Minister Dilan Perera spearheads initiative with a pledge for continued support
Microsoft Sri Lanka in partnership with the Sri Lanka Anti Narcotics Association (SLANA) and the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) under the patronage of the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare Ministry announced a grant aimed at supporting the migrant worker community in Sri Lanka.
The occasion was graced by Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare, Hon. Dilan Perera MP and saw the renewal of the organizations’ pledge towards empowering migrant workers through ICT. The grant will see the opening up of Eighteen Centres in Ten Districts across the country to benefit thousands of migrant workers who plan to go overseas. The program also includes the training of master trainers who will in turn train the other instructors at the centers. One key highlight of the entire program is that the training will not be limited only to the migrant workers, but will also include one member of his or her family, who will be given the same training on how they can use ICT as a simple and faster tool for communication.
In 2009, Microsoft Sri Lanka partnered with SLANA and the Foreign Employment Bureau (SLBFE) in an effort to empower the migrant worker community via ICT with the launch of a multi-faceted training process inclusive of basic IT skill development, provision of information and mentoring to enhance the workers’ employability and economic security. Microsoft Sri Lanka provides both the funds (including the most recent grant renewal), and the necessary software and teaching material for this project which is carried out at the SLBFE training centers around the island while SLANA came on board as chief facilitator and trainers. The project launched with three centers dedicated towards this cause and has since expanded across the island, with the most recent center opening in Badulla earlier this month, empowering over 10,000 migrant workers in the region.
The migrant worker community in Sri Lanka is currently at 1.6 million individuals who generate the largest foreign income towards the Sri Lankan economy. With a majority of this group hailing from rural, impoverished backgrounds with minimal exposure to IT and scarce access to technology, literacy and the knowledge of English Language, SLANA identified a dire need for equipping them with these skills and the project, together with the Sri Lankan government’s mission of upgrading the quality of the migrant worker population in several different aspects will be providing the migrant workers with additional skills to be utilized during employment and upon re-integration; adding value and dignity via the provision of risk resiliency skills and referral needs and facilitating more efficient channels for communication to minimize dysfunctions within family units.
“While the migrant worker community brings in the largest share of foreign income towards the Sri Lankan economy at present, this initiative to provide them with an increased skill set is extremely beneficial towards increasing their employability. In addition, it’s extremely helpful in maintaining proper communications within their families. The results we’ve seen have been tremendous and I’m confident that this second grant from Microsoft and the renewed pledge will be enormously beneficial to the migrant worker community,” stated Hon. Dilan Perera, Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare.
One of the key elements of the IT component within these programmes is ensuring that migrant workers and their families have pre-established communication channels to ensure that no disruption to their families are caused by their long absences from the children’s day-to-day lives. In particular, SLANA believes that one of the leading problems among the families left behind which is the high risk of substance abuse by the spouse left behind can be combated by proper communication access.
“It has been our experience that the majority of the trainees participating at this five day course have had no experience whatsoever with computers since most of the migrant community workers come from extremely rural areas. This project doesn’t just add to their skill set but it deals with one of the biggest concerns we’ve dealt with over the years – poor communication options within families with spouses working overseas. One of the biggest problems we’ve identified is the imbalance and problems created within the family left behind when a parent goes abroad and we’ve seen great results since we implemented the IT component into these training programmes because these workers are able to use an internet café or some form of public resource for quick contact with their families. At SLANA, we address the prevention angle on a human resources development platform, and this program will be yet another milestone activity of ours for supporting the development process of Sri Lanka, by protecting its most valuable asset, our workers and their children,” said Dharshinie Guniyangoda, Director SLANA.
Microsoft Sri Lanka has been involved in many community service projects since their establishment in Sri Lanka seven years ago, including the donation of free software to all IT students around the island and NGOs, and the Gamata IT programme which carries IT to rural schools around the island. This partnership with SLANA and SLBFE provided yet another way for Microsoft to better the lives of Sri Lankan individuals, elaborated Sriyan de Silva Wijeyaratne, Country Manager - Microsoft Sri Lanka. “One of the key goals that Microsoft works towards is using IT to improve lives in as many ways possible and this project is yet another opportunity for us to help the Sri Lankan community. By renewing our grant towards sustaining this project we want to make sure that we impact additional migrant workers and their families in the future and help this project grow in the next couple of years. IT is fast becoming not just an additional skill set but a expected requirement in many parts of the world and we simply want to make sure that the Sri Lankan workers traveling overseas have the necessary skills to compete in international markets,” he added.
The programme consists of a specially designed accelerated five-day programme focusing on basic computer literacy including an abridged of the Microsoft UP Curriculum, components of emailing and browsing the net, sending and receiving pictures and SMS messages through mobile phones, using the Sinhala and Tamil Language Packs (introduced by Microsoft Sri Lanka in 2009) to help develop communication skills in local languages and a general overview of excel to provide an introduction into money management. This programme is a component of the compulsory two week training programme conducted by the Foreign Employment Bureau for all migrant workers.
The IT component of the programme is also targeted towards the families of the migrant workers, with local nenasala branches enabling both basic IT training to these families and providing work spaces for practice, thereby ensuring that the project not only establishes communication channels for the migrant workers but also their families.
Photo caption: B. Rajasuriya and Kanthi Walpola speak with their son Tharaka Priyankara Rajasuriya (inset – top left corner), employed in Korea, via Skype whilst Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare, Dilan Perera MP, along with Tracey Fellows - President Asia Pacific Region and Sriyan de Silva Wijeyeratne - Country Manager, Microsoft Sri Lanka and other Ministry and SLANA officials share in this emotional moment.