By Bernadine Rodrigo
SOS Children’s Villages is an organisation founded by Austrian Hermann Gmeiner in 1949 as a result of the compassion he felt towards the children who were orphaned and helpless after the great tragedy, World War II. With help from donors and sponsors, Gmeiner was able to set up his first village in Tyrol, Austria and they slowly expanded across the world. Today, they function in 135 countries including Sri Lanka, with the villages in Sri Lanka amounting to a remarkable six in Piliyandala, Nuwara Eliya, Galle, Anuradhapura, Moneragala, and Jaffna. They work to aid children who do not receive the normal love and care of a family which every child requires. While they have obtained an astonishing amount of success with children, providing them with family-based care and education in practical and vocational skills, they still face the dilemma of children under their care growing up to be unemployed. Therefore, as well as looking after those below the age of 18, they are determined to make sure the futures of young adults leaving the villages are secure.
Hence, they have been conducting panel discussions and talks about the issue so they may come up with a solution. The “Strengthening the Employability of Youth Leaving Care” forum held on 4 September 2019 was one such discussion which was organised by the youngsters themselves. Their panellists included Policy Development Office and Prime Minister’s Office Economist Dr. Nandaka H. Molagoda, Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) Deputy Director General Janaka Jayalath, ILO Country Office for Sri Lanka and the Maldives Country Director Simrin Singh, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Assistant Representative Madusha Dissanayake, and BDO Partners Managing Partner Sujeewa Rajapakse. The panel was appropriately concentrated with those both in the public and private sectors so that a wholesome solution could be drawn.
Right from the introduction to the conference, it was clear that the children – or in fact, the youths – leaving the villages, in addition to some other hurdles, were faced with one massive objection when it comes to finding employment, an issue which is mostly unknown and often never even thought of. In everyday terms, it is discrimination. However, this is not discrimination of the popular sort. It isn’t based on race, religion, or gender; rather, it is quite an old-fashioned form of discrimination, one that is based on the situation of the parentage of the individual. It seems that employers – specifically in Sri Lanka as relevant to the forum – are especially concerned about the marital status of the parents of the child during his/her time of birth. According to the youths who spoke during the discussion, employers and interviewers in both sectors tend to focus a great deal on the birth certificates of interviewees and scrutinise every single detail, especially those about the parents of the individual. Dr. Molagoda made it clear that this issue occurs only on the lower levels of the hierarchies of companies as he had not heard of this until recently, and Rajapakse confirmed it when, with utter shock, he claimed that this was the first time he’d ever heard of it. There is some hope to resolving this problem as according to one of the youths and Dissanayake, there is an ongoing challenge led by the orphaned youth against having the details of their parents’ marital status on birth certificates, which so far, is successful. Nevertheless, the discrimination seems to be ever-present against these children as some pretentious workers often look down upon these children as poverty-stricken, uneducated, and not worthy of respect.
Another problem besides this main concern of the youth shown by Dr. Molagoda was the fact that the system of education – not only in Sri Lanka but also in the entire world – does not equip a child to face the world where skills that deviate from books are necessary. Both he and Singh agreed that the world is ever changing and that something must be done to prepare students, not only those in the villages but also those in normal living situations, for the real obstacles of the world of employment.
They also both agreed, along with many of the other panellists and the audience that this is, in fact, a duty of the public and not just the government. Singh also pointed out that job opportunities are not unavailable but in truth, they just aren’t being filled. She also showed that technology can be used to create more jobs, especially in the tourism sector and yet these areas are just not being exploited by traditional-minded leaders of the workforce.
Such are the issues faced by the young adults leaving the care of the Children’s Villages. While having to battle through problems faced by youths who have been brought up in privileged conditions, they also have the massive trial of having to face unfair indifference, leaving them at a large disadvantage which they most definitely do not deserve.
Photos Saman Abesiriwardana