July 18, 2022
Naduni sees the stress on her parents’ faces when they sit down to eat. The portions have been smaller since the onset of the current economic crisis in Sri Lanka, and meals are now frequently supplemented by jackfruit from nearby trees. Naduni's father, a paddy farmer, recently lost his job after fuel shortages forced farmers across the island to halt their operations, and the family is increasingly anxious about the future. Before the crisis, Naduni's parents produced much of their food by raising chickens and growing their own vegetables, and lived what they described as a happy and fulfilled life. Now, mounting inflation, the rising cost of chicken feed and Naduni's father's recent loss of income have made the family’s financial situation increasingly difficult.
Naduni’s mother explained, “We survive on what we have planted in the garden. If that’s not enough, I will walk in my neighborhood and find something like jackfruit to serve the family. Since the prices have gone up, we are struggling to survive.”
The struggle is not lost on Naduni, 18, a participant in Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program. Always a dedicated student, Naduni scores well in her exams and is almost always first in her class. She is active in Room to Read’s life skills sessions, and last year became a sectional head student. The situation, though, has taken a toll, especially since schools across the island were forced to close earlier this month — another effect of the nationwide fuel shortage.
She recently told her social mobilizer, Bhagya, “I talk to my mother all the time about our situation and try to help them out. We’ve never been like this before, and I am mentally down all the time. I can’t focus on my education anymore."
In response, Bhagya increased the frequency of their individual mentoring sessions. During these sessions Bhagya incorporates Room to Read’s life skill curriculum to reinforce skills like creative problem solving, self-control, and expressing and managing emotions to help equip Naduni with the tools she needs to understand and cope with challenging emotions. Bhagya has also found creative ways to reignite Naduni’s interest in her education.
“Naduni is an academically successful person,” Bhagya explained. “It has been heartbreaking to see her contemplate giving up on education. Since she loves to read, I asked her to read about inspirational women and understand how each of them have overcome their struggles.”
The reading assignment motivated Naduni, who now draws on her favorite women role models when she finds herself struggling to face the new challenges of her daily routine. Bhagya has also encouraged Naduni to share her life skills and financial literacy knowledge with her mother and father so that they can persevere and find a path forward, together.
Bhagya is just one of many Room to Read social mobilizers in Sri Lanka helping students like Naduni overcome day-to-day hardships and stay focused on their education. Because of the work of Bhagya and other social mobilizers like her around the globe, 95 percent of Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program participants returned to school when classrooms reopened following long closures due to COVID-19. In Sri Lanka, however, the economic crisis has eclipsed the hardships caused by COVID-19.
“This may resemble the early days of the pandemic in some respects. But it is significantly more frightening for everyone, especially for children and particularly for girls,” Room to Read’s Sri Lanka Country Director, Shevanthi Jayasuriya, explained.
Shevanthi noted that many women are departing the country to become domestic servants, leaving their daughters isolated, vulnerable to abuse and pressured to drop out of school. Amid these conditions, Room to Read’s support is even more critical.
“A social mobilizer may be a girl’s sole source of support and guidance during this crisis,” said Shevanthi. “These young women need support more than ever, and we are committed to keeping them focused on learning and so they acquire the skills they need to persevere, graduate from school and create a future that they choose."
You can help
Currently, Room to Read is supporting more than 5,600 Girls’ Education Program participants in Sri Lanka through this crisis. You can help: $100 funds a year of life skills instruction for a girl like Naduni, and $300 funds a year of life skills instruction and mentoring support.