Children and Youth Empowerment in the Church of the American Ceylon Mission

Children and Youth Empowerment in the Church of the American Ceylon Mission

Global Ministries partner, the Church of the American Ceylon Mission (CACM) shares about their Children and Youth Empowerment project in Uda Pusselawa, Sri Lanka. They received an Otto per Mille grant for this project.

Sri_Lanka_2015_school_girl_CACM_04.JPGThe Children and Youth Empowerment project was developed to support nutrition, early childhood learning and after school programs for the children of tea plantation workers. The project supported nutritional meals for children, teacher stipends and learning materials for the preschool and after school program. Additionally, leadership (social awareness) seminars were offered for the older youth.

Young Sarmila was born on and lives in a tea plantation. The Sri_Lanka_2015_school_girl_CACM_07.JPGliving conditions on the plantation are dismal. The workers and their extended families live in line-rooms, which are substandard barrack-style accommodations originally provided on the estates during the British colonial period. These accommodations are inadequate and unhealthy, lacking a sanitary water supply or adequate toilet facilities.

Large families of ten or twelve children are crammed in one room. The toilets and tap are shared among the residents.  Sri_Lanka_2015_school_girl_CACM_05.JPGMen and women have to bathe from the common tap in the open. At this particular plantation, each line-room is 3m by 3.8m (10 feet by 12 feet) without sanitary facilities or privacy. 38% have latrines, 54% water supply, and 12% access to electricity. Plantation workers and families have no access to land ownership and decent housing.

Sarmila lives with her mother, father and two siblings. Sarmila is studying in grade 7. Her elder brother is studying in grade 9. Sri_Lanka_2015_school_girl_CACM_09.JPGHer younger sister is studying in grade 4. All 3 children attend the same school and the same after-school program.

Sarmila’s parents work on the tea plantation. The plantation community is economically handicapped. They have no possibility to save money or buy food in sufficient amount and quality. Sri_Lanka_2015_school_girl_CACM_06.JPGPlantation workers, especially women, endure great hardship. The basic wages of the laborers is 380 Sri Lankan Rupees per day (about $2.60 USD), for 10 hours worked and are paid daily. If they work more than 22 days, then they received 510 ($3.55 USD) per day. Unless they work 21 days or more, they are not paid the full salary, which is about 6000-7000 Sri Lankan Rupees ($41.70-$48.60 USD) per month.

Because of the cost to attend school, most children do not have equitable access to education. Those who do go to poorly equipped and resourced schools and struggle to develop critical learning skills, including basic literacy. There are no systems to help struggling children. Therefore, most of the students from plantation homes fail the Ordinary Level (Grade 11) exams. These exams are the gateway to any kind of job training or opportunities to go on to higher studies and university. Because of this, CACM started the after school program. The program is centered on the student and our concern is the development and empowerment of the student.

Sri_Lanka_2015_school_girl_CACM_02.JPGSarmila joined the program in 2014 as a Grade 5 student with many gaps in her learning. Grade 5 is a crucial year when students take a national scholarship exam that enables exceptional students to earn a lifetime scholarship and others to have opportunities for admission to good schools. The after school program focused on addressing Sarmila’s challenges and she studied with great dedication.

She was encouraged to learn and she also participated in all the extra curricular activities in the program. She was fully involved in sports, cultural activities and the leadership program. She had space to show her talents and abilities and grow in confidence.

Sri_Lanka_2015_school_girl_CACM_10.jpgShe passed the scholarship exam – a remarkable achievement given the challenges she faced. Another student in the program, a boy, also passed the scholarship exam. Sarmila and another boy achieved this level of progress because of the after school program. The family and the community are very happy. This is the first time any students on this plantation estate has passed the scholarship exam.

The impact of the after school program can be seen in an increased participation of youth. There is already an increase in the level of children passing their critical high school exams at the local school. Additionally, the interest of parents in sending their children to the early childhood program has increased and it is anticipated that in 2016 that the numbers of children will increase. Students are also starting to be more actively involved in the design of the program and parents are starting to increase their financial contribution to support the program.

This story is not only about Sarmila. It is a representative story about the challenges faced by children and families living on tea plantations and the possibilities opened up by the Children and Youth Empowerment project.

Learn more about the Church of the American Ceylon Mission and how you can support projects like this.