August 08, 2022
Chathurika and her younger brother live roughly six kilometers, or nearly four miles, from their school in rural Sri Lanka. It had always been a quick trip by bus, but when the country’s fuel shortage drove public transportation to a halt in June, the siblings faced a much longer journey. The family’s only transportation is a bicycle in need of repairs — repairs Chathurika’s parents can’t currently afford. And so, determined to continue their education, Chathurika and her brother set out to school on foot.
Sri Lanka’s current fuel shortage — brought on by an unprecedented economic crisis — has disrupted the lives of residents across the island. It has been particularly devastating for families living in historically under-resourced communities that rely on the availability of agricultural work. Before the crisis, both Chathurika’s mother and father worked for daily wages on nearby sugarcane farms. In June, without fuel to run machinery or transport harvests, local sugarcane producers, like most farmers in the country, were forced to halt operations. Crops were left in the field and farmworkers, including Chaturika’s parents, were left without an income.
Still, Chathurika, a 17-year-old student enrolled in Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program, and her brother hoped to somehow continue their studies. Together they walked the six kilometers each way to their classes, trying to keep their spirits high. Many schools in neighboring communities were beginning to close or scale back their instructional hours, and the siblings were glad that their school had remained open, especially as nationwide power outages limited their ability to learn at home. But as challenges in Sri Lanka continued to mount in subsequent weeks, and her parents struggled to pay for food, Chathurika grew tired.
As the fuel crisis worsened in late June and early July, and inflation rose, an increasing number of students and educators across the country were unable to access or afford the gas needed to get to their local school, and many lived too far away to walk. Lacking adequate staff, all schools in Sri Lanka closed in early July, leaving adolescent girls like Chathurika isolated in ways they have not been before.
Recognizing the detrimental effect of the crisis on Chathurika’s focus, motivation and overall well-being, her social mobilizer has bolstered her support. Twice every week, Chathurika’s social mobilizer now provides remote life skills lessons, conducted via phone, along with one-on-one mentoring sessions that nurture the skills Chathurika needs to exercise agency, find creative solutions to problems, manage complex and challenging emotions and make informed choices as the crisis continues to unfold. Room to Read social mobilizers like Chathurika’s are providing similar support to students throughout Sri Lanka, helping adolescent girls overcome the day-to-day hardships of this crisis and remain engaged in their education.
“A social mobilizer may be a girl’s sole source of support and guidance during this crisis,” Room to Read Sri Lanka Country Director, Shevanthi Jayasuriya, explained. “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.