21 May, 2024

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The ‘Flower Seller’ Video & Sri Lanka’s Youth: Unveiling The Challenges

By Janakie Seneviratne

Janakie Seneviratne

The viral video, captured by Chinese tourists, depicts a youth from a disadvantaged background desperately trying to sell flowers, running for miles barefoot behind a tourist bus filled with Chinese tourists. The youth, panting and sweating, with pleading eyes, bravely endeavors to market his wares despite the challenging conditions. Is this the fate of our youth from the hills? Isn’t it a matter of shame that tourists from developed nations visit our country and witness the misery of helpless children and youth engaging in such painstaking vocations which can be both unique and surprising to them? Or can we simply ignore it by attributing it to their karma? However, underlying this experience is the stark reality of youth poverty.

For many, this video may evoke joy and admiration for the youth who tirelessly runs back and forth on the hill country slopes. However, it also serves as a catalyst for raising awareness and opening eyes to the struggles faced by disadvantaged youth. Delving into the root causes of this plight reveals a multifaceted issue. Economic disparities, lack of access to education, vocational training with marketable skills and opportunities, and systemic barriers all contribute to youth poverty and marginalization.

This video starkly portrays the challenges faced by young people in the upcountry of Sri Lanka, raising critical questions about the well-being and future of our youth. For decades, these issues have persisted, often perpetuated by the policies and actions of those in power. These are children who have dropped out of school, resorting to the arduous task of selling flowers to tourists to make a living. Some have been engaged in this livelihood for years, transitioning from childhood to youth. Moreover, they are often compelled to migrate to urban centers like Colombo in search of work due to the dwindling economic prospects in the tea sector. Consequently, they find themselves concentrated in the informal labor sector.

The role of government extends far beyond allowing young people to resort to selling flowers to tourists without even basic necessities like shoes. It’s a fundamental responsibility of any government to ensure the well-being and prosperity of its citizens, especially its youth. When young people are forced into such circumstances, it’s a clear indication of systemic failures that need urgent attention and rectification. It emphasizes the urgent need for proactive measures to uplift and support vulnerable segments of society. We have to remember that youth unemployment has been a primary cause of unrest in Sri Lanka previously. Alongside the limited job opportunities, many young individuals’ career aspirations do not align with the demands of the job market.

The youth represent a significant percentage of the population in Sri Lanka. In the year 2023, the youth population between the ages of 15 – 29 in Sri Lanka was approximately 5.125 million, constituting 23.6% of the total population. The Youth Unemployment Rate in Sri Lanka increased to 25.80 percent in the second quarter of 2023 from 22.40 percent in the first quarter of 2023. From 1992 until 2023, the Youth Unemployment Rate in Sri Lanka averaged 24.63 percent. (Source: Department of Census and Statistics – Sri Lanka.)

Despite Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, National Youth Council, and the fact that the current President, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, once held the position of Minister of Youth, it’s alarming that youth issues are not given the serious attention they deserve.

Governments have a duty to allocate funds in their budgets for vocational and skills training, ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their background, have access to education and opportunities for skill development. Investing in affordable non-formal or formal training initiatives tailored to the needs of these youth can provide them with the skills and opportunities they need to break free from the cycle of poverty. Whether it’s vocational training, apprenticeship programs, or educational scholarships, there are various avenues through which we can empower these youth to build better lives for themselves.

Furthermore, addressing youth poverty requires comprehensive policies and concerted efforts from all levels of government, as well as collaboration with civil society organizations and the private sector. It’s not just about addressing the symptoms of poverty but tackling its root causes, including systemic inequalities and lack of access to resources and opportunities. This involves implementing measures to improve education and vocational training, creating job opportunities, promoting equitable economic growth, and ensuring social safety nets for vulnerable populations.

It’s essential for governments, civil society organizations, and communities to come together to develop and implement holistic solutions that uplift and support vulnerable youth. By doing so, we can transform their futures and contribute to the overall prosperity and well-being of the country.

Under a NPP/JVP government, it’s reasonable to expect a strong emphasis on addressing the challenges faced by youth, including those depicted in the video. Those decision makers have a track record of prioritizing social justice, economic equality, and the empowerment of marginalized communities in their policy platforms.

In their policy statements, a NPP/JVP government should outline clear measures aimed at uplifting youth resources and providing opportunities for education, training, and economic empowerment. This could include initiatives such as expanding access to vocational training programs, creating job opportunities in sectors with high youth employment potential, implementing policies to tackle poverty and inequality, and investing in youth entrepreneurship and innovation.

By prioritizing these measures, a NPP/JVP government could make significant strides in addressing youth poverty and creating a more inclusive society. These efforts would not only benefit individual young people but also contribute to the overall economic growth and social stability of the country.

In conclusion, let’s believe in the potential of our youth and give them their right to live in dignity.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    2

    Thanks for your article Janakie, however, I watched this video a few days ago. I was on sick leave for a few days so I had enough time to dig up more information about my home country.
    .
    I think the young man in that video is very courageous in his nature and makes every effort to attract his customers. We could see it in his bouquet decorations. While most teenagers don’t care about their time and productivity, this boy works for a living while still going to school.

    Now after reading your article I suddenly thought why JVP ( so called pulse of the nation) failed to help their own villagers in the last 50 years (since the party was formed). It has been proven that the majority (more than 90%) of JVP representatives come from rural areas of the country rather than urban politicians. No doubt they were good at reading the pulse of the villagers. However, statistics from the world’s agronomists believe that despite the focus on “smart agriculture” in the world today, Sri Lankan farmers are the most primitive.

    I feel that the youth of Sri Lanka have been led astray by the Janata Vimukti Peramuna and the vanguards for the past few decades and have not provided any support for their development.

    • 6
      0

      Hello leelagemalli,
      I took my Nephew and his Daughter to the Damro Tea Factory and the Labookellie Tea Lounge last year when they visited in April from the UK. I am sure we met the same Flower Seller (or a similar looking young man) on the way back but close to Damro. My Sri Lankan nephew spoke to him and bought a Bunch.
      The weather was pretty miserable (constant rain and mist) but the Flower seller and quite a few others, who were selling Fruit and Vegetables at the side of the road, braved it stoically.
      We are well aware of the daily struggle here in the Western Province Hill Country that people have to make ends meet, are the Politicians?
      Best regards

    • 1
      0

      What!??? The JVP-NPP ARE the underprivileged people from the rural sector. They have no money.

      • 2
        2

        ramona therese fernando

        “The JVP-NPP ARE the underprivileged people from the rural sector. They have no money.”

        They seem to thrive on the idea of making people equal, by forcing the rich and the well to do and the middle class poor as well.

        Please don’t keep hope alive.

        • 0
          0

          NV,

          Don’t worry, you’ll be still quite rich after you pay your dutiful 24% taxes.

          • 3
            1

            ramona therese fernando

            “Don’t worry, you’ll be still quite rich after you pay your dutiful 24% taxes.”

            Please advise them to recover all those stolen state assets including funds by the politicians, functionaries, commissions paid to various middlemen including members of armed forces, …. …… …. during the past 75 years of misrule.

            It would be more than enough to rebuild the nation many times over.

            • 2
              0

              NV,

              Agree! But not only them. Also from all those who sponged off the system.

  • 6
    0

    The people sufferings it’s pain,leave Kandy Colombo Jaffna etc you could see real struggle people are trying very hard to survive.”malnutrition”I have seen a mother feeding the child rice and seeni sambol can’t afford for even pol sambol the coconut is 120…….

    .
    The A/l purely rely on tuition they don’t attend school classes instead pvt tuition classes,some wealthy given home group tuition.so basically how many of them can afford…..
    .
    Food sellers specially group of women in small huts.
    .
    These are few but it’s break hearts the plight of people.
    .
    Who to blame the god or “moddu Sinha” even back of the vehicles they display “the proud of “

  • 3
    0

    Successive govt. have failed to address poverty & now the assumption is the NPP, the ‘citizens’ party’ with a socialist agenda, will uplift the poor but aren’t we being too optimistic? Acknowledgement is good but what is the strategy?

    A few years ago, while on holiday, a friend recommended a wayside stall that opened only at lunch time. The food was relatively cheap but spicy with several options & I became a regular customer. The food packets were delivered around noon in a trishaw by a young man who I thought was running the business. However, he told me that he was only an employee of an eatery (or ‘hotel’) & his ambition was to save enough money to buy his own trishaw. He further told me that he was a University graduate & hailed from the rural south. His parents being peasent farmers & proud of their son’s education, didn’t want him to work the fields & sent him to Colombo to seek his fortune. This is also a tragic story where the govt. spends public funds on an education which neither the public nor the recipient benefits.

    • 8
      1

      Dear Raj,

      You are talking about cutting money to education in a country where almost everything is looted due to misadministration.

      All this did not happen overnight, but with the direct support of the SHAVED HEAD bastards and stupid Rajapakse supporters.
      It is based on their fake popularIty games.

      Racism and sinhala aggrandizement made people stupid forever.

      Some Japanese experts on sociology say that Sri Lankans can hold their heads high if they come down to earth and realize who they are. They are just another poor country.

      By the end of 2019, the way they interpreted everything was scripted. Looking back now, the disaster was scripted as well.

      Nevertheless, neither the legal community nor other learned professionals in the country are under tension, which could marginalize Rajapaksa forever why ?

      It was the stupid people’s support that put the Rajapaksa bastards back in the seats.
      Also, don’t underestimate the “Sri Lankan Media Mafia”: that is thousand times dangerous than DRUG mafia.

      Now with the BIA’s visa issue for foreigners, there are questions well designed to disrupt the government. I’m not a fan of TIRAN ALLES or anyone, but I know everything he reveals about VFS global is similar to what I gathered from GERMANY’S COUNTER PART.

      • 2
        5

        Leela,

        “It was the stupid people’s support that put the Rajapaksa bastards back in the seats.”

        If your hero CBK had finished the war, rather than buying mansions in the UK, then no need for MaRa. You know why she won’t enter politics again, she is a bigger loser than Ranil.

        Tigers were selling the propaganda left and right to the Diaspora. After capturing more and more territory.

        https://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=4968

    • 5
      0

      Hello Raj-UK.
      ” However, he told me that he was only an employee of an eatery”. I had a similar experience in Qatar. I was training some of the Senior Officers on how our system integrated the various Forces. Each Lunch-time I was invited to join them in the Restaurant ( Senior Officer’s Mess). One of the Waiters serving, spoke extremely good English and excellent Arabic. I got speaking to him a few days later when he came down to clear up the Classroom. He was Nepali and an ex Teacher of English at a College in Katmandu. He had a Batchelor of Education (BEd) Degree. He didn’t tell me how much he earned in Nepal, however he said he earned about 3 times what he earned before and his accommodation and meals were provided free of charge.
      Sri Lanka is not the only Asian Country that isn’t capitalising on their Graduates. Ranil wants English Teachers, but he won’t pay them a decent Salary.
      Best regards

      • 5
        2

        LS,
        “Ranil wants English Teachers, but he won’t pay them a decent Salary.”
        There are huge disparities in the money that skilled teachers can make. Real English teachers can make 3 or 4 times what the government is willing to pay. Dancing teachers not so much, or teachers of literature.
        But which IT grad in his right mind will take a state job at even 100,000 a month when the private sector will pay a million ?

        • 1
          3

          Dear old codger,
          .
          What you state is an over-simplification.
          .
          It is true that the demand for English Language Teaching is much greater than for English Literature, but the actual sum of money earned isn’t always in proportion to the skill displayed by the teacher. It depends on how much such a teacher organises his teaching teaching to maximise profits.
          .
          I have never earned much money. As salary in one of the top International Schools in Colombo; for a period, yes. But that didn’t last all that long. I wasn’t willing to go along with all the values in the place, and I displayed a good deal of integrity.
          .
          Those who earn millions do so because they have mastered the very difficult task of rousing expectations and then persuading a student that he has learnt something worthwhile. An idiot cannot do this; nor can one maintain fraud for long. All credit to the successful.
          .
          However, the obverse doesn’t hold true. There could be many reasons why some guys don’t earn all that much.

          • 6
            0

            Hello Sinhala_Man,
            Quite a few of my Sri Lankan relations are Teachers in Government and Temple Schools. I have been inside Wickramabahu National College, Gampola where one of my neighbours teaches. Inside the Assembly Hall, I was struck by the resemblance to my old School in Aberdeen (Powis Academy built 1939) which my father also attended. The Stage and Proscenium Arch were almost exact replicas, as was the seating and aisles. What a contrast from the Village/Temple Schools in terms of facilities. This is a Victorian School in Shropshire, where I lived until recently https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/blists-hill-school.html?sortBy=relevant
            It puts many of the Sri Lankan Schools to shame, it was built in 1881. Contrast this with a typical UK Primary School nowadays https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/empty-classroom-royalty-free-image/1340516763?adppopup=true
            Improving the Schools and their Facilities would be a great start to improving the standard of Education in Sri Lanka. Nowadays the Teaching of English concentrates on Communication using all the IT Facilities to the maximum. Servers, Laptops, Headsets, Projectors, Video Cameras and online Self-Testing are all used in a holistic way to enhance Classroom Teaching. Training Existing and Student Teachers how to use IT Hardware and Software is essential to bring Sri Lanka into the 21st Century
            Best regards

      • 3
        1

        LankaScot, et al

        My point was that the higher education system in SL is not fit for purpose but successive govts. have turned a blind eye. If the ambition of an university graduate is to be a trishaw driver, what does it tell us? Higher education & apprenticeships should open doors for gainful employment benefitting the country, while helping the poor, particularly, those from rural areas, out of poverty. The JVP was born out of the frustration of such youth but now in alliance with the NPP, how will they address the problem?

        Maybe if there was better ‘career’ advice & a choice, perhaps, with agriculture oriented studies, would have been better for the person in my comment, instead of an unemployable qualification. Many years ago, my employer sent me to a Govt. vocational institute near Wattala to select a few apprentices. Among the many school leavers was a chap keen on an apprenticeship but the institute prevented me from selecting him because his qualifications enabled him for University selection for ‘Physical Science’, much against his will.
        Cont.

        • 4
          0

          Cont
          Universities in SL, with the JVP in the forefront, are known for radicalising & politicising rural youth. In other countries, the first year at Uni is a great time but in SL, it is a nightmare for most with sadistic ragging. The private sector is cautious about employing SL University graduates & most, particularly, the arts graduates, end up in the govt. service & we have all experienced the general lethargy & indifference of these govt. employees.
          Recently, I have come across many SL who have come to UK as ‘mature students’ to pursue higher education, such as, MBAs or Degree studies in other fields. They have been doing ‘Executive’ jobs in SL but are now stacking supermarket shelves while their spouses work in sandwich bars. Despite their come down in the social ladder, they obviously have a better lifestyle than in SL. There is dignity of labour but wasting time & public money in an education that serves neither the country nor the person, is absurd.

    • 2
      1

      “He further told me that he was a University graduate & hailed from the rural south.”

      He probably had some advantage with standardization. While some wealthy guy in Colombo was denied a place at university. Standardization is NOT racist, it creates opportunities for the less privileged to enter.

  • 3
    0

    Running like a happy fool with his feet to the fire along dangerous curvy roads, forcing Chinese tourists to buy flowers because they feel sorry for him. He and his family are hungry! That’s why he does it.

    Elite Lankans will now deck their homes, social gatherings, and hotel parties with even more flowers. Talk about My Fair Lady and the Victorian times!

    Elite Lankans need to pay their taxes instead of sucking up rural masses’s empolyment possibilities.

  • 3
    0

    This clearly shows the plight of young people in Sri Lanka. At the same time, the MPs and the Speaker are fighting to get Duty-Free Car Permits. Ranil will need a bigger bowl next time he goes abroad with his begging bowl.

    What has the Ranil-Rajapaksa government done until today, other than increasing the net borrowing since Ranil took over the government? We are in a deeper hole than our pre-aragalaya times.

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