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The Miraculous Discovery of her Long-Lost Sri Lankan Family Inspires Melissa Day to fight the cause of impoverished tea plantation workers

A photo of a tiny baby in arms was the single connection to Melissa Day’s birth family and the only clue to commence an extraordinary journey that has taken her halfway across the world to discover her long-lost family.

Melissa Day, 37, grew up in relative privilege in leafy Suffolk after being adopted at 8 weeks old. Her only link to her birth family was a photo of herself at a convent in Sri Lanka. Like many other adoptees, Melissa was keen to find her birth family so when a friend offered to locate the convent in Sri Lanka, the search began.

The friend managed to obtain Melissa’s grandmother’s name and address from a visitor’s book at the centre. A maid who worked for the friend’s Sri Lankan cousin amazingly had an aunt who lived on the same tea plantation as Melissa’s family and volunteered seemingly vital information: they knew of someone with Melissa’s mother’s name.

A swift journey from the capital, Colombo, to the tea plantation in hill country came next. But it turned out to be a dead end. All was not lost though, as Melissa’s grandmother was tracked down and the rest of her birth family were found soon thereafter.

However it wasn’t a totally joyful experience. Melissa discovered that her birth family were living in extreme poverty on a tea estate in Sri Lanka. It had been as a result of these harsh impoverished circumstances that her birth mother had made the heart wrenching decision to give up her baby girl for adoption.

When Melissa finally flew out to meet her birth mother she found her clutching the same photo of the two of them she’d cherished for years.  She also discovered that she had two brothers, Ashok and Arun, as well as an extended family who all lived and worked as tea pickers on a plantation.

Melissa and her mother.
Where Melissa’s mother fed her, as a baby at the convent.

Ashok and Arun both serve as active and valuable members of the community, together forming a cricket team to steer young boys away from drugs and alcohol, hosting self-defence classes for the girls and maths and science classes in people’s homes on the estate.

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Arun pursuing his modelling career.
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Ashok with Lemongrass chopper invention.

Melissa has since connected with all her family in Sri Lanka. However, the impact on her life has been even more far reaching than she could have imagined. So touched was she by the plight of her family and thousands like them that today she campaigns to improve the lives of tea plantation workers by trying to raise educational standards in plantation schools.

Having helped raise £60,000 with the support of an International Rotary Grant, for an educational project in the country – previously ravaged by civil war and a tsunami – Melissa’s helping to deliver education to lift these communities out of poverty. She is also supporting the growth and development of her two younger brothers who haven’t enjoyed the same opportunities as her.

Tea Plantation.

She explains: “It is hard to believe that in this day and age, the tea plantation community continue to suffer gruelling working conditions and low pay and that suicide rates there are among the highest in the world. Whilst it was so good to find my family, I am now driven to make positive change to the lives of both my family and the people there. Tea is such a huge part of British life, yet few of us are aware of the level of poverty people endure on many of the tea plantations,” she says. “People often earn pennies per day and work is seasonal. Tea picking is back-breaking work performed largely by women. Not only has the tea community been hit hard by the pandemic and the country has been facing the worst financial crisis since 1948, but in 2019 a ban on chemicals being imported by the government, crippled the tea industry.”

While finding her birth family has provided closure to many questions Melissa had growing up, she has also experienced despair. But, she says: “I am now working as a volunteer with the educational organisation Jain 108 Academy and believe that I can make a difference to the lives not just of my family but to others too.”

Jain 108, teaching Sacred Geometry to the next generation.

Today Melissa balances her campaigning work with her day-job as a practitioner focusing on integrative and preventative medicine providing Zoom Talking Therapy, as well as being the founder of Niroshini Cosmetic Acupuncture (niroshini-acupuncture.com) which also hosts transformative retreats.

 

 

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