Due to the turmoil in Sri Lanka, parents must choose which children can attend school. Even at the age of ten, Malki’s enthusiasm makes it impossible for him to sleep.
To get the bright red gloss off her fingernails, she gets up an hour before her two sisters and two brothers.
She had been waiting all summer to start school again, and today is the first day.
Her family can only afford to send her, so her siblings will have to stay behind.
It’s been six months since Sri Lanka was in the thick of its biggest economic crisis since gaining independence.
While peace has returned to the island nation for the most part, the effects of widespread unemployment and severe price increases are becoming more apparent to many families.
A parent’s worst fear
Malki’s mother, Priyanthika, has forced to pull her kids out of school so they can sell fireworks to make ends meet.
When inflation in Sri Lanka touched an all-time high of about 95%, food prices also rose to unprecedented highs.
Nobody in Malki’s family eats on some days.
In Sri Lanka, students do not have to pay tuition and do not receive free lunches. Priyanthika’s family can no longer afford the high cost of sending her to school once uniforms and transportation are factored in.
She estimates that she’ll need 400 rupees ($1.09 or 90p) a day per child to get them back into school.
She is sitting on the bed in her tiny apartment, where she and her family of four sleep, and she is wiping her tears away.
“An overwhelming majority of these young people are dropouts. I can’t afford to send them right now “her words
Malki’s shoes and outfit still fit, so she can go to class.
Dulanjalee, the younger sibling, is currently sobbing in bed because she is disappointed that it is not her turn today.
My sweetheart, please don’t cry,” Priyanthika implores. I’m going to make tomorrow’s attempt at picking you up count.
A broken schooling
Morning finds school-aged youngsters in white cotton uniforms rushing over dirt roads, hopping on the backs of motorcycles, or crowding into tuk-tuks to make it to class on time.
Prakrama Weerasinghe groans wearily on the other side of town.
As the headmaster of Kotahena Central Secondary School in Colombo, he is often exposed to the city’s economic woes.
Children, he continued, “pass out from hunger at morning assembly because school has just started.”
Though the government claims to have begun rice distribution to schools, the BBC is hearing from numerous institutions that they have yet to receive any assistance.
Mr. Weerasinghe reports that attendance dropped below 40%, at which point he requested that teachers bring in extra food to encourage kids to come to class.
Ceylon’s teachers are represented by Joseph Stalin, who serves as the union’s general secretary.
He thinks the government is willfully ignoring the growing trend. That low-income households opting out of sending their children to school.
He says that our teachers see the discarded lunches because of this. Young people are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis.
As the author puts it, “[The State] is not actively pursuing a solutions to this situation.UNICEF and other organizations, not the Sri Lankan government, have seen and identified it.”
UNICEF predicts it will be even more challenging for people to provide for themselves. Specially the coming months due to the continued escalation of the cost of basic products like rice.
It’s likely that many more kids won’t be able to make it to school.
The last hope?
Charities have stepped in to fill the void left by the government’s seeming ineptitude in the face of the crisis.
The Christian charity Samata Sarana has been serving the needy of Colombo for three decades.
Today, its food hall is crowded with hungry youngsters from schools across the city.
A daily average of 200 kids are helped by the organization, but it’s evident that’s not enough.
Manoj, age 5, is waiting in line for lunch with his pals when he makes this observation: “They provide us food, buses to go home, they give us everything so now we can learn.”
Malki tells her mother that she had a great day at school on her first day back since she got to see all of her classmates.
However, she adds that her professors have requested additional funds to purchase materials for a class project, and that she needs a new workbook.
Lack of sufficient family funds.
Priyanthika adds, “Even if we obtain food for today, we immediately start worrying about tomorrow.”
That’s how we spend our days now.