ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 33

Scholarship frees prisoners’ children from social captivity

Identifying education as a tool for social mobility, the Prison Welfare Association extends a helping hand to children of inmates

Kamala* lives in a remote area far away from Colombo and for all purposes it seems as if life has not been fair to her, for no fault of hers.

Her father has been in prison, not for a petty crime, but in connection with a murder. He is on death row after he was convicted for the crime that took place before she was born.

Some of the children who received Prison Welfare Association scholarships. Pix by J. Weerasekera.

Kamala comes from an impoverished family. Her mother works as a labourer to feed her and her two siblings. However, things seem to be looking up. With the support of some people who care, Kamala has passed the G.C.E. Advanced Level 2006 with flying colours, against all odds thrown at her by life.

This 19-year-old girl, for whom there seemed no hope, was among those prisoners' children who have been extended a helping hand through a scholarship progamme launched by the Prison Welfare Association. And the simple ceremony on December 30, last year at the Welikada Prison was just the continuation of the programme to give more children a chance to better their lot through education.

"When we heard that Kamala had got seven distinctions at the O/Ls, we gave her a double scholarship to get a few extra classes while in the A/L. A past student from a leading convent in Colombo also sent her past papers and notes. See how a little help has gone a long way," said Sr. Immaculate de Alwis of Welcome House, who is the moving force behind the scholarship scheme.

Kamala, with her three straight As in the commerce stream has been ranked 43rd in her district and is awaiting admission to the university. "I am hoping to become a bank manager," she says shyly when The Sunday Times contacted her through the telephone of a neighbour.

About her father, she says that he was among 10 people who saw the murder a long time ago. The case dragged on. "The person who carried out the killing confessed and got a light sentence. My father has been sentenced to death by hanging. We are fighting for his release," she says.

Adds Sr. Immaculate: "Often, it is the prisoner's family members who suffer as they have to bear the social stigma. Sometimes the family does not even want to visit the prisoner and the children have to lead a double life in school pretending that the parent is somewhere else."

Stressing that as the crime rate in the country is high, she says that it is the social responsibility of all to see that the children of prisoners do not follow in their parents' footsteps. This nun, who spends much time within the walls of Welikada counselling and helping the prisoners, says: "These children are bitter and their answer to bitterness is to take revenge, for in their little minds what has happened is unjust. Society needs to teach these children better values and also show them that there are people willing to give them hope and a new beginning."

Children of prisoners condemned to death or long-term imprisonment are chosen as beneficiaries of the scholarship project. With the cooperation of the prison authorities, including the Commissioner-General and many well-wishers, the Prison Welfare Association recently formed 'Friends of Prisoners' Children' to sustain this project.

In 2005, the 'Project to give School Scholarships to Children of Prisoners' granted Rs. 6,000 each to 47 students and in 2006, renewed these schols while granting 60 new ones. "In 2007, we hope to help an additional 50 children," said Sr. Immaculate, appealing for generous donors to join them.

The biggest satisfaction that those working tirelessly to collect money for the scholarship project get is when they telephone principals of schools to find out how the recipients are doing both with regard to attendance and performance."Three of the children had become first in class, with each receiving a special prize," Sr. Immaculate adds humbly.

(*Name changed to protect her identity)

By K.H.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.