As you drive past the lush green plantations of Hatton, known for its Ceylon tea, you can’t help but roll down your windows to smell the tea leaves wavering in the fresh air and gaze at the rolling landscape around you. You might see the smiling faces of the tea pluckers, many of whom live in crowded conditions on the estates. In spite of the beauty surrounding them and tea being one of the Sri Lanka’s most profitable cash crops, families who work on the estates are among the nation’s poorest, with one in three children classified as underweight and 40 percent of babies born with extremely low weight.
“These disadvantaged children often grow up to be disadvantaged fathers and mothers,” said Ranjani, a social mobilizer, or mentor, in Room to Read Sri Lanka’s Girls’ Education Program. “In most cases, the girls drop out of school and marry young because their families can no longer provide for them.”
Four years ago, best friends Prashanthi and Mogandashi, both raised in the “line-room” slums of Hatton’s tea estates, faced a similar fate. At 14 years old they had to drop out of school to help their families survive and didn’t have much more to look forward to than an early marriage. But what happens when girls like Prashanthi and Mogandashi are given a chance at education and the support they need to finish school?