June 24, 2022
One day in 2017, Vindya, a Room to Read social mobilizer in Sri Lanka, was traveling through her community conducting home visits for her students. These visits are a critically important component of a social mobilizer’s role —helping local mentors like Vindya learn more about a student’s home environment so they can provide more individualized support. Vindya recognized her student Maneesha’s house as the one with a big tamarind tree out front. The house was only half constructed with unfinished walls and an asbestos roof.
As Vindya approached, she was greeted with a smile by Maneesha’s grandmother, Punchi Menika. “Come in teacher,” she said, warmly. “Daughter went to school today,” she added while offering Vindya a seat. “Yes, that’s great, but I came to speak to you today,” Vindya replied, hoping to have a conversation that would tell her more about Maneesha’s background.
Maneesha was 11 years old when Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program joined her school. At the time, Maneesha was a shy student who was frequently absent from school and showed little interest in her studies. From her experience as a social mobilizer, Vindya suspected that Maneesha was struggling and at risk of leaving school if she did not take swift action. So Vindya decided to visit Maneesha’s home to find out more.
Punchi Menika was initially hesitant to share much about the family with Vindya. After her first visit, Vindya learned that Maneesha lived with her grandmother, her father and two brothers. She also took notice of the fact that Maneesha’s mother was not present in the house. Yet she did not yet know why. From previous experiences working with students’ families, Vindya knew it would take time to earn Punchi Menika’s trust and gain greater insight into the family dynamics.
In the end, it took many visits for Maneesha’s grandmother to share details on the family’s hardships.
“Maneesha’s mother went abroad as a housemaid when she was only three,” Punchi Menika shared with sadness. “She was supposed to send back her salary so we could build a house. At first, she did, but eventually she stopped sending us money and barely spoke to her children. I’ve raised them all by myself since they were very little. Maneesha keeps asking me not to die because I am the only one to look after them,” she added with tears in her eyes.
Punchi Menika went on to share that Maneesha’s mother had returned to Sri Lanka in recent years, but not to her family. They soon learned she had formed a new relationship and given birth to a daughter.
“My mother came to visit us recently,” Maneesha shared with Vindya during an individual mentoring session. “I was so happy and went to stay with her. But she was hostile to me and favored my new sister. I felt so sad. I eventually had to come back home to my grandmother,” she added.
Through one-on-one mentoring sessions, Vindya also learned that Maneesha’s mother was demanding that the family give up the house and the land on which it sat, which was in her name. The situation pained Maneesha’s father deeply, and he began to drink. Though supportive of his daughter’s education, his drinking hindered his ability to provide her with the support and guidance she so desperately needed. Maneesha and her brothers had only their grandmother and the hope that they would keep their home.
It did not take long for Maneesha’s education to suffer. When members of her community learned of her mother’s story, they mocked the family. Maneesha began to distance herself from her community and from her peers at school, eventually opting to stay home, skipping classes altogether.
Vindya, however, was not one to give up. After her initial visits to the home and several individual mentoring sessions with Maneesha, Vindya became a mentor and role model, someone from whom Maneesha could seek advice and guidance. And with the support of Room to Read’s life skills sessions, Maneesha began to build her confidence, learn to cope with the challenges at home and understand the value of her education. With Vindya’s mentorship, she returned to the classroom and found the courage to participate in group mentoring sessions with the classmates who had once laughed at her family’s challenges. Through these group mentoring sessions, Maneesha’s peers learned the importance of treating Maneesha — and all their fellow classmates — with respect and dignity.
“I am so happy to see Maneesha’s progress,” Punchi Menika reflected. “Earlier, she would sit alone and contemplate. Now she helps me with household work, goes to school every day and she reads books,” she added with joy.
“Before Room to Read joined my school, I did a lot of things that were bad for me and my education,” Maneesha shared. “I missed my mother all the time. Now, I know that my only solution is to get educated. And thanks to Vindya, I don’t miss my mother so often and I know how to cope with the problems at home. I will definitely go to university,” she added with hope.