New Path to Top University
For the average student, most struggles occur in the classroom. Yet, for a young girl named Ara, day to day life came with its own set of challenges. Like thousands of other Muslim Sri Lankans from the Mannar district, Ara’s family moved to the small village of Puttalam after being evicted amidst the country’s 30-year civil war.
The eldest of five children, Ara and her family became internally displaced people forced to move empty handed to a district where girls’ education is a low priority. Although her parents were supportive, girls are seen as financial burdens and tasked with household chores, greatly limiting their access to quality education.
“When I was small, though my parents didn’t mind my going to school, I had to look after my siblings and take care of the household when needed,” says Ara. “My parents did not know the full value of education, because they never received an opportunity to understand the benefits of school. Therefore, they did not push for my studies. And I was too young to push myself and understand the need for school.”
In 2007, Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program arrived at Ara’s school. With the help of local mentor and Social Mobilizer, Fazeena Mahroof, Ara discovered the importance of breaking down barriers between her and her education.
“Room to Read stepped into my life and everything changed. Fazeena encouraged me to attend school every day and by doing so, I gained so much knowledge that made me realize that I could do more if I learned more,” says Ara. “So, I began to put all my energy into my studies by incorporating the skills and tools I developed through Room to Read’s life skills training.”
Now 18 years-old and a graduate of Okalakapillai Muslim School, Ara is not only the first woman in her family to complete secondary education, but also earned straight A’s in every subject on her Advanced Level exam, placing 2nd in her district.
Through Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program Ara garnered life skills, textbooks, school supplies, educational support via tutoring classes and mock exam preparation. Room to Read knows that just one extra year of secondary school can significantly boost girls’ future wages, build their self-esteem and inspire them to do more than just get married off.
“We want to make sure children have role models in their communities. When children change, their friends will change and this in turn will change society,” says Fazeena, Ara’s former Room to Read Social Mobilizer.
In order to help her family after school, Ara woke up at 4 a.m. to study. After class, she attended tutoring classes and worked on practice exam papers with constant feedback from her Social Mobilizer. Yet, even then the day still wasn’t over. She’d come home, fly through her chores and handle things like cooking and caring for her sisters before going to bed.
“By providing these girls with mock exam preparation and life skills training like goal setting, they grow more confident in sitting for exams. Therefore, girls like Ara learn to plan their days well in advance and are ready to face challenges head on,” added Fazeena.
Ara’s persistence has since paid off. On top of her previous accomplishments, she was recently accepted to the University of Colombo, one of the most prestigious and competitive universities in Sri Lanka – a feat even advantaged girls from the capital city rarely achieve.
“Education benefits more than just the person being educated. Knowledge is a wealth that increases when you share it. I’m excited for my future and for the future of those I will cross paths with,” says Ara.