Reaching out to children of prison inmates

The children of prisoners are often faced with an uphill struggle in life because of circumstances beyond their control. The stigma and mental anguish a child faces when a parent is incarcerated, oftens blights his/her future. Preventing this tragedy is the aim of the 'Friends of Prisoners Children' a scholarship programme, introduced in 2005.

Initially the programme included only 47 children. But each year 50 children were added and now in 2009, 250 children are being assisted.

The scholarship presentation ceremony took place at the Welikada prison on December 28. Two hundred and thirty of the scholarship recipients along with their guardians arrived at the prison for the presentation ceremony, and had a happy surprise when they were allowed a reunion with their parent in prison. The children were able to share meals with their parent while chatting to them- a rare opportunity to catch up after not seeing each other for years.

One family's story touched the hearts of many that day. Hailing from a desperately poor family in a village down South, this mother had held back the truth of their father's incarceration from her children for fear of how it would affect their lives.

She told them that he was abroad. In 2008 the father in prison applied for scholarships for two of the children and was accepted. The mother was faced with the dilemma of telling her children the truth about their father. But they took the news as well as can be accepted and came to the prison that day to meet their father after many years. Unable even to afford the transport cost from their village to Colombo, the Friends of Prisoners Children gave them the money to attend the event and also helped a family in a special way.

Another feature of this year's event was the presence of one of the first scholarship recipients. She is now following a management degree at a leading university and completing the third stage in her chartered accountancy course while also looking for an internship position. A past pupil of a well known college in Galle she got 8 distinctions for her O' Levels and thereafter excellent A'Level results which ranked her 64th in Sri Lanka that particular year.

In her emotional appeal to the other scholarship recipients, whom she embraced as her younger brothers and sisters, she asked that they do not allow the tragedy in their lives to overcome their desire to do well in school and later in life. She told them to look ahead to their future.

Every year each child presents their sponsor with a letter updating them on their progress. The gratitude and affection that is conveyed in these letters are such that sponsors are strengthened in their resolve to help them.

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