When Nayana was born, her future looked bleak. In her village in rural Sri Lanka, girls were expected to help run the household. They were shy, and many were afraid to go out alone – even to walk to school – and one in five were married off before they turned 18.
Child marriage is not considered a ‘traditional practice’ in Sri Lanka like it is elsewhere in Asia however extreme poverty and a lack of education had made girls in Nayana’s village vulnerable to this dangerous practice.
Sadly, Nayana’s own mother was one of those who had been married off early and had never had the chance to go to school – and this was something she was determined to see change for her own infant daughter.
“I would like to educate my children and bring them up well,” she told Baptist World Aid staff through her tears three years ago. “But I’m not in a position to do this. My mother didn’t think about our future. She couldn’t educate us all so I am in this situation today because of that. I have so many problems. I don’t want the same thing for Nayana. Even with our difficulties I don’t stop sending my children to school. I have been chopping wood and selling it so I can pay for the books.”
Thankfully for Nayana and her mother, Baptist World Aid’s child sponsorship program was rolled out into her home village soon after this interview by our Christian partners – and Nayana was chosen to represent her community and form a sponsorship relationship with a family here in Australia.
Today, Nayana smiles confidently up into the eyes of her mother. “I like to study and when I am big I would like to become a doctor,” she says with enthusiasm. “Then I will help my parents and the children of this village. They should be able to grow up without sickness and disease. This is what I will do.”
Life has improved dramatically for girls in this small, rural community. The newly constructed school house means that all the children have the chance of an education and a future free from poverty. As parents have seen their children increase in confidence, they have approached the school and requested training sessions in nutrition, child health, improved farming techniques and savings and loans programs. Regular discussions are held in these sessions about child rights and the importance of education – including the dangers of child marriage.
“Girls who have been reserved and often silent observers are now slowly emerging with confidence and are free to articulate and express their opinions,” the Principal of the school says. “They are participating more and even getting involved in running good programs in our community like house to house clean-up programs and increased hygiene awareness and action.”
Nayana’s community in Sri Lanka has seen amazing change thanks to the child sponsorship program. However all across the developing world there are many other children just like Nayana living in heart-breaking poverty and dreaming of receiving the chance she received.
Please pray that God will continue to work in powerful ways using child sponsorship to transform lives not just for one child, but for their whole community. For further information on Child Sponsorship, or to access resources for Be Love Sunday soon to be held in your church, please visit www.belove.org.au or call 1300 789 991.