I met Mala, Woman of Valor, in her small palm-branch-thatched home in a rural village in Sri Lanka. As we sat in the plastic chairs stamped with flowers in the front room of her two-room house, she stood in the elbow between a handmade standing table and the woven palm branch wall of her home. Her curly black hair was pulled back from her face, and she shifted nervously as her daughter, Sewwandi, took a seat in the circle with us.
The house had no windows, though the woven branches let in slivers of light. The air was still, heavy, and hot. We perspired through every layer we had on as we listened to their story.
Sewwandi recently took a scholarship exam. If her marks are high enough, she will earn a scholarship that would partially cover the cost of her education. Mala explained that while the education itself is free in Sri Lanka, they must pay for books, supplies, and other fees. Sewwandi lives 3-4 km from school (over 2 miles), so they also pay for a tuk-tuk to carry her to and from. Despite the fact that they share with 7 other children, it still costs 1450 rupees per month. They have to purchase safe drinking water at 40 rupees per 40-liter container (they need at least one container per day). And their home, made of sticks and branches, isn’t water-tight during rainy season.
Mala spoke quietly but firmly as she explained that she and her husband often went hungry in order to feed their children or pay for Sewwandi’s education.
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