Sri Lanka is an island country located in the Indian Ocean off the south eastern coast of India. Since March 2012, the Comboni Missionaries are present in this country with a community in Talawakelle, the mountainous heart of the country, a paradise between tea plantations and waterfalls.
In Talawakelle, the small town where we, four Comboni Missionary Sisters live, the majority of the population is Tamil. Indian Tamils are the descendants of south Indian Tamil labourers who were brought to Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu (India), by the British, in the nineteenth-century, to work in the tea plantations. The Sinhalese constitute the country’s largest ethnic population, there are also other minority groups in the island such as the Burghers and the Moors, the result of the union between locals and Portuguese, Dutch, British and Arab colonisers. The official religion of the country is Buddhism, which is professed by the majority of the population -69% -; Hindus make up 16%, while of the remaining Sri Lankan population, 12.6% identify as Hindu, 9.7% as Muslim and about 7% as Christians.
The Tamil population in Uphill Region, where we live, is the most disadvantaged in the country. They are mainly Hindus and Christians. Though the civil war that plagued Sri Lanka for 26 years ended in 2009, the nation is still working towards peace. The Tamils, who lost the conflict, are still treated as second-class citizens, having few rights and working conditions similar as those of slaves.
There are four of us Comboni Missionary Sisters serving in Talawakelle, one from Poland, one from Guatemala, one from Eritrea and another one from Spain. The mere fact of living as sisters despite having such diverse origins is already a sign that reflects that it is possible to live in peace and harmony despite different nationalities and cultural backgrounds. We all work at the San Patrick college, an educational centre which is attended by more than 500 students aged between six and eighteen. It is a Catholic institute, even if more than half of the students and teachers are Hindus.
The economic resources of the centre are very limited, the teachers are few and low qualified, and the classes are overcrowded. In spite of all difficulties, the children’s desire to learn and the good work of the teachers make miracles. In 2016, we opened the first bilingual Tamil-English class. There are currently three bilingual classes in the college. We give the chance to children through courses to find more and better job opportunities in the future.
Besides working at the Saint Patrick college we also participate in the activities of our parish. We teach catechesis and assist the elderly and the sick. Despite being a minority, the Christians of Talawakelle are active. They are scattered throughout more than 40 small settlements close to the tea factories. We are also learning the Tamil language, which is indispensable in order to share life with this people whom God has called us to serve.