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Developing Skills For a Resilient and Career-Ready Youth

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“Before this programme, I was not confident in communicating in English. Today, I am able to provide my feedback on the programme in English, without the help of anyone after following this programme. I believe that this will help me to a great extent in the future. I would like to thank John Keells for going beyond business relationships and supporting their suppliers,” said Ms. Kumari Rajakaruna, a participant of the SKIP (Skill into Progress) programme – a customized, industry-based programme developed by John Keells Foundation to support the upskilling of identified supplier groups of the John Keells Group to address their skill gaps and thereby enhance quality of service and income opportunities in a post-pandemic environment. The initiative was first piloted among chauffeur guides of Walkers Tours and Whittall Boustead Travel while another customized programme was conducted for suppliers of Keells supermarkets. This programme will continue to upskill different supplier groups as means of supply chain management facilitation of the John Keells Group.

The SKIP programme is the latest link in a chain of skills development initiatives planned and implemented by John Keells Foundation since its establishment over 16 years ago. The John Keells Group has long understood that access to relevant education and skills development are of crucial importance in ensuring the availability of a productive and motivated labour force in Sri Lanka. As such, the Group through its CSR entity, John Keells Foundation (JKF), has prioritized the need for developing market relevant skills of children and youth across Sri Lanka.

According to the Labour Force Survey Report by the Department of Census and Statistics – Sri Lanka, the estimated youth unemployment rate in Sri Lanka in 2020 was at 25.7 percent and this situation is expected to be aggravated by the continuing pandemic. World Youth Skills Day, observed annually on 15th July, focuses on the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship. This has also been the primary focus of JKF’s Education pillar under which an array of long-term sustainable initiatives has been developed and implemented for the benefit of selected children, youth and other target groups, empowering approximately 25,000 persons over the years.

The ‘John Keells English Language Scholarship Programme’ is JKF’s flagship skills development initiative aimed at enhancing the English communication, ICT and soft skills of selected school children and university youth. Since its launch in 2004, the programme, implemented in collaboration with the Gateway Language Centre, has directly benefited over 17,700 school children and youth. “English for Teens” – targeting pre O’Level students of disadvantaged schools – is conducted in two tiers enabling high performing students to qualify for an advanced programme. With the COVID outbreak, the programme continued through online classes with close monitoring of staff volunteers from John Keells Group. 2

Each year, the programme concludes with an English Day – held at all island and regional levels – to showcase the learnings of the scholars. With the pandemic-related gathering restrictions in the recent past, this element of the programme was also taken to an online platform. In 2020, poetry recitation was held virtually, and in 2021, a speech competition was organized for 150 students from 12 locations. Significant improvement in communication skills and confidence levels was observed by the teachers and the project team during the speech competition. Students spoke about My Journey as a English Language Scholarship Student, The Benefit Of Learning English For My Future and My Experience Learning English Online and Nethma Dilmini from Beruwala in her speech summed up her experience as “The skills gained from the English Language Scholarship Programme will greatly increase my educational opportunities and to help me pursue my dream of becoming a cardiologist. Furthermore, when I go out into society English language will be beneficial to me in in emergencies and will also help me to learn about the cultures of different countries. By using English as a tool I’ll be able to explore the world with confidence.”

Since 2006, John Keells Group’s Transportation Sector through JKF has been organizing a customized English scholarship programme for first year undergraduates of the Transport and Logistics Management (B.Sc (T&LM) Hons) Degree programme to enable better participation in their graduate studies, empowering over 726 undergraduates.

JKF has also conducted customized courses on English communication skills development for the students of the School for the Blind in Ratmalana as well as the School for the Deaf in Ratmalana.

As a means of raising awareness and preparing youth for career and self-employment opportunities, JKF has also conducted career guidance and vocational training programmes for disadvantaged school children and school leavers in various locations within JKF’s Village Adoption and Praja Shakthi projects.

Moreover, towards mitigating unemployment rates by increasing the career-readiness of youth, JKF has also offered Higher Education Scholarships to promote pursuit of advanced studies among economically disadvantaged youth as well as Soft Skills Workshops, job fairs, exposure programs and internships for University undergraduates aimed at enhancing their career skills, attitudes and opportunities, in collaboration with various businesses of the John Keells Group.

The overarching objectives of these initiatives are to complement the State education and higher education systems and improve outcomes, develop market relevant skills, attitudes and competencies and thereby enhance access to employment opportunities to a greater number of youth who can in turn gainfully contribute to fostering a prosperous, sustainable and equitable socio-economic environment for all, in keeping with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Education is one of the six focus areas of John Keells Foundation – the CSR entity of John Keells Holdings PLC (JKH), a company listed in the Colombo Stock Exchange operating over 70 companies in 7 diverse industry sectors. With a history of over 150 years, John Keells Group provides employment to over 14,000 persons and has been ranked as Sri Lanka’s ‘Most Respected Entity’ for the last 15 Years by LMD Magazine.

Participant of the UN Global Compact, JKH drives its CSR vision of “Empowering the Nation for Tomorrow” through John Keells Foundation and through the social entrepreneurship initiative, ‘Plasticcycle’, which is a catalyst in significantly reducing plastic pollution in Sri Lanka.



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Hemas collect discarded carbon pens, toothbrushes from schools

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By ifham Nizam

Hemas Holdings PLC and the Environment Ministry yesterday came together to provide schools with containers to collect used plastic items such as ballpoint pens and toothbrushes. Hemas Holdings PLC, will supply the containers until April 2022.

The agreement was signed by Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera and Hemas Holdings PLC CEO Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson, Executive Director Shiromi Masakorala, Senior Manager Ishani Ranasinghe and Manager Mindika Tillekeratne were also present on the occasion.

Minister Amaraweera said it took 400-500 years for used ballpoint pens and tooth brushes to decompose. Amaraweera instructed officials not to spend any government money on the scheme.

The government school system alone discarded between 80-100 kilograms of used ballpoint pens a day. As with other public and private institutions, there was no accurate information on the ballpoint pens used and discarded by individuals, the Minister added. The Minister said that it had been estimated that at least one million toothbrushes were discarded daily.

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AZ vaccine delay baffles over 500,000 awaiting second shot 

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DGHS to be summoned by HRCSL  

 

By Shamindra Ferdinando 

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has decided to summon the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena for failure to address HRCSL’s concerns pertaining to the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination programme. 

Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Chairman, HRCSL, on May 28, in writing, requested Dr. Gunawardena to submit a comprehensive report on the vaccination programme by, or before, June 15. 

A senior spokesperson for the HRCSL yesterday (27) told The Island that Dr. Gunawardena would be summoned as the request made in terms of Human Rights Act of Sri Lanka Act No 21 of 1996 was not adhered to. 

The HRCSL consists of Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa. 

DGHS is the senior officer in charge of Covid-19 inoculation drive. 

In HRCSL letter dated May 28 addressed to Dr. Gunawardena, one-time lawmaker Dr. Balasuriya said that clarification was sought after receiving representations as regarding the inoculation drive. 

Dr. Gunawardena didn’t answer his phone for us to clarify the issue at hand. 

Meanwhile, controversy surrounds the decision to suspend giving Pfizer as the second jab to those who had received Covishield (AstraZeneca). According to the health ministry, 2,171 Covishield recipients were given Pfizer on July 7 and further inoculation was suspended abruptly on July 8 claiming that sufficient stock of AstraZeneca would be available in the third week of July. The announcement was made by Deputy Director General Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath who declared the immediate suspension of Pfizer vaccines for recipients, who had got Covishield as their first dose. 

The Island yesterday sought an explanation from Dr. Herath as regards the inordinate delay in inoculation of those awaiting the second AstraZeneca jab. Dr. Herath said that administration of Pfizer was stopped on July 8 after the Health Ministry received an assurance from the WHO that 1.4 mn AztraZeneca stock would be available in the third week. Dr. Herath emphasized that if not for that assurance, the government wouldn’t have stopped using Pfizer. “Now, we are hopefully awaiting the delivery of the promised stock under Covax facility.” 

Dr. Herath said that the Health Ministry was in touch with the WHO in that regard. The Health Ministry spokesperson was responding to The Island query whether the issue at hand was taken up with the Japanese embassy.

The Japanese embassy in Colombo on July 13 announced that Japan would provide approximately 1.45 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine manufactured in Japan to Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. The embassy said that the vaccines were expected to be delivered during the coming weeks.  

Dr. Herath acknowledged that the sudden stopping of the well planned programme to vaccinate those who had received Covishield with Pfizer as the second dose somewhat derailed the operation. 

Responding to another query, Dr. Herath said that so far Sri Lanka had received 264,000 doses under the Covax project though the initial estimates indicated 4.5 mn doses in a quarter once the operation got underway.  

Dr. Herath emphasized that on the part of the health ministry and the government there was absolutely no effort to deceive those who received Covishield as first doze. Over 500,000 of those who had got Covishield first jab remained to be inoculated with the second AstraZeneca jab, Dr. Herath said, asserting that Sri Lanka was blessed with a functioning system to carry out the challenging task. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the required supply of doses of Covishield as pledged by the WHO Dr. Herath said, assuring they would do whatever possible to inoculate those who had been deprived of Covishield second dose. 

Dr. Herath explained that disruption of the Covishield supply chain caused a major crisis here. The health ministry spokesman asserted that the unexplained long delay caused uncertainty and in a way undermined public confidence in the health sector.

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North and East to benefit from 1.6 mn Sinopharm doses donated by China

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Chinese Ambassador in Colombo Qi Zhenhong (pic courtesy PMD)

China has donated another consignment of 1.6 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to Sri Lanka to fight the pandemic. Two SriLankan flights, UL869 and UL865, carrying the vaccine arrived at the Katunayake Bandaranaike International Airport at 5.30 a.m., yesterday (27).

Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong officially handed over the vaccines to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, yesterday (27).

In addition to these vaccines, a stock of syringes has also been donated. The vaccines were handed over to the Ministry of Health to be given to people over the age of 30 years in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. 72% of the vaccines used in the vaccination process in Sri Lanka is Sinopharm.

President Rajapaksa said that he highly appreciated the support provided by the Chinese Government for the control of COVID – 19 by donating 600,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines on March 31, 500,000 on May 26 and 1.6 million doses yesterday.

The President pointed out that by the end of August, all those over the age of 30 would be vaccinated and the tourism industry would be able to commence from September. “Therefore, the Chinese people are invited to visit Sri Lanka again”, the President said.

Ministers Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Douglas Devananda, Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera, Senior Advisor to President Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage, and the Political Officer of the Chinese Embassy Luo Chong was also present on the occasion.

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