[USPG] USPG is a church based charity working in direct partnership with Anglican churches around the world. Its Programmes Co-ordinator, Anne Bonger, has visited an education programme run by the Church of Ceylon:
I was recently in Sri Lanka to see a USPG-supported education programme run by the Church of Ceylon for the children of the country’s tea estate communities. The programme – called the Estate Community Development Mission (ECDM) – was started in 1997 to address education and nutritional needs of the children of tea pickers. Sri Lanka’s tea pickers originally came from India during the era of colonialism, and they are still regarded by many in Sri Lanka as foreigners and second-class citizens. Accordingly, they have few rights and have to fight to get identity cards.
Despite being on the backbones of the Sri Lanka economy, tea pickers, who are primarily women, are paid a minimum wage. They work in all weathers, on steep plantation slopes, in bare feet at risk of being bitten by insects and snakes. Needless to say, it is back-breaking work.
Some members of the tea pickers’ families find work in the capital Colombo or overseas to provide a better income for their family. But this can lead to problems with children sometimes being left at home unsupervised.
The ECDM programme is trying to help by providing pre-school education for young children and after school classes for older children.
I visited one of these classes. The children were learning how to recognise Tamil and English letters and doing simple counting. They were painting and colouring, singing songs and learning the importance of washing hands before meals.
Parents make a modest contribution towards costs and the programme covers the teachers’ salaries and books.
The children seemed happy and well cared for. Many are Hindu, but children of all faiths are welcome. Indeed, the local Anglican priests get involved and help to promote the classes.
One parent I met said: ‘Our children are learning well. Their behaviour has improved.’
Another said: ‘They come home and tell us what they have learned.’
These classes mean children from the plantations are well prepared when they start at formal primary school. Likewise, the after school classes help to ensure that plantation children are able to keep up to speed in maths, reading and writing.
This programme offers welcome additional tuition. The children all seem keen and work hard. They are ambitious for the future, which is wonderful to witness. They are hoping to become engineers, doctors, teachers, nurses and police officers. ECDM provides meals for the children as well.
Higher up the educational ladder, ECDM is supporting A Level and university students with scholarships. The hope is that children from the plantations will find careers outside of the plantations, which will help to break the poverty cycle of their parents.
I met Sham Kumar, who is studying civil engineering at university. His father died; his mother is a petty trader.
Sham, who received a scholarship from ECDM programme, is a bright student who has already published articles. He recently won a scholarship to study for a Masters in Australia and is planning on becoming an engineer.
He told me: ‘My sister is in her last year at school and is hoping to go to university to study medicine. I will work to ensure I can support my sister and help my mother, so she no longer has to do petty trading.’ It was inspiring to see the positive impact of this programme.