Students swap classroom for Sri Lankan jungle, stopping elephants from destroying crops
Posted on March 3rd, 2019

Five students from Alice Springs have swapped their classroom for the jungles of Sri Lanka, helping to keep elephants from crops and building a school for primary students.

St Philips College is one of 18 schools across Australia to get involved with Round Square — a global charity providing experiential learning and character education for students.

Since getting involved with the organisation in 1996, the college has taken more than 50 students to at least 10 countries.

Vocational education and training coordinator Kate Anderson took the students to Wasgamuwa National Park for three weeks to take part in the charity’s Big Build project.

Elephants grazing near farmland in Sri Lanka
PHOTO: Elephants grazing near farmland in Sri Lanka. (Supplied: Kate Anderson)

“The human elephant conflict is a huge problem over there,” she said.

“The booming population has meant that cities are bigger and parklands are smaller.

“The elephants need specific migratory patterns. If there is a house in the way or a paddock in the way they’ll still use that specific pathway.”

Ms Anderson was leading a conservation project to help farmers protect their rice paddies.

“We were digging holes to plant citrus trees with local farmers because the trees proved a barrier to elephant migratory patterns,” she said.

“When the trees grow up they deter the elephants from ruining the crops and damaging property. They also provide a source of income for the farmers being able to sell the oranges.”

Ms Anderson said elephants and humans were dying as a result of the conflict.

“On day three at one of our farms, the farmer pointed out the elephant footprints where an elephant had walked through his farm a week before — and they were the size of dinner plates,” she said.

“So yeah, that certainly puts into perspective the danger that they face every single day.”

Jessica Nowland, 17, helped build a classroom and a computer room for the community there.

“We also did some clearing so that the school could have a new cricket pitch. We did some little side projects like hopscotch and built a little playground for the school as well,” she said.

“It was a lot of hard work and because we didn’t have all that machinery we had to do a lot of passing bricks and rubble all by hand.

“Over the days you got to know all the people around you, so it became a lot easier.”

Jessica was initially overwhelmed by the differences between the arid outback of Alice Springs and Sri Lanka.

“I’ve never seen anything more green in my life. The trees. It’s quite indescribable to be surrounded by so much life,” she said.

“You would look in one spot and there’d be birds and flowers of all different colours. It was just absolutely beautiful. It was amazing for Alice Springs girls to see that sort of thing, a massive contrast.

“I’ve always wanted to do something with health and I feel like seeing all these different places on the other side of the world has really inspired me to travel with my profession and so I think that I will definitely be incorporating that into my future life.”

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