Every morning Ashwini, 15, is up early.
By 6.30am she’s out on the cricket pitch for the morning training session. As soon as school finishes at 3.30pm she’s back again.
She’s never missed a practice and is always the first of her team out on the field and ready to play.
Ashwini’s children’s club in Sri Lanka was included in a UNICEF-supported sport for development program, which aimed to ensure girls like her have the opportunity to participate in sports – particularly cricket – to help them build their strength, as well as leadership skills and confidence.
Now, Ashwini is dreaming of representing the Sri Lanka women’s cricket team.
And she’s getting good: she’s the captain of her team, holds the school record for the most wickets in an over (five), and regularly places first at regional school track and field competitions.
Her family want to see her achieve her dreams, especially her Grandma who accompanies her to all her cricket matches outside their village. Ashwini says without the support of UNICEF she would have not been able to begin her cricket journey.
"Sport can be a great equaliser."
While sport has great benefits for children in terms of physical and mental health, it can also be a powerful force for good, helping to break down barriers, promote participation, change attitudes and include the excluded.
“Sport can be a great equaliser,” explains UNICEF Australia Director of International Programs Felicity Wever.
“Particularly in a country like Sri Lanka where cricket is traditionally seen as a boys sport and it’s only recently been understood as a sport that girls can also play, and that they can play it at the highest levels of the game.”
“Sport can help challenge these gender stereotypes, because if we’re all playing, then maybe we’re not that different.”
“That’s the power of sport – it can bring communities together and challenge social norms,” she says.
"If we’re all playing, then maybe we’re not that different."
Having seen how the program has increased students’ participation in sport, particularly girls’ participation in cricket, the teachers and principal at the school want to see the program continue to grow.SUPPORT THIS PROGRAM
Abisha, 15, also dreams of playing cricket for her country. She wants to be just like Kumar Sangakkara former captain of The Lions, Sri Lanka’s national men’s team.
She loves watching the The Lions on TV and says she’s their biggest fan. However, her school doesn’t have a cricket team, and she can’t often watch the women’s games on TV because its only available on expensive pay TV packages.
"Cricket is always perceived as a men’s game and not fit for girls in our region"
When the school day is over, Abisha and her friends play cricket at a small ground near their village in Jaffna district, in the north of the country. However, for a long time they didn’t have any equipment, or have anyone to coach them.
“Even though we love playing cricket, we [didn’t] have any facilities,” says Abisha. “[The] cricket bat was borrowed from our neighbours.”
through a UNICEF sport for development program, Abisha and her friends received training in cricket technique and equipment.
“We got the required resources and knowledge to play cricket and in addition we gained skills on team building, conflict management, motivation and leadership,” says Abisha.
“With that knowledge we formed a small team from our children’s club.”
"I am very proud to say that we won the Under 15 Cup in Jaffna!"
“Now our small village has gained a reputation for [girls] cricket. I have confidence that I may be able to play for the national women’s team someday.”
Globally, sport for development initiatives have been shown to build children’s leadership skills and self-esteem, and create better relationships with teachers and adults, increasing their engagement in school.
"Sports coaches have a huge amount of influence in children’s lives and can have a really positive influence on them."
“Having someone who is a person that the kids look up to not only teaching them the correct technique and skills associated with cricket, but also at the same time reinforcing messaging around their self-confidence, mental health, nutrition, school attendance and equality can be a really powerful motivator,” says Felicity.
“Through sport, UNICEF can reach kids in a way which is meaningful to them, in a way they connect to, rather than running a presentation or a class.”
Help us expand this incredible program
With support from the International Cricket Council, UNICEF Sri Lanka and Australia are currently working to expand cricket programs in Sri Lanka so more girls can be empowered through sport.
Unfortunately, due to limited resources UNICEF Sri Lanka has not yet been able to take this work forward and expand the program.SUPPORT THIS PROGRAM
Stay up-to-date on UNICEF's work in Australia and around the world
29 Nov 2023
How a teacher’s disability inspired a school of inclusivity
Access to education is the first step to a brighter future for children living with disability in Papua New Guinea.
15 Nov 2023
Childhood homes lost in a changing climate
Through no fault of their own, children and their families are being forced to leave the familiarity of their homes in search of food, water, and security.
4 Oct 2023
How UNICEF is supporting children in Armenia
Following the escalation of hostilities and the challenges of sudden displacement, children in Armenia need immediate access to humanitarian services.
27 Aug 2023
Meet Tony, a dad from Vanuatu who did all he could when his newborn twins were in crisis.
24 Aug 2023
Five ways you can support LGBTIQA+ children’s mental health
This Wear it Purple day, find out how you can support and celebrate diversity.
14 Aug 2023
Three innovative ways UNICEF is taking climate action
Three innovative ways you are ensuring children inherit a greener planet where they can reach their full potential
6 Aug 2023
Burundi: the country where young people are leading climate action
From rocket stoves to sustainable agriculture, young people are shaping futures for the next generation
4 Aug 2023
In photos: six months of rebuilding lives in Türkiye and Syria
It has been six months since the deadly earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria devastated children and families. See their journey from heartbreak to hope thanks to the ongoing support of people like you.
4 Aug 2023
Aussie artist Ken Done has spent the past 35 years as a UNICEF Ambassador
Ken Done is the kind of guy that can put a smile on anyone’s face. He’s warm, funny and a world-renowned artist, hailing from Sydney’s North Shore.
27 July 2023
Meet three Team UNICEF City2Surf superstars
Our supporters are lacing their sneakers and hitting the ground running for City2Surf in support of children worldwide.
23 July 2023
How birth certificates can unlock education for Aussie kids
Registering a birth is more important than ever.