A Woman’s Journey

Seeking stability and education in uncertain times

August 31, 2023
Bandaragama - Seeking stability and education in uncertain times
UNDP Sri Lanka


48-year-old Ruwani Ekanayaka is a woman who has had her fair share of challenges with raising a large family of four children. Residing in Moronthuduwa, she has had an unyielding belief in the transformative power of education; an influential element in her life that she holds on to in her search for stability. Ruwani is originally from Kiribathgoda, where she spent her formative years studying in school before moving on to University to complete a degree in special education.  

Ruwani moved to Bandagarama as a wife, whose husband is now working abroad to provide a financially sustainable life for his family of four. Their children are all currently studying: a 21-year-old son and 18-year-old child, who are both attending University, and two 16-year-old and 11-year-old daughters enrolled in school. While Ruwani manages the house and sees to the children’s affairs, she also holds a teaching position at a private International school, a role she has embraced for the past eight years, which is reflective of her commitment extending beyond her own children, as she imparts knowledge and value to her students.  

The Easter attacks of 2019 left an indelible mark on Ruwani’s psyche, evoking post-traumatic stress and an unsettling sense of impending doom. Fear for her children’s safety gripped her, prompting her to teach them ‘survival tactics’ as a means of preparedness. The media’s portrayal of the attacks fueled apprehension and mistrust toward other communities, further deepening her concerns. In the face of adversity, Ruwani sought to safeguard her loved ones, ensuring their well-being in a world seemingly marked by instability.  

However, amidst the chaos of a global and local pandemic—COVID-19—Ruwani found an unexpected respite. The temporary halt in school coincided with a visit to her father in Kataragama, where she and her children found solace and moments of tranquillity in the company of family. For five months, she felt shielded from the patterns of conflict, terror and uncertainty she was all too familiar with in Sri Lanka. Yet, as the pandemic gradually receded and the family attempted to return to their regular lives, the poly-crisis in 2022 grappled them, like many others, leading them to a new life of financial instability that continues to test her resilience.  

However, Ruwani’s coping strategies involve spending time with loved ones, family and friends—a nod to her acknowledgement of the importance of mental health and self-care despite the trials she faces. Ruwani’s journey is painted as even more remarkable, as we see a woman who is not only intellectually capable but also in touch with her emotional intelligence.  

Ruwani’s source of hope lies in her husband’s earnings from abroad, denominated in a currency other than the Sri Lanka Rupee. This financial lifeline allows her to sustain her family and reinforces her belief in the opportunities and quality of life that exist beyond the confines of her home country.  

While Ruwani cherishes the natural beauty of Sri Lanka, her faith in its systems, government and processes has waned. This is also a significant reason her family does not receive government or private-owned financial support, only relying on themselves for income. She views the nation as seemingly devoid of law and justice, longing for transformative change that can only be brought about through meaningful reform. Her deepest desire is for her children to lead lives unburdened by struggle, where they have the freedom to choose the life they would like to live—as should all.  

As Sri Lanka grapples with its own complexities, Ruwani’s unwavering commitment to education stands as a beacon of hope; a testament to the transformative power of knowledge and the profound impact it can have on the lives of individuals, families and communities.  

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individual. This interview was conducted in June 2023 and the individual was a respondent of the National Citizen Survey 2022-3.