Smashing cycles of poverty in Jaffna

IMG_4042Can we smash the cycle of poverty and prevent one generation trapped in poverty producing another poor generation? Returning from our visit to Jaffna recently we were overwhelmed by stories which emphasised the importance of education and the potential to radically change lives. In this article I present some anecdotal evidence that sponsoring really works. Ensuring that boys and girls receive a good education really changes the lives of young men and women.

The beginnings

When I first visited Sri Lanka in 1988, I remember visiting a village near Kandy and seeing children at play around their wooden huts. I naively asked the question:

“Why aren’t these children at school”.

I had learnt that education was free in Sri Lanka but that classes were crowded. The answer came:

“These people are very poor. Their parents can’t afford the school uniforms, exercise books, text books and transport to the local school. If the child falls sick, they cannot afford medicine”

As I travelled around Sri Lanka, I heard the same story in Colombo and Jaffna. What a waste! The government was supplying the schools and teachers, but children from the poorest families were dropping out of the system and not receiving an education. Intelligent young women and men were condemned to continue the cycle of poverty.

And so, the Kingscare child educational sponsorship programme was born. This scheme was primarily aimed at making sure that children can attend school, by supplying money for uniforms, books etc – whatever things would prevent a child from receiving a good education.

Karuna Action educational sponsorship.

Eventually we introduced educational sponsorship and the U.K. charity Kingscare became Karuna Action. Compared to the ‘big boys’ our scheme is quite small. We currently support about 400 children and have sponsored several thousand over the years. We now have sponsorship partners in Sri Lanka, India, Russia, Mongolia, Albania, Peru, Uganda, Congo and Zimbabwe.

Every country is different. In Uganda, for instance, there are state schools providing primary education, but all secondary schools need to charge school fees. This is quite a challenge to us. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we support a church-run school. In Mongolia, education is free but many poor parents can’t afford the lunches provided and so sponsorship has to cover that cost.

Sponsorship needn’t stop when children leave school. We are currently supporting 30-50 young people at universities, or vocational training schemes. The difference that sponsorship makes to the lives of these young people is immeasurable!

Sponsorship in war-torn Jaffna

The people of Jaffna have suffered much because of the civil war in Sri Lanka. This war is mercifully now over. At one point all the inhabitants of the city were forced to take refuge in the jungle areas of Vanni where there were limited schools and limited facilities. Years of schooling was lost, but our partner churches made sure that sponsorship continued and we often had 20-25 year olds taking their advance level examinations because of lost years.

Jaffna was largely flattened by the bombing and shelling but now that the war is over it is amazing to see the rebuilding and development of the city. There is an air of prosperity, evidenced by the traffic and by the mobile phones (which everyone seems to have). But there is still poverty and so children can still be helped to achieve their potential through sponsorship.

Anecdotal Evidence

When we visited Jaffna in January we were privileged to meet many of the young people  who have completed their sponsorship and are now valuable members of the community. When we were there we stayed for 7 days at a small 2-room guest house attached to our partner church. Many of our lunches, afternoon teas (known as short eats) and dinners were brought to us by former sponsored young people – or we shared a meal at their homes.

On the Sunday, the Pastor asked all who were currently. or formally sponsored, to stand up and it seemed that half the church were on their feet. The scheme, run by the church,  is open to Christian families and Hindu families alike, but because of the love shown by the church, we have often heard over the years of whole families being baptised.

One young man, travelled all the way from Colombo to see us (a 6-8 hour train journey). After taking his A-levels he got a job with an international bank in the capital city and is now supporting his family in Jaffna. What would have happened to this youngster if he had not been sponsored? He would probably only be a casual labourer – if he could get a job at all.

A few years ago I met a young woman, who, after sponsorship, had set up a ‘communication centre’ in a suburb of the city. At that time, land-lines for telephones were very difficult (and costly) and so the shop was a centre for people to use telephones, send faxes and emails, so providing a valuable service to the community. But the widespread use of the mobile phone has now eliminated the need for this enterprising small business. Fortunately the young woman foresaw this and switched to selling spices and general groceries.

KiribujaniI first met K… over 25 years ago. (I apologise for embarrassing the young woman, who will probably read this blog.) In her little home she had nowhere to do her homework, so the church bought her a small table and a chair. As I was visiting at the time, I had the privilege of presenting this to her. Christine and I were her personal sponsors and we like to thing of her as ‘our daughter’.

Kiribujani2She now has a good job with an N.G.O. in the city as well as serving the church among the children and in music. She shyly showed me a photograph of a young man she is shortly to marry.

Another young man took a book-keeping/accountancy course after leaving school. He is now an accountant, keeping the books for a church network and their humanitarian wing, GraceCare.

N… was sponsored many years ago by our very good friends H&G… They have kept in contact with him ever since and they tell me that he now works in Kuwait as an I.T, specialist. He now supports his family back in Sri Lanka by sending some of his salary each month.

Will you change a child’s life?

Many of those reading this blog will already be supporting a child through child sponsorship. But the challenge remains. Are you ready to help us break the cycle of poverty by investing in a young person’s life?

We cannot promise you that ‘your’ child will become a doctor or a lawyer, but the truth is that without the help from people like you, that child stands very little chance of achieving their potential.

The Karuna Action Educational Sponsorship costs £21 per month, or 70p per day. This is the average cost of ensuring a child can receive a good education.

We can only change the world, one life at a time! You can change a child’s life, and break the cycle of poverty in future generations.


Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

One thought on “Smashing cycles of poverty in Jaffna”

  1. George, your point about stopping generational poverty is significant. If we can stop the next one from being in poverty, we stand a greater chance of repeating generations without poverty. There is a higher propensity for someone in poverty as a child to remain in poverty. Thanks for sharing and all you do. BTG


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