My partner Andres and I are almost finished with our work at the Jesuit Academy in Trincomalee, a town in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Trinco is bustling town of over 100,000 people and is located in one of the world’s largest natural harbors. It’s beautiful here. The beaches are wide and filled with soft, white sand. The Indian Ocean is very calm, unlike in Colombo, and sparkling blue. This is the dry season so the temperature is pretty hot but luckily not too humid. The rain doesn’t come until August and everything is very dry. This part of the country was under the control of the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) during the almost 30 year long civil war. As a result, the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka lag behind the western part of the country in terms of economic development.
Andres and I flew here from Colombo last Monday morning with Jamal, a VEGA representative, and two other UMD students, Valerie and Martha. Valeria and Martha are working with Aqua n Green, a sea bass harvesting company, for their consulting project. AG has fisheries here in Trinco and they flew with us for a site visit. We flew out of a small, local airport in Colombo on a plane owned by the Sri Lankan air force. The flight was filled almost entirely of military personnel. The flight across the country was only 45 minutes–compared to a 7 hour car ride!
First, we took a quick boat ride out to a lagoon and toured the AG fisheries. Then the group dropped Andres and me off at the Jesuit Academy. Our first day of work! We met with Fr. Yogi, the director of the school, Purushoth, the manager, and Shiyanthi, an administrator. We discussed myriad topics related to the school, funding their interactive English language program DynEd, marketing tactics and student enrollment. We were also able to get some clarifications on questions we had been discussing prior to departure. After the meeting, our hosts gave us a tour of the facilities and later we played basketball with some of the students.
Our work at the Academy has been productive. We decided to tackle online marketing first. We converted the school’s personal Facebook page into a business page so the staff can utilize Facebook tools to determine the extent of their reach on Facebook. They can also use analytics to get a breakdown of their audience demographics. Hopefully, this will be helpful to the staff at targeting posts for their audience. We also created a Twitter page and a YouTube channel for the Academy’s videos. Internet use is growing in Trincomalee and we want to ensure that the Academy is update to date with all of the social media outlets. For ease, I linked all of their social media sites so that when a post is made on one site, it will appear on the others. We created a frequency chart of social media and general marketing activities for the staff so they now have a sense of how active they should be on Facebook. We believe this is integral to the success of their social media campaign. Active social media sites will keep their audience engaged and interested in the events and programs at the Academy.
Presently, the Jesuit Academy’s website is not very functional. Andres and I met with the school’s manager, Purushoth, and asked him to describe his plans and visions for the website. We were able to offer recommendations on what information should be included on the site, a draft website map, and visual organization. Since most people in the area here about the Academy through word of mouth, we decided it would be a good idea to send out monthly newsletters to the school’s email list. The newsletter will reach people, such as parents, who may not be on social media sites. The last newsletter that the Academy sent out was four years ago so Andres and I drafted a June newsletter. In the newsletter, we wrote about the weekly yoga classes the school just started offering, included pictures from a recent basketball tournament, interviewed and profiled a current student, and shared a poem written by another student. We hope the newsletter will create a buzz in the community about the various events the school hosts and help spread the word about the Academy.
Andres has also been diligently researching IT programs that the school can offer its students. This has been challenging since Purushoth is looking for more advanced IT programs, such as computer programming, website design and hardware. It’s been difficult finding programs, but Andres has a few leads for the school to look into further. Besides online marketing and the IT programs, we’ve met with students and helped them practice their spoken English, as well as interviewed a student for the website.
The staff at the school has been very accommodating and have shown us a great time. They took us on several field trips to temples, hot springs, local schools and shopping! Last night, a bunch of students and the staff got together and cooked us dinner. It was delicious! I’ve been attending their tri-weekly yoga class which is very relaxing after a long day of work.
Today is our last day at the school and we will be meeting with the staff to discuss our recommendations this afternoon. But before that, US Ambassador Patricia Butenis is stopping by the school for a visit!