safely stored to maintain their condition till opening.  Air conditioning is a must in the facility, not just because it’s hot, but because it is the only way to take the humidity out of the air, helping to keep our book and computers in good condition.


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September 2015

Construction is nearly complete on the building for the First Opportunity Education Center and it’s coming along beautifully!   We are currently working on plans for the garden area. There will be interior and exterior areas for the children to read books, use computers, and play games. C.O.L.O.R. is collecting: books (see wish list), e-readers, tablets, and laptops.

Problem:  Sri Lanka is one of the most literate countries however their language of Sinhala is only spoken on the island leaving them with a constant economic disadvantage. Many of the older generations from the colonial period have very strong English skills; the younger generation however has lived through 26 years of civil war that hampered the countries progress and their educations. Schools are free but subpar, to continue on within the free schools you must pass exams.  In order to pass exams you must be able to afford private after school tutors at a large expense.  We have found that even the children who can afford private subject tutors in English might be able to read and write in English, but they are unable to speak in English because they lack English speakers to converse with.  Many libraries exist within schools, but they are dusty and archaic and unable to draw in the curiosity of the youth. 

C.O.L.O.R.’s Solution:  Build a new modern facility that will give access to information, technology, English language materials, English first language speakers, and highly qualified tutors. 

Our current fundraising goal is $15,000 for computers, furnishings, books, games, and subscription costs to educational websites/apps.

FOEC Blueprint edited

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Books: High Quality Educational Reference Books, Easy Readers, Toddler Board Books. Hardcover preferred from publishers like Usborne and DK.


January 2015

C.O.L.O.R. is currently working on plans for a new children’s education center in Sri Lanka that will feature a children’s library, computer lab, and classroom. The construction costs will be around $30,000.  We have seen how much access to education positively affects a community and its youngest members.

More than that this project is about karma and completing a circle that was started ten years ago.  The inspiration for this project is our recently passed friend, Jayalath.  We first met Jayalath when we were in Sri Lanka following the 2004 tsunami.  He was a rare survivor (see his story below) of the train in Hikkaduwa. Jayalath worked night and day for C.O.L.O.R. driving, translating, and bargaining for local prices on goods and helping us to build our first community center (preschool, library, computer lab); often refusing pay stating it was karma having survived the disaster. He went on to help us for the next 9 years! He was one of our helpers that just made things happen and always took exceptional care of us and our children. In June, he died suddenly of a stroke leaving behind his wife and two teenage daughters.

It seems right that 10 years after the tsunami that brought us together, we break ground on a new community center in his honor.

Jayalath 2011 (2)


 Jennifer Longheyer’s memorial to Jayalath, June 18, 2014

We lost a good friend and chosen family member, Jayalath Palliyaguruge has been part of our family for almost 10 years. He protected us in a disaster area and civil warzone, cared for us at all times there and afar, and shared what was most precious to him- his family. We are forever indebted to him for making our lives truly rich. I don’t know how we will get on with out his light leading the way …. so much energy! It is painful to not be there now ….

Here is a story I wrote about Jayalath in early 2005 after our first return from the tsunami clean up. Jayalath was one of the few survivors from the train that was hit by the tsunami is Sri Lanka. He was a lucky and amazing man.

April 2005:

Jayalath is a man on a mission to help rebuild life in Sri Lanka while struggling to recover personally from the tragedy of the tsunami. He is a good example of just how destructive the tsunami really was to the lives and livelihood of the people in S. Asia. The tsunami brought with it inconceivable human and economic devastation. His tourism business now devastated, he find himself translating, shuttling volunteers, and contracting local labor. Jayalath works tirelessly to help his people he explains, “because I survived.”
Riding the crowded morning train into Colombo was out of the ordinary for Jayalath, but sometimes his business required it. It was in Hikkaduwa that the train came to an abrupt halt. He thought it was unusual, but before giving it a second thought, the first wave swept in, quickly filling the compartment with water, tipping the car sideways into a grove of coconut trees. Water continued to flood in leaving everyone in a confused panic. Before reaching fatal levels the water began to withdraw and people scrambled for the roof of the slanted train car. Jayalath began helping people; he said, it was amazing no one was hurt, “not even a scratch.” He soon found his way onto the roof with many others.
Once the confusion had calmed down and the water had receded, the conductor told passengers to remain on the train and another would be there shortly to continue the journey. While the size of the wave was alarming, they are not uncommon in this area during monsoon season. For the next 20 minutes people mulled about, somewhat amused by the curiosity, and unaware of the impending danger.
It wasn’t until he heard a disturbance that he looked up to see an enormous wave, “twice the height of a coconut tree,” barreling down on him, that he knew he was in serious trouble. Without another thought he was swept up in it, as was everything else around him. “All I could think of was my little daughters face,” Jayalath said repeatedly. He struggled to stay a float in the turbulent water. He somehow managed to grab hold of a coconut tree, “all my life I could not climb the coconut tree, and now I was on top.” It was from here, hang on for his life, thinking of his little daughter, that it seems he witnessed the most horrific and traumatizing events. He vividly described the train car, mostly full of women and children, as it rolled and tumbled over and over again relentlessly. He could see the people inside, he could see people in the water all around him struggling; there was a lot of screaming and commotion. It was at this point that a man with a young boy approached the tree, “Take my child, take my child” he shouted. Jayalath took the boy bracing him between the tree and himself. He was fighting to keep hold of the child and was relieved to see the father clinging to a near by tree. He wrapped his legs around the boy and the tree firmly securing them. His struggle intensified as the wave began to draw back; his world went black.
Two hours lapse, no memory of the time that has passed or how he has travelled, Jayalath awakes on the roof of a home to the sound of screams and cries. Below him are bodies, “bodies everywhere,” he said. Many survivors, like him, were still in the trees. He did not understand how he was still alive or what had happened. Everyone was hysterical; everything was destroyed, and surreal. After taking sometime to collect himself, he climbed down from the coconut tree; still in shock and disbelief, “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” his story hastily ends there. What he witnessed was inexpressible. He is one of the few survivors of the single most deadly incident in Sri Lanka; it is thought that well over a thousand people perished on the train. I had to ask, “what about the boy and the father?” He shrugs, “I don’t know.”
Jayalath returned home to find his wife and children safe. He feels so lucky to be alive, and to have his family. His tourism business is gone, but he dreams of one day opening a small grocery store. He explains, that he must leave a legacy for his daughters, “boys can always climb the coconut tree, and be ok, but girls are a big responsibility.” Some things are universal.