by Alan Elliott, ChildFund Sri Lanka intern
To create better lives for children means to provide not only for the needs of the child, but also for the needs of the parents. Across Sri Lanka, parents often face a difficult choice on how to use their limited income. Should they use it for food, or should they use it to expand their children’s education?
Unfortunately, when it comes down to it, parents understandably choose to put food on the table. Many families can hardly afford to pay for basic school materials. As a result, children miss out on the opportunity to take private classes (tuition classes apart from free public school) or to get the extra help that they need to succeed.
In the Polonnaruwa district, 16 -year-old Dilshan’s family, was finding it harder and harder to pay for Dilshan’s education. As an 11th grader, this is Dilshan’s last year of secondary school. If he passes the Ordinary Level (O/L) exit exam, he will then move on to advanced-level education. Dilshan’s school materials, including supplies, uniforms, private classes and books cost nearly 50,000 rupees per year (roughly US$500). These costs will only get steeper, and, as a seasonal farmer, his father Damarathna was not confident in his ability to support his son. Dilshan was in danger of being deprived of the education he had worked hard for these past several years.
When ChildFund’s local partner, the Polonnaruwa Children’s Program, identified this situation, they consulted with the family about possible solutions. It was decided that ChildFund would support Dilshan’s family by helping them start their own home garden. This is no easy task for them to do on their own—water is quite scarce in this area during the dry season, and an irrigation system needed to be installed.
ChildFund granted Damarathna 25,000 rupees (US$250) to buy irrigation equipment, tools and seeds. “ChildFund also offered me an awareness program for home gardening,” Damarathna says, “where I learned about suitable crops for this climate, safe chemicals and how to make organic fertilizer.” In fact, almost his entire garden is grown naturally, with local materials.
Now that the home garden is fully developed, it gives Dilshan’s family the boost they needed so that they don’t have to choose between food or education for their children. During the off-season, the garden crop is used mostly for personal consumption. But during the rainy season, the garden is plentiful enough to allow the family to sell some of the yield.
As for Dilshan, he’s on his way to higher education. “My dream is to study liberal arts in an advanced -level school,” he says. But, first, he must sit for the O/L. To help him with this, ChildFund recently began offering supplemental classes in Polonnaruwa, some of which are specially targeted at supporting students to pass the O/L exam. ChildFund-trained teachers give students opportunities to review past exams, receive hands-on attention to catch up on weak areas and brush up on the three critical subjects: math, science and English.
Now Dilshan can concentrate on passing his exam, and can be confident that his family can support him wherever his dreams may lead.