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Child with Empty Lunchbox: Malnutrition triggered by Economic Crisis

As Sri Lanka is suffering from its worst economic meltdown since independence, the depths into which the recession goes unravel tales of the children of Sri Lanka who take no part of the misdeeds of those held accountable for this hardship and suffer from malnutrition, and we learned three heartbreaking stories of this nature to prove it.

The Child with Empty Lunchbox

Last week, in a faraway area in the country, a school teacher tells her students to open their lunch boxes at lunch time. One student, who brought an empty lunch box, opens his and his companions make fun of him. The children of the classroom – bless their hearts – who laughed at him may have no knowledge of the circumstances which led to his friend’s empty lunch box, but the child from thereon remains at home telling his parents that he cannot go to school anymore.

The Tale of Three Teachers and Six Hungry Pre-School Students

Three teachers of a pre-school in Kegalle attend to their students this week to check on their affordability to bring food for lunch. “Who brought only ‘Pol Sambal and Rice’ for lunch?” the teachers ask. Out of thirty students in the class, six raise their hands. The three teachers then make a collection, buy six ‘Parippu Wade’ from a nearby shop and distribute them among the six. Our collective witnesses the entire event as our correspondent, who visited the pre-school for an official matter, was present at the scene.

The Tuk-Tuk Driver who bought ‘Egg Roti’ for Children

The third sequence follows a Three Wheeler Driver, a benevolent spirit having the heart to feel the hunger of children, who bought ‘Egg Roti’ for three school students he transported, and we quote his experience by his own words;

“On Wednesday eve, I have a hire to run to take a kid to his tuition class. When I take that kid back home, I also drive other children living in the same bloc home. When I dropped that kid yesterday, I was given 500 rupees. There were three more children in my Wheeler, so I bought Egg Roti for those three kids. Coming back home, I told what happened and my daughter said, ‘Oh dad, what you did was so great. One of them lives in a family who can hardly afford to live. They don’t even have proper food to eat, nor do they have money to travel by bus. That kid too is fond of having something to eat from a shop once in a while.’”

The three stories come in in the backdrop of staggeringly fearful statistics disclosing child malnutrition in Sri Lanka, a fact that came to spotlight about three months ago and is denied by the authorities in cold blood.

The authorities’ denial of this simple truth was well established over the last period, and to elaborate one, Hambantota District MP Ajith Rajapaksa told the reporters after learning a recent story about child malnutrition in Suriyawewa area that there is ‘no such malnutrition’ among the children of Hambantota District and that his comments can be backed by what he described as a ‘personal investigation’ into the allegations. Being a Rajapaksa, the Ruling Party MP may have spoken for his own children and for those of other Rajapaksas he is loyal to. Contradictory to his comments about child malnutrition being ‘non-existent’ in Sri Lanka, we learn the complete opposite.

To elaborate another, the dialogue on the hunger of Sri Lankan children was well concealed when the story of a student of a school in Colombo eating the portion of food reserved for the Lord Buddha, or commonly known as the ‘Buddha Pooja’, surfaced and the authorities denied it, later laying the ‘sin’ of eating food reserved for holy purposes on the top of it in a bid to divert the conversation to elsewhere.

The authorities’ denial on child malnutrition was established in a third row, rather brainlessly, when the story of a school student bringing solid albumens of coconut for lunch was surfaced and the health authorities responded saying that coconut albumen is a very nutritious food for intake.

The misdeeds carried out by greedy politicians and backed by the state leading to this great economic disaster shall never be put on the account of the children of this country, nor shall they be placed in the aftermath to suffer.

The existence of a state does not merely stand for the land itself, for it represents the people living on it, breathing its air, and depending on its harvest and production. The future of a country is its children and them having to suffer from malnutrition would be the ultimate horror one such state has to witness. Sri Lanka at present is driving itself towards the same and yet distant fate.

On the other hand, children are their parents’ jewels in the eye, and the meanings of such sentiments’ are beyond the phrases of literature scrolls, and root themselves to the ground reality of the physical world. Therefore, a parent having to fill their child’s lunchbox with only ‘Pol Sambal’ and ‘Rice’, or albumen of coconut, or even leave them with empty lunchboxes decodes the unaffordability of the citizens of Sri Lanka in its worst phase.

There are sharp discussions about Sri Lanka’s economic crisis in the political arena, where the Ruling Party goes on saying that the people have to bear the burden for a little longer, while the parties of the Opposition go on saying on stages that they should be given power to save the people from the recession. On the other side, a trend is being grown that the 225 MPs of Parliament should be rejected.

Nevertheless, children of the country shall not be left to starve or suffer from malnutrition while political parties grapple against each other for power. We do not believe that an initiation in this regard requires the gaining of the governing power.

Therefore, we as the ‘Nelumyaya Foundation’ have planned a programme to distribute eggs and milk packets / yogurt twice a week for children living in low-income households of the country. Its first phase will begin in Kegalle next week.

This article is part of an islandwide advocacy campaign to raise awareness among the public while seeking the support of local and international comrades who wish to contribute.

May we reiterate, that Sri Lanka is our people. The future of Sri Lanka is its children. Let us not allow the future of Sri Lanka to suffer from malnutrition. Let us unite for this common purpose!

*English Article adapted by original feature ‘හිස් කෑම පෙට්ටියක් රැගෙන ආ දරුවෙක් ….’ (His Kema Pettiyak Regena Aa Daruwek…) published on 20.10.2022.

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