Backed by an ex-Prime Minister’s wife
- Credit: PA
Suffolk campaigner Melissa Day has received a major boost to her efforts to help impoverished tea workers in Sri Lanka. Sheena Grant finds out more
It’s an incredible story of hope, humanity and triumph against the odds. And now it’s caught the attention of former Prime Minister’s wife Sarah Brown.
The global health and education campaigner is helping to spread the word about Melissa Day’s efforts to change the lives of some of the poorest people on Earth after hearing how the Ipswich-based fundraiser, who was adopted by a British couple in Sri Lanka as a baby, was reunited with her birth family a quarter of a century later.
With the help of a friend who was visiting the country in 2009, Melissa tracked down her mother, two brothers and grandmother, with little more to go on than a photograph taken at the Colombo convent where she was born, her mother’s name and age.
But what she discovered when she travelled out to meet her family changed the course of her life.
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They were living in grinding poverty on a tea estate, with little hope of ever escaping their situation.
Melissa resolved to try to help not just her family but the whole community, and linked up with a charity called Tea Leaf Vision that runs education programmes to improve the life chances of young people from tea estate communities. She is raising £12,000 to buy Tea Leaf Vision a school bus.
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Now she has received a major boost with the backing of Sarah Brown, wife of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and a global campaign called A World at School that she co-founded in 2013.
Last month, details of Melissa’s remarkable personal story and efforts to help improve the lives of tea estate communities were shared on its website. As a result of the link-up, Tea Leaf Vision and its parent charity, Tea Leaf Trust, have joined A World at School’s #UpForSchool movement, a petition calling on governments to keep a promise made at the United Nations in 2000 to ensure the 59 million out-of-school children around the world gain their right to education by the end of 2015.
The petition has so far attracted more than eight million signatures.
Melissa said: “It is phenomenal to have one of the world’s most influential and well-known campaigners for global education helping to raise awareness of the poor access to education those living on tea plantations are currently facing in Sri Lanka. It is one more step towards positive change. I am incredibly grateful.”
The 30-year-old complementary therapist was put in touch with A World at School after initially contacting Theirworld, a children’s charity also founded by Sarah Brown.
“I wanted to see how I could raise awareness about the poor education given to children on tea plantations,” she says. “I then received an email which said that Sarah had read my story and put it through to the A World at School team to explore if there was an opportunity to shed more light on it.”
Melissa knows only too well what her fate would have been if she had not been adopted in Sri Lanka at just eight weeks old.
“Growing up in the UK gave me one of the greatest gifts you can give a child ? education,” she says. “It enabled me to get a degree and follow my chosen career path. If I hadn’t been adopted, I would be one of those workers struggling with backbreaking work to survive on very low wages.
“Meeting my family in Sri Lanka was the most incredible day of my life. We keep in touch by phone and I’m planning to go back soon. Raising money to buy the bus is my small way of trying to help the amazing work being done to help the children on the tea plantations.”
Tea Leaf Vision, the charity Melissa is supporting, was founded after honeymooning couple Tim Pare and Yasmene Shah visited Sri Lanka and were shocked at conditions on the country’s tea plantations, where a high percentage of men are alcoholics, women suffer domestic violence and suicide rates are the fourth-highest in the world. Education is seen as a way out but teaching standards at tea plantation schools are often poor and students fail exams, continuing the cycle of hopelessness.
Tea Leaf Vision offers a free, full-time course for 18- to 24-year-olds from more than 20 plantations. The students learn English, IT skills and personal development ? more than two-thirds go on to higher education or get a job off the plantation.
The students also act as “change agents” within their communities, providing English education to primary schools on the plantations. Melissa’s brother, Ashok, 25, is on Tea Leaf Vision’s English Diploma Programme, but her youngest brother, Arun, was not able to continue due to mental health issues that are common on the plantations.
Melissa has raised £4,000 towards her £12,000 target. Her next fundraising event is Strictly Tea Dance on October 11 at Arlingtons Brasserie, Ipswich, from 3pm to 6.30pm. For tickets, which cost £12.50 each, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To support Melissa’s fundraising, visit www.virginmoneygiving.com/Melissa-Day, or to donate £10 through a Text Giving Service: text ABCD15 text to 70070.
More information about Melissa’s link up with A World at School can be found at www.aworldatschool.org/news/entry/How-education-changes-lives-on-Sri-Lanka-tea-plantations-2256.