Sri Lanka: Education provides hope in post-war recovery

Schooling is foundational to the recovery of children and families scarred by decades of civil war.

By Hasanthi Jayamaha, World Vision Sri Lanka
Published February 27, 2013 at 12:00am PST

Growing up in the middle of a civil war, education wasn’t the most pressing concern for children in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka. Survival was.

Education: A blurry dream

“Schooling was interrupted all the time,” says Subhashini, who was a student during the 1990s when the conflict was in its second decade.

“Every class had a bunker to hide in, and three or four times a day we would vacate the classes to go into the bunker. But still, we wanted to come to school every day.”

As the civil war intensified, education became a blurry dream.

“We all had a thirst to study and, just like other children, we had dreams,” she says. “I wanted to become a math teacher.”

Even with shell holes in the roof and bullet holes on the walls, children went to school whenever possible until the buildings were too damaged to function or had to house displaced families.

However, as the fighting continued, there was another reason why children stopped attending school: They had to get married to avoid being forced to join the armed group.

Subhashini, then 16, made that choice.

Early marriage: The only way to avoid fighting

“That was the only solution for boys and girls at that time,” Subhashini recalls.

“So all the students began to drop out of school and get married to avoid recruitment. But those underage like me couldn’t register their marriage, so the next option was to have a child to prove you are a new family.”

She had a little boy, Pavithran, but they still weren’t safe.

“I looked too small to become a mother, and the armed group didn’t believe Pavithran was our baby, so they still forcibly recruited my husband,” she says.

“It was only after I got Pavithran’s birth certificate did they release him. My husband’s sister [16 at that time] was forcibly recruited before she could get married and was killed in battle the following year.”

The 26-year conflict finally ended in 2009. Broken and reeling from the effects of war, families began to rebuild their lives.

Rebuilding schools, rebuilding lives

World Vision, along with the government and other organizations, assisted communities in the recovery process.

“World Vision provided us with goats to support livelihood recovery, and I trust I will be able to get a stable income from it,” she says.

Helping children return to school was a top priority for World Vision. The organization quickly renovated and rebuilt damaged school buildings, providing local children a safe place to study and catch up on the education they missed.

Hope for the next generation

Today, Subhashini is 25 and a mother of two, and she is hopeful once again.

She sees Pavithran studying every morning — even during vacations — and nothing makes her happier than to see him with his books.

“I feel very proud and happy when I go through my son’s schoolbooks,” she says. “I can see that he excels in math. That was my favorite subject, too. My only dream is to see my children have a good education and be able to achieve their dreams.”

Two ways you can help

Thank God for the end of civil war in Sri Lanka and for the recovery for children and families — including the renewed opportunity for children to attend school.

Make a one-time donation to help a child attend school. Your gift can help pay school fees or provide essentials like school uniforms, textbooks, backpacks, and school supplies — helping ensure that one child in poverty can receive what he or she needs to get an education.