August 08, 2023
18-year-old Nikini lives in a historically low-income district of Sri Lanka. She comes from a big family; growing up, she lived with her mother, stepfather, three brothers and sister. Her family, like many of their neighbors, has struggled financially throughout her life. Her stepfather is a fisherman and her mother a daily wage worker, making it challenging to sufficiently provide for the family.
When Nikini started secondary school in 2016 she joined Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program. Koshila, her social mobilizer, remembers her as one of the shyest students in her year; she often hesitated to speak at all during the life skills sessions. Koshila also quickly noticed that Nikini missed many days of class. When Koshila asked Nikini’s mother about her absences, she said, “both my husband and I have to work every day to make ends meet, teacher, and we have no one to look after our two youngest children until we return home. We ask Nikini to look after them instead of going to school.” Although the school was only 500 meters away from her house, Nikini was at risk of losing her education.
After learning more about her home situation, Koshila made regular visits to Nikini’s house to reiterate to her mother how important it was to support Nikini’s education. Koshila spent many hours talking to Nikini’s parents about how girls’ education can open doors to many opportunities, like the chance to have a promising future with a fixed income job. “I started off by helping Nikini build a timetable at home so she can look after her siblings and still find time to do her school work. I brought her homework from school which I thought would help her miss her time at school and meeting her friends.”
After many visits to Nikini’s house and persistent requests from Koshila, Nikini finally returned to school. At first she was timid and found it difficult to connect with her peers. However, Koshila knew that Room to Read’s life skills sessions would support Nikini to overcome her fears. Through both individual and group mentoring classes, Nikini started to learn about the importance of communication skills, teamwork, time management and confidence development. Koshila also enrolled Nikini in drama classes hosted by Room to Read to challenge her at school and provide a fun and creative outlet. At first Nikini was hesitant to be on stage. “I really can’t do this, teacher. I feel shy to speak in front of everyone.” Eventually, these life skills sessions helped her overcome her shyness and Nikini blossomed with her newfound confidence.
As a result, she participated in other extracurricular activities at school and her studies improved. Nikini joined the track team and found her footing as a middle-distance runner, winning her school’s championship race. Her teachers recognized her athletic talent and encouraged her to apply for provincial athletic competitions.
However, Nikini’s family did not make enough money to buy running shoes and other supplies she needed for racing. “I love to take part in the provincial games, teacher. But my parents don’t have money to buy running shoes. I must also maintain good nutrition to run in these games. I don’t know what to do,” Nikini told her social mobilizer. Recognizing Nikini’s struggle and her passion for her sport, Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program helped Nikini buy proper running shoes and nutritious food.
With the support she received from Room to Read, Nikini won first place in the 1500-meter race and second place in the 800-meter race in the entire North-Western province. This was the first time a student from Nikini’s school had won a race in a provincial game. Nikini qualified to participate in national athletic meets as a professional runner with this win. “Teacher, we don’t even have a proper track in our school ground for me to practice. It is an uneven ground which has potholes,” Nikini said. “But I did not lose hope. I decided I was going to go all the way the day I received my running shoes from Room to Read!”
“A few years back, I was an ordinary girl who looked after my siblings without going to school. It was only five minutes away from my house and I still did not go. Thanks to Room to Read, I understand the value of education. Learning life skills helped me overcome my shyness and discover talents I never knew I had! Thanks to going back to school, I can now dream of becoming Sri Lanka’s next best runner,” Nikini said, beaming with joy.