11-year-old *Cathy’s life has always been chaotic.

Her father went to prison for drug offences before she was born, and her mother struggled to bring her up as a single parent, living in a slum on a beach in Sri Lanka.

Conditions on the beach where Cathy lives

Cathy started school at the usual time, and for a few years struggled along. For a while she moved into an orphanage, when her mother’s issues became overwhelming, and although her attendance was more regular – she was in Grade 3 by now – she hated it all.

On a visit home she told her mother how unhappy she was, and her mother said Cathy didn’t have to return. She could do as she pleased. So she stayed home and dropped out of school altogether. Cathy was eight years old.

Her father was out of prison, and her mum had just had another baby. Both her parents were still dabbling in drugs. Her father made a living of kinds by selling incense sticks on the buses. Most days he’d take Cathy with him, his sympathy card, the skinny kid with the big eyes… Sales were better when Cathy was sent out to hustle. Cathy didn’t like it. She especially didn’t like the way the men looked at her, and as her body began to change, she liked it even less. But she had no choice.

After about a year, the family came to the attention of the field officer at Morning Star Care Centre, an education and vocational training centre run by Global Care’s partners Community Concern in the beach slum in Sri Lanka where Cathy lived.

Students at Morning Star Care Centre

The Field Officer paid many visits to Cathy’s home, and managed to convince her mum that Cathy should be receiving an education. Finally Cathy enrolled at Morning Star, in May 2017. She’d been out of school for around 18 months and her grades were low – only around Grade 1 level – and at first she hated this new setting too. She was angry, disruptive, used lots of foul language, bullied the little kids and got into fights with the big ones. She didn’t know how to sit still in a classroom and learn, and her anxiety and anger were too overwhelming to allow her to do so anyway.

MSCC staff didn’t give up on her. It was the school counsellor who first got through. Someone who listened. Someone who listened when Cathy said she hated being used as ‘bait’ on the buses to sell incense sticks, and who sent the field officer to persuade Cathy’s mum to make it stop.

Gradually Cathy began to settle. Two healthy meals a day, consistent care and someone who listened. Slowly seeds of transformation began to germinate.

After little more than a year, Cathy’s grades were already back up at Grade 3 level. Her concentration improved, she was less disruptive, she listened to the counsellor. At a school concert Cathy took part in a dance performance, at which she excelled.

A special occasion at MSCC

Cathy doesn’t have a birth certificate – which will cause all sorts of problems for her citizenship and access to services as she gets older. But MSCC are working with her parents to get her one. No doubt there is still a long road ahead, but Cathy’s future already looks brighter.

Our partners say: “Although she has to endure many hardships Cathy is always with a smile and is a pleasant girl.”

You can help us change the story for more children like Cathy.

*names have been changed to protect children’s identities

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Children's names are changed and their photographs obscured for reasons of protection.