A new chance for young people on Sri Lanka's plantations
by Harasha Gunewardene
“The setting up of our Adolescent Youth Club, has been a blessing for almost 330 youth on our estate. It has today become the forum for the social life of our youth. Here as adolescents they are able to enhance their awareness and experience of new things,” said 18 year old S. Prabaharan, President of the Club. Nestled in the heart of the tea country on Dickoya Estate, Hatton region, this Club is the first of the 25 clubs planned for the tea plantations Hatton region, by the Plantation Human Development Trust(PHDT) which is supported by UNICEF.
“Club activities include HIV/AIDS awareness, life skills such as coping skills , vocational training, recreation activities, sports and we even have Japanese classes taught by a volunteer” explained S. Arul Jeyarani. “Before we had no such place to come together. They come from near and far and share ideas and experiences. For the first time we learned to play indoor games as well their rules. We learn how to overcome mental stress, especially during examination time. And there’s also the decision-making process as we run the affairs of the club There were no such programmes before,” said Jeyarani who is the secretary of the club.
Youth Clubs provide a unique forum for 30-50 adolescents, in the 9-18 years age group, to gather daily in the afternoons(4-6pm) and on Saturdays (9-12) and engage in meaningful activity with their peers.
This UNICEF-supported programme has been made possible by contributions from the UK government’s Department for International Development to the Life Skill Development Programme among under-privileged young people in the plantation sector. The programme is implemented by the PHDT while the plantation management companies provide the premises, maintenance, electricity and security. UNICEF provides material such as TVs, DVDs, Hi Fi systems, furniture and sports goods. In the Hatton and Nuwara Eliya regions, participatory training workshops were conducted to develop peer education skills among youth leaders and health facilitators, while advocacy meetings were held for estate management and the union leaders by the PHDT with UNICEF support.
A UNICEF Adolescence Survey among 29911 young people revealed that some of the urgent issues that needed addressing are: academic pressure and low self-esteem, lack of knowledge on reproductive health, risk of conception and symptoms of pregnancy, poor knowledge about contraceptives, insufficient knowledge on HIV/AIDS, need for job opportunities, lack of vocational skills, uncertainty over their future goals, inadequate knowledge of reproductive health, and sexual abuse. Some of the major problems faced by adolescents were drugs, alcohol and tobacco abuse, child and sexual abuse, depression, anxiety and suicidal behaviour, exposure to STDs including HIV/AIDS, bullying, violence and delinquency, gender and racial discrimination.
According to Dr. H. Yakandawela, UNICEF’s Programme Officer directing the project, “The formation of adolescent clubs is an innovative approach which imparts a life skills education programme that can reach adolescents in all walks of life over a relatively short period of time. Parents encourage the participation of their children in club activities. Creating awareness, especially among parents, and making them active participants in the programme, is crucial for the success of life skill education.”
In the Nuwara Eliya region too, the formation of similar Youth Clubs are underway, with 10 estates selected as a pilot project, from the 65 estates in the region.