Spotlight on International Women’s Day: Young Women Breaking the Cycles of Poverty in Sri Lanka

When families stand behind their daughters, young women can become unstoppable forces for change. Jayarani, a driven individual living with her family in the tea plantations of Sri Lanka, shows us just what young women can achieve with the right support.

At 21 years of age, Jayarani was living with her uncle in the Agrapatana subdistrict of Dimbula. With nine other family members living under the same roof, Jayarani’s uncle was struggling to make ends meet. Jayarani, having just recently completed her advanced levels at school, was spending her days searching for employment to help alleviate her family’s financial burden. But despite her determination, her job search continued to come up empty.

Jayarani

This experience is not uncommon for youth in Sri Lanka. In 2013, roughly 18% of youth 15 - 24 were unemployed, with even higher rates of unemployment among young women. Jayarani knew she was going to need to go above and beyond if she wanted to stand out in the job market. So with the support of her family, she enrolled in the financial literacy courses being offered to women in her community through WUSC.

WUSC has been working in Sri Lanka for over 20 years to help meet the educational and employment needs of thousands of Sri Lankans. In January 2013, with funding from the British Asian Trust, WUSC partnered with the Sewalanka Foundation, a local community-based organization, to support the economic empowerment of women living on the tea plantations through financial literacy, leadership and entrepreneurship training. Jayarani is one of more than 800 women who have participated in these financial literacy trainings over the past two years.

To put into practice the skills she was learning, Jayarani asked her uncle if she could track her family’s monthly spending. She soon began to find many unnecessary expenses and talked to her uncle about this. Her uncle trusted Jayarani and listened to her advice. As a result, within the first month, she and her family were able to put aside some savings for the very first time.

Seeing the impact of the financial training workshops, Jayarani decided to pursue further opportunities to build her skills with WUSC. After enrolling in an agricultural training program, she encouraged her family to join her in starting a small garden. Relying on Jayarani’s growing financial skills, the family was able to sell their produce for a profit and soon made enough revenue to invest in a bigger plot and grow their business.

But Jayarni was not satisfied, determined to do even more to help lift her family out of poverty. So she once again enrolled in training through WUSC - this time in a program that offered women opportunities to develop their tailoring skills. Hoping to just be able to pick up some extra work on the side, Jayarani’s tailoring business quickly took off as well. Soon after, Jayarani opened a savings account in her own name for the very first time in her life.

Jayarani enrolled in the trainings with WUSC and Sewelanka hoping to help her family make ends meet. Now, Jayarani, like many other young women in Sri Lanka, is putting her skills to use to find ways to not just survive, but thrive. Although she is not certain what the future may hold, Jayarani has told us that she is now more confident than ever that she can handle whatever comes her way.

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