Photography by Nic Dunlop
On a tea plantation in Sri Lanka, getting to school is no simple matter — in fact, fewer than half of children living on Sri Lankan tea plantations complete high school. But Anista and her little sister are up bright and early, ready to tackle their day. With support from their family and from ChildFund, they are on their way toward growing into tomorrow’s leaders.
My name is Anista. I am 9 years old, and I live on a tea plantation estate in Nuwara Eliya, central Sri Lanka. On school days, I usually wake up at 5:30 in the morning to get ready.
I have five brothers and sisters. This is my younger sister, Stella, who also is getting ready for school. We don’t have running water in our home, so we have to make several runs a day to the water tap we share with neighbors. Every morning, one of us joins the line at the tap and carries the heavy bucket home. We take turns, and this morning, it was mine. My sisters were busy with household work.
I wish my mommy were here to help me get ready for school. She works as a housemaid abroad — I’m not sure where exactly. I miss her so much. My daddy is a day laborer and leaves early for work. Both my older sisters dropped out of school because my parents cannot afford to send them to school. The oldest, Theresamma, is 19 and a domestic worker in the city. Anthoneyamma is 12 and stays home to take care of us.
Early mornings are cool in Nuwara Eliya, but it gets quite hot during the day. I walk more than a mile to school with Stella every morning. The path through the tea bushes is slippery and damp, and I need to be careful. No school tomorrow if my uniform gets dirty!
Last semester, I had to skip school a whole week until I got my shoes repaired. Those days are still fresh in my mind.
Stella and I stop on the way to school to buy a pencil. Today, we can buy only one pencil because my father did not have enough money for two. I ask the shop owner if he can snap it in half so that I can share it with Stella. Doesn’t matter — I have a good grip because my fingers are small.
This is my school. We now have toilets thanks to ChildFund. Before, I felt shy and embarrassed to go to the toilet out in the open. We also have nice classrooms.
I like to play with my friends and learn. My dream is to become a teacher one day.
It’s getting late, and we must finish our homework quickly. The lamp is running out of oil. Not only that, but others are waiting to sleep on the floor here. This space is for everything and everyone.