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Updated: March 2009

Sri Lanka

Overview | World Vision's history in Sri Lanka | World Vision in Sri Lanka today

Overview

The island nation of Sri Lanka lies in the Indian Ocean, and is separated from the southern tip of India by 25 miles. Most of Sri Lanka consists of low-lying flatlands, but the south-central region is mountainous, with the highest point found at Pidurutalagala peak on Mt. Pedro. The tropical climate of Sri Lanka allows for consistently warm temperatures throughout the year, with extremes reaching as high as 100 degrees on the northeast coast and dropping as low 61 degrees in the highlands. There are two monsoon seasons, one covering the northeast from June to October, and the other drenching the southwest December to March.

With nearly 20 million people, Sri Lanka has one of the highest population densities in Asia, accommodating 758 people per square mile. The Sinhalese people make up 74 percent of the population, while the Tamils form the largest minority group at 18 percent. Other groups include the Vedda, who live in the forest areas, the Moors, who trace their lineage to Arab traders, the Burghers, of mixed European descent, and the Malays from Southeast Asia. Sinhala and Tamil are the two official languages of Sri Lanka. English is used primarily for education and commercial purposes and is spoken by 10 percent of the population.

Both the Sinhalese and the Tamils emigrated to the island more than 2,000 years ago from the Indian subcontinent. The Tamils, primarily Hindus, settled in the northern area of the country, while the Sinhalese, who are predominantly Buddhist, controlled the south. Known as Ceylon prior to 1972, Sri Lanka became an English Crown colony in 1802. Nearly 150 years later, nationalist leaders successfully championed for self-government. The country’s first prime minister, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, made Sinhala the official national language and Buddhism the state-supported religion. The Tamil minority’s mounting resentment toward the Sinhalese monopoly on political and economic power, exacerbated by cultural and religious differences, erupted into civil war in 1983.

Sri Lanka map
Sri Lanka flag 


Country statistics 
Population19.2 million
Land mass25,332 square miles
People per square mile758
Life expectancy74.8 years
Under age 5 mortality rate13/1,000
Literacy rate91%
Access to safe water79%
Average annual incomeUS$1,300
Religion
Buddhist69.1%
Muslim7.6%
Hindu7.1%
Christian6.2%
Unspecified10%

By early 2000, 17 years of civil war had claimed the lives of more than 64,000 people, mostly civilians. The government and the Tamil rebels agreed to a cease-fire in February 2002, but sporadic fighting continued. The tsunami in December 2004 that ravaged 12 Asian countries killed a reported 38,000 people in Sri Lanka. The government and the rebels reached a deal the following summer to share a $4.5 billion international aid package to help rebuild the country, but escalating violence threatened to negate the deal. In January 2008, the Sri Lankan government called off the cease-fire agreement, leading to intensified fighting in the north and east. Today, the death toll from the war stands at an estimated 70,000 people, while more than 500,000 are still displaced, mostly Tamils. In the past 25 years, nearly 6,300 children under the age of 18 have been forcibly recruited to fight in the war.

In addition to civil war, Sri Lanka faces another challenge in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. Property damage was extensive, and hundreds of thousands of people have fallen into poverty after losing their jobs and homes. Currently, a quarter of the population lives below the poverty threshold, and more than 40 percent survive on less than $2 per day. Due to the frequency of droughts and the history of conflict, there has been a decreasing focus on agriculture in recent years and a rise in the textile and garment industries. Several well-known apparel brands are manufactured throughout the country. Despite this thriving industry, Sri Lanka is classified as a low-income, food-deficit nation. Malnutrition occurs in 29 percent of children nationally, but in the war-torn eastern and northern sections of the country, those rates are much higher, and at times double the national average.

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World Vision’s history in Sri Lanka

World Vision’s initial involvement in Sri Lanka began in 1969 with a pastors conference in the city of Kandy. A national office was established in 1977 in Colombo, the nation’s capital, providing ministry to the people through disaster relief, development programs, Christian leadership, and evangelism. Projects during the 1970s included:
  • The Rajagiriya Rehabilitation Center started in 1975 to provide general care, education, occupational therapy, and recreational facilities for young people in Colombo.
  • The Cyclone Rehabilitation Project, providing food, clothing, shelter, fruit tree seedlings, poultry, cows, and goats to 2,500 families devastated by a 1979 cyclone.
By 1981, World Vision was conducting several development programs. Activities included health care, family planning, economic development, vocational training, and evangelism. Two pastors conferences were held during this period, one in 1981 in Colombo and one in 1984 in Kandy. Civil unrest in the country due to ethnic clashes also resulted in the implementation of many refugee relief projects.

Child sponsorship in Sri Lanka began in 1987 with 1,614 children, providing immunizations, health care, nutritional programs, and education. Development programs continued to assist in the organization of nursery schools, the promotion of self-employment activities, agriculture, and small trades and businesses. By 1990, there were 6,492 sponsored children and a total of 86 projects.

Other projects during the 1980s provided loans to 50 handicapped, disabled, and injured persons for the purpose of training in agriculture, animal husbandry, and handicrafts. These allowed participants to increase their income and support their families. Efforts to reconstruct homes and introduce income-generating projects, such as broom-making, wood crafting, dressmaking, and animal husbandry, benefitted 45 families from the most economically disadvantaged and oppressed sections of the community affected by terrorist violence.

In the 1990s, three flood relief projects assisted victims in the Eastern Province and the Hambantota District by providing agricultural support, food, bedding, and repairs to a dam. By 1995, there were 23,260 sponsored children and 128 projects. Other projects during this period included:
  • The Unsupported Mothers Project helped the economic futures of mothers in Batticaloa and Lunugamvehera by providing loans for training in farming and sewing, as well as educational classes for computer training, typing, and preschool teaching. Health, nutrition, and sanitation assistance were also extended to mothers and children.
  • The Colombo Street Children Project, which benefited nearly 90 Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim women and children in the Borella district, provided assistance in economic development, education, food, health, shelter, child and family development, and evangelism.
Projects in the last 10 years focused on clean water, microenterprise development, access to basic education, infant care, irrigation systems for agricultural improvement, and economic and leadership development training to community members throughout the country.

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World Vision in Sri Lanka today

World Vision is committed to partnering with the people of Sri Lanka to enhance their lives today and to help enact sustainable solutions for the future of their communities, families, and children. Currently, 61,581 children are registered in the World Vision sponsorship program. Several times this number of children and other family members benefit from World Vision activities. Of these registered children, many have World Vision sponsors in other countries. U.S. donors sponsor nearly 16,000 girls and boys. In addition, World Vision operates 26 development programs, six of which are supported by U.S. donors. A highlight of these efforts includes the following:
  • The North Sri Lanka Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Response is focused on providing IDP families in the Vanni and Jaffna areas with access to basic necessities during their displacement and upon return to their homes until they have reestablished themselves. Goals of the response project are to feed 9,000 families for at least six months in both areas; provide temporary shelter to 4,500 families; distribute non-food items such as tarps, towels, candles, and kitchen utensils, as well as hygiene packs, which include soap, a brush, and toothpaste; distribute seed to 3,000 families in Jaffna for the next planting season; and grant economic assistance to former fish farmers through cash-for-work programs.
For more information on World Vision’s effort in Sri Lanka contact the United States office.

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