Featured image: cell phone ad in Sinhalese and broken English posted in Sri Lanka, a very common type of ad.
The first time I visited Sri Lanka, I slept on the floor of a mud hut. The roof was made of coconut tree leaves, and there were no windows or doors. My family comes from the deep villages in Sri Lanka, where back in the 1990s, most homes didn’t have electricity or running water.
One of my uncles sitting in front of his hut (1992)
Nowadays, things are one and the same in the villages. While the country has progressed significantly from mud huts with houses and technology becoming bigger and better in the cities, most homes in the villages still don’t have general amenities.
Me and my niece standing in front of my uncle’s house (2011)
However, this is one item of technology that everyone in the country seems to own — cell phones. Somehow, cell phones have managed to each every corner of the country, even in places where people don’t have electricity, or even enough food. A cheap cell phone new costs only 2,000 rupees (15 USD). You can either have monthly plans or buy prepaid cards and load them onto your phone, where phone calls can range from 5-10 rupees a minute, but SMS only costs 2 rupees for outgoing texts (that’s less than 2 cents USD!), while incoming texts are free. This nearly free service is making cell phones universal in the country, giving even impoverished and less fortunate people an avenue to connecting to the rest of the world. There is also a newfound fascination with cell phones that has everyone glued to their screens. Even some of my younger cousins have cell phones, and some of them have to travel miles just to get clean water!
Not an exaggeration!
With this new wave of availability of cell phones, you would expect programs like Nicaragua’s ChatSalud to be popping up in Sri Lanka. ChatSalud is a project that relies on SMS to share information with youths. A service like this would do wonders in Sri Lanka. It is very difficult to get a higher education in Sri Lanka, and many uneducated boys and girls marry and have children at a very young age. As a woman, it is especially difficult to establish a life without a college education – opportunities are few and far between, and men almost always get priority. There is also a lot of shame around sexual activity, so most youths keep their activities secret from their parents and teachers, increasing their risk of engaging in dangerous behaviors without proper education.
In all the times I have visited, and in all the research I have done, I have not been able to find signs of any sort of texting outreach campaigns in Sri Lanka. I think a sexual education texting campaign, targeted at adolescents across the country, would dramatically reduce teen pregnancy and early marriages, and promote further education.