November 02, 2020
Beyond the newly developed towns and roads in Polonnaruwa lies a village which still has traits of the brutal civil war that lasted 30 years. The area is not only affected by extreme levels of poverty but suffers from the driest climate in Sri Lanka. As one enters the village, the harsh living conditions surface unforgivingly.
This is where Nimeshika, a thirteen-year-old Room to Read Girls’ Education Program participant, calls home. Due to the dry climate, Nimeshika’s family must pay their neighbors to receive a daily dosage of water and walk to the nearby water tank just to bathe. They can’t cultivate crops in the backyard under these conditions along with frequent wild elephant rampages.
While poverty prevented Nimeshika from paying attention to her education, another reason stopped her from being accepted. Nimeshika’s family descends from an indigenous community in the North Eastern part of Sri Lanka and their dialect and lifestyles are different from the rest of the community. Due to discrimination and their financial difficulties, Nimeshika shied away from society and her classmates.
Room to Read joined Nimeshika’s school in 2018 and, Chandrika, a mentor known as a Social Mobilizer, took note of the challenges Nimeshika was facing. She seemed more aggressive, unsocial, and showed little interest in daily life let alone pursuing her education. She even stopped coming to school for 22 continuous days. It was time Chandrika took action before Nimeshika dropped out of school entirely.
After visiting Nimeshika’s house many times during her absence from school, Chandrika was able to meet her mother and witnessed the hardships their family faced. “This is not my hometown. I eloped with my now husband when I was 13. I never went to school, nor did my family members. So I was left with no choice but to get married to stop being a burden to my parents. Today, my husband uses all our earnings on alcohol and I cannot even begin to explain the abuse I go through because of him,” Nimeshika’s mother explained. Since both of Nimeshika’s parents were illiterate, convincing her mother to send Nimeshika back to school was challenging. They did not understand the value of education or the opportunities that come with it.
After much convincing, Nimeshika finally went back to school. Chandrika even conducted extra individual mentoring sessions to go over the life skills lessons that she missed. These lessons improved Nimeshika’s communication, anger management and basic sanitation practices and helped her build interpersonal and social skills, decision-making, and confidence.
Thanks to these life skills sessions, Nimeshika’s personality transformed slowly over time and she developed an interest in her school work. Room to Read took an extra step to encourage Nimeshika's education by removing a financial hardship and supporting her monthly bus fare ticket.
“Now I have friends in school, and I am so happy that I can read and write well," Nimeshika says proudly. "Room to Read’s teachers taught me how to interact with others, how to be friendly and how if I am educated, I can earn money on my own in the future."
Nimeshika’s class teacher also observed her immense improvement. “Nimeshika comes to school every day now which is great progress. I witness her interacting with other children and they do not ignore her anymore”, she remarked with contentment.
Nimeshika is not the only person that progressed thanks to Room to Read. Chandrika’s many home visits encouraged Nimeshika’s mother to support her children more in their education and Nimeshika’s enthusiasm has also influenced her two younger sisters. They are eager to go to school.
Nimeshika is now filled with hope as she continues her education and Room to Read will continue to support her and many others to ensure that girls everywhere complete secondary school and have the skills to negotiate key life decisions for themselves.