Sister Christine Fernando has never been one for remaining within the confines of the walls of her convent. She regularly walks across the Sri Lankan city of Katunayake, known for hundreds of garment factories. On her walks, Sister Fernando meets many women in need, including garment factory workers. The nun from the Sisters of Charity congregation is acutely aware of the systemic poverty and discrimination the women face. The nun says it is her duty to help the marginalized factory workers who experience low wages and poor working conditions. Her work to empower the needy brings her much happiness and joy.
“Many of the women experience sanitation, safety and security issues, poor quality living conditions, as well as sexual harassment when they come back to the boarding houses after their night duties,” she explained.
Sister Fernando visits the boarding houses and listens to the problems of the women workers. Usually, five to six women live together in a small room. They share a common kitchen and toilet and there is very little space between each bed to walk. So, Sister Fernando represents the girls by negotiating with the boarding house owners for better conditions.
“Some girls were required to pay 50 rupees for the basin of water until Sister Fernando negotiated and reduced the amount,” Pushpakumari said. “The nun educated the women about our worker rights which helped us to gain courage. Even as a graduate I lacked the courage [to speak out]. After working with the sister I felt stronger,” she added.
Another issue that Sister Fernando cares passionately about is helping the unemployed get back to work. The nun established a center called “Shramaabimani Kendraya” (dignity of labor). The center gives vocational training to men and women who have lost their jobs. Women learn the skills of baking, sewing, beauty therapy or media while the men receive training in electronics.
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