Asokapura Farm & Cotagala School

The Asokapura Farm and the Cotagala School are situated in Alpitiya off Mawanella in the Kegalle district.

Asokapura and later Cotagala were started to provide study and work opportunities for the more abled children and young adults.

The Asokapura Farm was started in 1972 and the Cotagala Special School complex was added later in 1981.

These centres host about 100 residents of both sexes. They are admitted through recommendations from the Social Services Department, the Prithipura Infants Home in Hendala, and the farm at Anandapura.

The managers and assistants help with all the residents’ daily needs as well as provide counselling and support.

Volunteers are always welcome at Asokapura and at Cotagala. Simple, yet adequate, accommodation is provided and contribution of ideas, in addition to the support of work we already do is encouraged.

The Cotagala School

The Cotagala School provides the GOSL (Govt. of Sri Lanka) Education Curriculum to about 70 children and young adults. The staff are trained in the application of the curriculum as required by the GOSL.

The range of the students is from 3 years to 14 years. They have a high complexity of need and are provided with residential care on-site.

School hours are in the morning from 8.30 to 1.00 and in the afternoon from 1.45 to 5.00. In addition to the academic studies the students are provided with studies in life skills.

Emphasis is given to agriculture studies and craft work, but the students also engage in a variety of other activities, such as music, dancing and cooking.

The focus is to emphasize the development of independent living skills and skill based training so that in the longer term, students will be able to assimilate into the wider community in a seamless transition.

The site has a vibrant cultural life. The children regularly demonstrate their musical abilities across Sri Lanka and they also take part in drama and exhibitions.

The school takes a keen interest in sports activities and children participate to various sports events both locally and nationally.

A broad summary of the organization’s 5 years business plan includes widening the scope of service delivery in the context of education and training.

The Handicrafts Workshop

In the afternoons the Cotagala School is a hub of activity, with those who have been trained producing high quality handicrafts.

There are activities for those of all skill levels, ranging from simple repetitive tasks to highly skilled handiwork.

Most of the workers now have their own bank accounts and many have already made their own decisions about what to buy with their wages.

Currently, at the workshop we are producing brightly coloured, plaited tablemats and floor mats, which are sold in Colombo. These are made by firstly sewing and joining pieces of material, then plaiting these lengths, and finally sewing the plaits together in the shape of a mat. These are very popular with customers, but are very time consuming to produce.

Some of the more skilled workers also embroider pillow cases and cushion covers. Our pillow cases are plain and use traditional embroidery methods, while the cushion covers are brighter and more fun, with animal motifs, including the ever-popular elephant.  We make an array of greetings cards, including cross stitched designs, which are our most popular. 

Finally, we also make small candles at the workshop, which are plain and white In the future we hope to develop our candle making activities to produce more striking designs.
The Handicraft Workshop is part of Prithipurability, which was set up in late 2003 to provide meaningful work and a wage to residents of the Homes. Prithipurability works with retailers in Colombo to showcase what our residents are capable of creating, focusing on ability rather than disability.

The Carpentry Workshop

Recently 12 young residents, who had demonstrated an interest in woodworking and carpentry, have been encouraged to make produce for use in situ at the homes.

In addition, these residents craft simple items which are then sold to the public.

These include towel racks, wooden trays, spoons, chopping boards, stools and benches.

Rubber Tapping

Rubber tapping provides both a source of income for Cotagala and Asokapura as well as real life skills for the more able children. 

Rubber tapping has been a primary rural occupation in Sri Lanka for over a century, and continues to be in demand as Sri Lanka's natural rubber production increases. 

It is a skilled occupation, involving careful craftsmanship as well as manual labour. 

At daybreak, the tappers walk through the plantation making very precise incisions in the rubber trees' bark. 

A small coconut cup is placed at the base of the cut to collect the milky latex liquid that oozes out. 

After a couple of hours the tapper returns and collects the latex in a bucket. 

He then takes the latex to the processing area. 

There it is mixed with a coagulant chemical - typically acid - and left to set in metal trays. 

Once the latex has set, it is lifted out of the tray like a thick foam mat and squeezed through progressively closer rollers, like a mangle, to remove the water.

Eventually the sheets are hung up to dry in a special smoking chamber. 

The sheets are collected after a few days smoking and are taken to market. 

As it is an internationally traded commodity, rubber prices are pretty volatile. 

The amount of rubber produced is also variable, depending on weather conditions, skilled manpower available to tap and all the usual other conditions that affect any branch of agriculture. 

As trees get older they need to be replaced, and young trees cannot be tapped.  Trees are susceptible to illness, fertilizer use and other such.  As a result, rubber is not a very predictable source of income. 

However, the children who learn to tap eventually graduate from Prithipura with an occupational skill that can provide an income to sustain them and their families. 

Furthermore, those graduates often tend to settle in the vicinity of Cotagala, and are keen to support as able-bodied adults the organization that gave them the critical opportunities as children. 

This keeps a fresh supply of young talent to teach the youngsters.