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In January 2011 two of our students were attacked with a knife by their drunken uncle and hospitalized. Recovered and back at school we need to start a project to help them and many others like them whose lives are terrorized by the double-edged sword of alcoholism and violence.

“The words which you gave me, to my feet they’re like a bright light.” Bhagya (2010)

Tea estate communities surrounding Maskeliya have an alcoholism rate of 80 – 85% among the male populations. This then feeds into a multitude of social problems created by the slum conditions of the estate housing and the cultural subjugation of young women. The result is that 83% of tea estate women suffer violence against them of which 20% is sexual violence. Young men are also affected by the lack of hope and role models around them growing up and the immense pressure to drink and abuse. In tea estate communities there is a high level of deliberate self-harm as well as attempted and actual suicide as a result of the domestic and sexual abuse suffered.

A questionnaire carried out in October 2010 by the 101 students of our school, all between 18 and 24 years old, showed that in the two weeks prior to the questionnaire 39% of them had wanted to self-harm, or self-harmed – 24% of them had considered suicide in the week before the survey.

We want to respond to help the students face the issues within their communities in a positive and proactive way. We piloted an Emotional Health Project and Support Group where the students studied and began to understand depression, anger and addiction. We do not counsel them, we allow them the opportunity to understand how to recognize the symptoms – in themselves and others – and have some basic strategies about how to cope with the feelings and problems that are connected to them.

Every week we will run classes regarding these issues and we will establish an after school support group where those students affected by the subject matter or who have issues can talk within a safe environment and share their worries and experiences so that they know they are not alone.

The young people of the tea estates are considered 3rd class citizens within their own country. They already have the cards stacked against them due to their ethnicity and the fact that they are the poorest ethnic group within this diverse country. Their schools are the worst quality; their teachers are the least qualified, some did not even pass the subjects they are teaching. The housing is congested and comparative to a rural slum with many families of 6 to 8 living in a small single room in a line of rooms with 8 families sharing a ‘line’ with one toilet between them. The social issues layered on top of this poverty lead them to lose hope and rates of suicide and self-harm are extreme.

We work with our students throughout the one-year diploma to build their self-esteem and give them the skills needed to build a better life for themselves.

“I came with a lot of worries when I’m leaving from here I feel that my all burdens and worries went away from me.” Jenita (2010)

For a broad overview of the charity story so far, please see:


The Tea Leaf Vision Centre for Professional Development opened in January 2010 and has already seen 101 full-time students graduate, it has also provided Basic English classes for 688 children at 23 different locations. The Emotional Health Project was piloted over two months from October to November 2010 to great effect. The students found it one of the most valuable things that they were able to learn. The Emotional Health Support Group saw 17 of the most affected students sharing thoughts, strategies and experience in a trusting environment to help them develop methods of coping and a means of expressing themselves other than through self-harming.


The Emotional Health Project will run throughout the year from the time funding is achieved. It will help 120 students directly, but have a positive impact on all of their family relationships over time as well – an estimated 500 to 600 other beneficiaries. Most of all it will start to tackle to overwhelming poverty of these communities, the poverty of hope.

Team Credentials

The Emotional Health Project was developed by Tea Leaf Trust led by Ms Dilanie Dharmarajah (Gender Awareness International Volunteers, MSc, in consultation with the leading Psychiatrist Dr Shyam Farook).