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“I do want to start my sports again” says top SL athlete working as housemaid in Dubai

22 July 2023 12:58 pm - 34     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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A top Sri Lankan athlete Sachini Perera who set national records in the pole vault and has been working as a housemaid in Dubai to help support her family at home said “I do want to start my sports again”.

For the last year Sachini Perera, 24, has put her athletics dreams on hold when Sri Lanka's currency crisis and soaring medical bills made it difficult for her to look after her mother, who requires long-term care.

It has been more than a year since she swapped crossbars and crashmats for a mop and bucket but Perera, called Sri Lanka's "Vaulting Queen" by the media back home, continues to dream of winning gold.

“I feel this is my world now,” Perera told The National in her first interview in English since she moved to the UAE in July last year.

“But step by step I will fly. I will work – one step, then the next – for my dream to fly again.”

She takes care of a young child and does the housework in a Dubai home during the day, setting aside time to exercise after work.

She follows a weekly strength training schedule sent by her coach in Sri Lanka.

“I came to Dubai to find a solution for my family. My parents say, 'you are an athlete, you are not a housemaid. This is a break from your sports life'.

Perera has always wanted to win a medal on the world stage, representing her country and her people.

“I want to be the one girl from Sri Lanka who wins an international medal for the pole vault,” she said.

“Being a housemaid is my job. But my work is not me – I’m a gymnast and athlete.”

Perera's situation drew attention after a Sri Lankan television channel profiled her, causing outrage with people criticising the authorities for not doing enough to retain sporting talent.

Soon after, The National spoke to Alexi Gunasekera, Sri Lanka's consul general in Dubai, who said efforts were being made to find her a sports-related job in the emirate.

He accompanied Perera to a meeting with sports authorities in Dubai on Wednesday to explore options so she could focus on training. The details are being worked out, he said.

Sri Lanka’s economic collapse last year sent fuel, food and electricity prices soaring as the currency plummeted and the nation defaulted on external debt for the first time since independence in 1948.

This prompted more than 311,000 people to leave in search of jobs, mainly to Gulf nations, as per government employment bureau numbers last year.

Similar numbers are expected to leave to find work abroad this year.

Perera also wants to address critics on social media who deride her for taking a maid's job and giving a “negative” portrayal of Sri Lanka.

“It is my private life that I came to Dubai and I work as a housemaid,” she said.

“When I left, no one cared for my athletic life so I had to leave to take care of my family.

“Now they say why go as a housemaid and that I should come back.

“People ask why I make sad news about Sri Lanka, but I’m speaking to say I'm taking care of my mummy and my family.”

Perera says she also wants to speak up for her friends and other athletes who have won medals for Sri Lanka and also struggle to make ends meet.

“People should know about them. Mine is only one story. We have many stories in Sri Lanka, they need help,” she said.

Despite her brave front, it has not been easy to step off the track.

“I miss my competition, my dreams, my future,” she said. “It’s very hard.

“Sometimes I cry with my coach, with my father.

“I do want to start my sports again.”

Support for training
The Sri Lankan government has taken note of her story, meaning there may be a happy ending for Perera.

“When we got the news that a Sri Lankan national record holder has come to the UAE and is working as a housemaid, as consular officials we had to act,” said Mr Gunasekera.

“We are trying to see what can be done with the support of Dubai sport authorities.

“She needs time to train and she needs an employment opportunity to earn because she has to look after her mother.”

Mr Gunasekera said in popular sports such as cricket, Sri Lankan sportsmen earned enough to handle their family's medical expenses but other athletes may not be able to cover charges.

“Sachini has the talent and is determined. I'm positive there are clubs in the UAE or schools she can work in to achieve her dream,” Mr Gunasekera said.

Despite yearning to follow her passion, Perera said she is grateful to her current employers who give her time off to use the gym, pool facilities and take her to the beach and Safa Park to train every week.

“They treat me very well,” she said.

“I have gone past a bad situation because of them.”


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  Comments - 34

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  • Nimal Saturday, 22 July 2023 01:21 PM

    This is the wonder of Asia promised by the naki mynah.

    Punchi Saturday, 22 July 2023 02:19 PM

    This is what 75 years of independence has done to our people. Reform now or be condemned forever.

    das Saturday, 22 July 2023 02:31 PM

    Everybody has the same problem, not just her

    Suresh Saturday, 22 July 2023 02:36 PM

    Who is to blame for this poverty levels? All started with the Sinhala only act? Do we realize how backwards we all went with marginalizing the minorities?

    Ram Saturday, 22 July 2023 02:46 PM

    Our Sports authorities are such that shining sports stars who does not have influence are overlooked to those who have political or sports authority influence and we see the sad result first hand now

    vis Saturday, 22 July 2023 03:32 PM

    Our leaders with massive brains must be very proud of themselves..

    Truth Saturday, 22 July 2023 04:47 PM

    @Suresh, Not at all, all problems started once in this beautiful island with 50:50 stupid demand by Tamils .

    sss Saturday, 22 July 2023 05:46 PM

    she is also sending dollars so that corrupt and incompetent SL politicians and professionals (educated free of charge) can import dutyfree luxuries and send their kids abroad for education after converting their bloated rupee incomes to dillars

    Tissa Fernando Saturday, 22 July 2023 05:49 PM

    Colombo elites have been looking down on these workers in tge Middle East although these elites have been eating imported food by using dollars earned by them. These colombo elites are looking just ordinary when they are in a crowd of foreigners.

    Spartacus Saturday, 22 July 2023 05:57 PM

    When the country as a whole promote and commit acts of inhumanity towards its own minority citizens for decades, as Lord Buddha has stated fate will one day punish. Today the fate of the Sinhalese is pathetic, many of them living like rats killing themselves and running away from the country. Once upon a time, this was what you did to the minorities when they asked for there simple rights. I am sorry for you sister.

    Mohan Saturday, 22 July 2023 06:06 PM

    There is nothing wrong with doing an odd job while beings a sportswoman. Even Mitchell Johnson worked as a plumbing van delivery driver when he lost his contract with Queensland. I think she should look for a better job while doing this current job. Something like a sports trainer, etc.

    Having job is good rather than using public monies to live when physically fit Sunday, 23 July 2023 09:13 AM

    Working job is good, Sri Lankan in public eye feel too entitled.

    Jonathan Saturday, 22 July 2023 07:18 PM

    What has happened to her husband? Is he living, or are they divorced?

    Dee Saturday, 22 July 2023 07:36 PM

    She should have played Sri Lanka cricket. Circumstances would have been the other way around!

    RR Saturday, 22 July 2023 08:51 PM

    GOVT IS ONLY INTERESTED IN MONEY, MONEY AND MONEY. THIS IS A BEGGAR COUNTRY

    Uali Saturday, 22 July 2023 10:13 PM

    She along with whole youth generation of SriLanka have sacrificed their dreams on behalf of rajapaksha children to achieve everything using nation’s stolen wealth

    Ganesh Sunday, 23 July 2023 02:22 AM

    There is no shame in what you do. Be proud of who you are and what you have achieved. Consider this as a transition. Keep telling yourself this too shall pass. I am sure someone in the UAE will see your value and reward you amply unlike our ungrateful nation.

    Arnold Sunday, 23 July 2023 05:25 AM

    #Jonathan, Why? Do you want to marry her?

    Grace Sunday, 23 July 2023 07:37 AM

    I wish her employer and his/ her family- Health, Wealth and all the good with God's blessing.

    Jagath Ekanayake Sunday, 23 July 2023 07:45 AM

    Tissa, I couldn't agree with you more, in the past the Colombo elite were educated and legitimate businessmen but now they consist of uneducated, uncultured politicians and their criminal associates.

    Jagath Leanage Sunday, 23 July 2023 08:10 AM

    May be too late . Authorities would have looked after her. When the financial constrains were there she would have givven adequate support and retained her in athletic pool . Very sad .

    Emsee Sunday, 23 July 2023 08:55 AM

    Sachini, you are a true inspiration to all Sri Lankans. You exemplify self-responsibility and always strive for the betterment of yourself and your family. Unlike many who simply make excuses and rely on others, including the government, to solve their problems, you have taken proactive steps to overcome the challenges life has thrown at you. Though the circumstances may not have been ideal, you have shown immense courage and willingness to make sacrifices. I truly hope that you and your family achieve great success in all your endeavors.

    Citizen Sunday, 23 July 2023 12:04 PM

    @Truth Sri Lanka and you would have been better off if that had happened. remember, during the war, the NE people has better economic condition, life, law and order and discipline than the rest of the country. So called your greedy and racists leaders have ruined everything in this country! Most of us who are working in the Middle East are here sacrificing our life and time with our family not bcz we love it here. Its because your leader made a mess of SL and we are forced to be here... I have no words to describe your stupidity

    Cherath Sunday, 23 July 2023 12:04 PM

    She is a microcosm of what is happening in Sri Lanka who comes from ordinary backgrounds. It's sickening to hear some people blaming her for degrading the country by seeking employment abroad. When the country doesn't care much about her potential to bring fame to her country and she has a sick mother to fend for, do they expect her to lie idle and starve as her pole vaulting skills wont buy her food and medicines?

    Emsee Sunday, 23 July 2023 12:05 PM

    Sachini, you are a true inspiration to all Sri Lankans. You exemplify self-responsibility and always strive for the betterment of yourself and your family. Unlike many who simply make excuses and rely on others, including the government, to solve their problems, you have taken proactive steps to overcome the challenges life has thrown at you. Though the circumstances may not have been ideal, you have shown immense courage and willingness to make sacrifices. I truly hope that you and your family achieve great success in all your endeavors.

    Chamara Sunday, 23 July 2023 12:07 PM

    During the Mid 50's our economy was doing better than sKorea, The Korean's choose a wise economic policy, while our leaders went to live on a cloud of 2000 year old fantasy coupled with socialism

    Tom jones Sunday, 23 July 2023 02:05 PM

    Hunger and poverty is a gift by the Rajapakse’s to the people. Thanks for the goodies Rajapakse’s and Ranil.

    Patriot Gentleman Weerawanse Sunday, 23 July 2023 03:04 PM

    This is what happening to talented poor youths in our country

    Jaykay Sunday, 23 July 2023 03:10 PM

    @Truth . All because your cheap mindset of Sinhalese leaders and their ignorant supports. YOU treated the rule of law as garbage bin and NOW it brings you the benefit of it.

    ranjit Sunday, 23 July 2023 03:44 PM

    @Truth- every man and woman in this world are equal i.e.50/50. why should certain class of people be considered as superiors to others. The root of cause of problems started with Sinhala only, when the state made one class of people as superiors. Lee Kuan Lee of Singapore made all four languages equal in 1998 and see how they are prospering.

    Sensible thinking Monday, 24 July 2023 01:49 AM

    I agree with you about Singapore but that is high hopes for Srilanka. The Singapore people are very grateful for everything and are open-minded with free trade unlike srilankans Here politicians are digging the grave deeper each day for the future generations.

    UMAS ALI Monday, 24 July 2023 02:33 AM

    WHY DONT WE BRING BACK OUR STOLEN MONEY, WE CAN ALL LIVE HAPPLY

    ANNECUNT Monday, 24 July 2023 02:39 AM

    Always remember RANIL is not a RAJAPAKSA and their is a silver cloud in the near future

    Ceylonese Monday, 24 July 2023 07:18 AM

    When covid 19 pandemic struck Sri Lanka in 2020 our main foreign exchange earner the tea industry had virtually collapsed and the employment of housemaids was our main foreign exchange earner. There was an estimated a hundred thousand Sri Lankan housemaids employed especially in the Middle East . After Covid struck many housemaids either returned home or were abandoned by their employer or left to die in the streets where they were not paid by their employer or didnt have any money to return home. Despite all the hardshhip recently during a visit to Sri Lanka I saw several advertisements on TV in the Sinhala channel for Sri Lanka housemaids for employment not only in the Middle East but also in various orher countries like Cypress, Singapore, Malaysia, Romania Italy etc. which speaks highly of Sri Lanka's Sinhala only free education I guess.


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