Breaking Cycles of Poverty Through Vocational Training

In Sri Lanka, an island nation off the southern coast of India, most people live without roads, electricity or access to safe drinking water. Over the last 25 years, this impoverished nation has been ravaged by a bloody civil war and devastating tsunami that claimed the lives of thousands of people. But in the midst of all this tragedy, stories of hope emerge that prove the Sri Lankan people can break cycles of poverty and build a brighter tomorrow.

Singarasa Sivarasa, a 17-year- old Hindu boy, was born in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka to a very poor family. His father lost his life fighting in the civil war. He became an orphan at just five years old when his mother suffered a fatal accident as she went to bathe in a nearby stream.

Singarasa went to live with his grandmother in a nearby village. His grandmother worked long hours in the paddy field cultivating rice, but she didn’t earn enough money to provide for them both.

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BCFS’ overseas division, Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), brought Singarasa into their foster care program when he was eleven years old. CERI’s foster care program connects youth who are displaced or orphaned with family members who can care for them, and helps the newly formed family meet the child’s physical, educational, and spiritual needs through subsidies and connections to local services.

The CERI team in Sri Lanka worked hard to motivate Singarasa to focus on school and pursue higher education after high school. Unfortunately, he failed the national exam that qualifies students for higher education. Singarasa became frustrated and distanced himself from his CERI case workers, determined to forge his own path. He found odd jobs here and there in the village doing manual labor, and started getting into trouble.

But his advocates within CERI continued to contact him, hopeful that he could still turn his life around. They recognized that he was drifting down a dangerous path, with no sustainable way to make a living and negative influences all around him.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 3.13.02 PM.pngWorking with CERI, Singarasa learned that even without going to college – which is very expensive and difficult to achieve in Sri Lanka – he could still pursue vocational studies and receive national vocational qualification. So he enrolled in a vocational training college to learn automobile repair and become a mechanic. He blossomed in the training program, and was deemed the best student in class.

Armed with a brand new skillset and newfound self-confidence, Singarasa says he can tackle any challenge that comes his way. He has since found employment in local auto garages to earn a stable income. This year, he began a second-year training program at a vocational college in Sri Lanka, thanks in part to the support of his CERI sponsor back in the United States.

CERI offers several types of sponsorships in Sri Lanka that meet the physical, emotional, and developmental needs of children, as well as help youth transition into adulthood with training programs, educational opportunities, and guidance on financial management and social values. Training and career guidance CERI provides Sri Lankan youth helps connect them to job opportunities – and ultimately break generational cycles of poverty that are deeply ingrained in the nation’s socioeconomic landscape.

CERI has planted deep roots in this island nation, and the fruits of the organization’s labor are plentiful as they work alongside the next generation of Sri Lankans. Each year, hundreds of children and youth like Singarasa experience drastic life-change as a result of CERI’s teams abroad, as well as their loving and generous sponsors stateside.

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For more information about CERI’s child and youth sponsorships, visit


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