Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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Rajitha grew up surrounded by natural beauty. The landscape in her community in rural Sri Lanka is lush and green, studded with pristine lakes, ornate Buddhist temples and mountains marbled with rose quartz.

Now she’s a 23-year-old college graduate with a good job, and these days the rich scenery of her inner world matches her outer one.

It wasn’t always that way. She’ll never forget the helplessness of being a child trying to survive the challenges of poverty.

“There were days when my mother broke one roti into five pieces,” says Rajitha. “She used to divide a 40-page notebook into sections because she didn’t have enough money to buy notebooks for all three of us.”

Even now, Rajitha remembers how that felt.

The challenges of poverty during Rajitha’s childhood

Like many children in developing areas, Rajitha is from a farming family which relies on crops for food. Every year, the family battled unpredictable weather that sometimes became disastrous.

If it didn’t rain enough – or it rained too much – they didn’t have anything to eat.

“Farming was the only source of income we had, and my parents struggled every year to obtain a harvest so that they would be able to feed me and my two sisters,” Rajitha says.

The family was hit by drought often. During one long dry spell, they had no water and had to walk a long way to collect it. Another time, their two-room mud house was damaged by the strong winds of a tropical storm.

“We didn’t see an electricity bulb in our house until 2004,” says Rajitha.

In the evening, she and her sisters would study by the light of a small oil lamp.

Their mom knew the value of education and encouraged them to focus on school, telling them it was the only way to a better life.

She was right. According to the Global Partnership for Education, poverty and education have a strong inverse relationship.

The more education someone has, the less likely they are to live in poverty. In fact, one extra year of school increases a person’s earnings by up to 10 percent.

Sponsorship changed everything

Rajitha’s story took an unexpected turn in 2003, when she got a sponsor through ChildFund, Ms. Sharla.

Several years later, Ms. Sharla had to end her sponsorship, so Rajitha got a new sponsor, Ms. Feng.

“Both of them were reasons for my life to take a new course,” Rajitha says. Child sponsorship connected her to all the material things she needed to be successful in school – like books, notebooks, backpacks and shoes.

She started to participate in academic programs that enriched her life, including English classes.

“I couldn’t even write my name in English [before]. But through the ChildFund programs, I learned English the proper way without having to pay a cent,” Rajitha says. “This was a huge relief for my family.”

Now that Rajitha’s education was taken care of, they had more money for food and other basic needs.

Knowing that someone – even someone so far away – cared about her well-being became a huge source of motivation for Rajitha.

“Because my sponsors chose me and because their support and encouragement were there for me, I felt the need to push myself further in my education,” she says.

After overcoming the obstacles of poverty, Rajitha gaves back to her community

Rajitha graduated from secondary school with honors, and then earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Peradeniya, the largest and oldest university in Sri Lanka.

Today, she works as a program officer for Abhimana Community Development Association, ChildFund’s local partner organisation that helped her as a child, at one of its offices in southern Sri Lanka.

Rajitha with her colleagues at Abhimana Community Development Association
Rajitha with her colleagues at Abhimana Community Development Association

She’s also studying for a diploma in Human Resources Management and taking accounting classes.

“My next wish is to reach the highest peak in my career and bring more comfort and happiness to my family,” Rajitha says.

“I also want to help a child who is struggling economically, the way I was struggling. Just as I was supported, I want to support another child to become educated.

“When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being educated and more stable in life, but I was afraid. There were too many obstacles, the main one being poverty.

“One of my life’s dreams is to see my two sponsors, who helped me reach success, and thank them from the bottom of my heart.

“Without them, I couldn’t have come such a long way.”

You can help a child like Rajitha

Today, thousands of children in Sri Lanka are struggling just like Rajitha was, smart and curious but losing hope in dreams that seem unattainable.

When you sponsor a child, you support the education that will fuel those dreams and offer them access to the most reliable route out of poverty.

Learn more about the relationship between poverty and education – and how child sponsorship makes a difference.

Photo: Mrs Vijeraja has been teaching at a rural school in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, over the last six years

There was a time when Mrs Vijeraja questioned her decision to take up a teaching post at Navakkadanamahal Vidyalayam, a rural school in Sri Lanka’s Batticaloa District. But that all changed after she attended ChildFund’s Child-Friendly Schools training.

“I have felt the change in myself after the training program,” she says.

Thanks to ChildFund’s Child-Friendly Schools program, Mrs Vijeraja’s teaching methods have been transformed. The training encourages teachers to think about new ways of teaching students – including the benefits of interactive and creative activities, such as debates, role-play, and the use of felt pens and board paper, and the importance of meeting the needs of slow learners – to make sure they don’t fall further behind.

“I found their teaching methods to be very effective,” she says.

“I used to be irritated and short tempered with students. They were often dirty and had body odour because they hadn’t bathed and wouldn’t wear shoes. In order to manage the chaotic classroom, I often raised my voice to be heard.

“But the training has helped me to see things differently – to control my frustration, have more empathy, and be more enthusiastic about what I do.”

Mrs Vijeraja is even happier to see positive changes in her students.

 

Mrs Vijeraja

Photo: As a result of ChildFund’s Child-Friendly Schools training, Mrs Vijeraja is incredibly happy to see positive changes in her students, as well as in herself

They are more active and engaged, reading skills are improving, and there is growing leadership and interest in keeping the environment clean.

“I usually come to school early and am the first to pick up the broom and sweep the classroom. My students see this, and they now take initiative in tidying up the classroom and often beat me to it,” she says with a smile.

The performance of children in exams has also improved.

“When I started teaching at Navakkadanamahal Vidyalayam, no student had passed Sri Lanka’s Grade 5 Scholarship Exam in 20 years,” says Mrs Vijeraja.

“I was determined to work hard and ensure that at least 2-3 students made it through.”

After two years of hard work, two students passed the exam. The following year, four more students passed. For these children living in rural communities, it has given them the opportunity to attend prominent national schools – a milestone of which Mrs Vijeraja is extremely proud.

She says: “While sitting under a tree or a sheet of tarpaulin and teaching a class, I used to think we needed more infrastructure to improve our education. Now, I feel that it’s not just about the facilities, but the manner in which we teach that will foster creative and happy learning in children.”