Finding God among Children of Plantation Workers

Yogitha M. Christopher, Sri Lanka

I am from a small town called Nawalapitiya. My parents did social work through fine arts. They gave awareness training through drama and songs. As a child I acted in their dramas. The conversation at home would centre mostly on social issues. My mother also worked for many years in Satyodaya, a Jesuit Social Research Centre in Kandy and then at Centre for Social Concern (CSC), Hatton, where I am presently working. From my childhood, I used to go to the tea plantation estates along with the religious sisters for training the workers children in catechism and choir. The interaction with the estate children and their parents gave me a fairly good knowledge about the problems of the plantation community.

I joined CSC at the age of 20 as a preschool teacher at Mount Jean Estate. Over the years I grew familiar with the people and the vision and mission of CSC. CSC gave me various responsibilities such as field animator, office staff, youth coordinator, children’s coordinator, incharge of estate women’s saving’s scheme, field coordinator and administrator. I even had the privilege of coordinating the works of CSC from January to June 2017 in the interim between Jesuit appointments to manage CSC.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me”.  I have been working mostly with children. I have seen Jesus in the smile, affection and playfulness of the children. The plantation workers are among the most deprived in Sri Lanka. But we can experience the presence of God among them in their hospitality, unity, sacrifice and respect. Even when there is almost nothing in the kitchen, they still invite us to share what little they have with joy and affection. I have felt the blessing of God in their generosity.

Having worked at CSC in various capacities, there have beenmany who have helped me to realize my potentials, talents and skills which were developed through various trainings, guidance and opportunities. I travel more than one hour by bus every day to reach my office. It is mountainous area. There were many times road blocks due to heavy rain and landslides. God has kept me safe during my travel and my work.

My children are twins. Their birth was a life and death experience for me. Till now I have a few serious health issues. But God gives me enough and more energy to carry out the tasks given to me.

I am in the social action apostolate nearly for 20 years. We have done so much for the people. The Government and many NGOs are working for the welfare of the plantation community. But still the Indian origin plantation community are the worst affected. They are backward economically, politically, educationally and socially. The problems they face are on the increase. We can see the new dimensions of oppression. There are improvements, but still they remain backward in comparison with other ethnic communities in Sri Lanka. This makes me sad and desolate.

I know the Jesuits are doing great things for the poor and the oppressed all over the world. I am grateful that Jesuits are doing good work for the tea plantation community since 1993. Given the magnitude of the problems that the plantation community faces, I think that the contribution of the Jesuits should be much more both in quality and quantity. But that does not take place. In my opinion, Jesuits do the minimum for the plantation community.

I have worked under many Jesuit directors. I really appreciate the support most of them give me to do my mission with dedication and commitment. But sometimes lack of understanding and the suppression of my freedom have left me frustrated.

Social action is my life’s work. I like to do all that I can for the children, women and the poor. It is a great blessing that God has given me in the opportunity to serve the poorest plantation communities. There were times when CSC was about to be closed.  And there were times when I thought that I should leave CSC. But God has been my constant guide in my mission at CSC. When I am working for the children and the people, I forget my family worries. These desperately poor people have given me joy, satisfaction and meaning in life with their love and affection. I am grateful to God that through the Society of Jesus he has given me this opportunity to serve these marginalised people.