MELISSA Day, 35, is a cosmetic acupuncturist and complementary therapist and lives in Suffolk. She was two months old when she was adopted from a convent in Sri Lanka by her British parents.
Melissa finally met her family after 25 years and felt full of love for her birth mother, Vijayalakshmi. She has returned there three times and is helping them even if she is thousands of miles apart.
“Heart pounding, I opened the email. It was a photo of a woman with brown eyes like mine: my biological mother. Staring at her, I finally felt as if I belonged in this world. I was two months old in 1985 when I was adopted from a convent in Sri Lanka by my British parents.
Growing up, I was aware I was adopted, but felt so grateful for my life. Still, I longed to know my birth mother. All I had was one photo of us, her date of birth and first name – Vijayalakshmi. I wondered why she’d given me up and if I had siblings.
Aged six, I vowed to one day find them all. I left home when I was 18 and began working as a receptionist in Ipswich. I dreamed of finding my family, but I’d never been back to Sri Lanka and didn’t know where to begin. In October 2009, when I was 24, my friend Ashan offered to help, as he was going to visit his cousin in Colombo.
Five days after he arrived, I received a life-changing phone call. He’d tracked down my mum, now 61, two brothers Ashok, 29, and Arun, 26, my grandmother Cinnama, 80, and 15 family members. A maid working in Ashan’s cousin’s house knew a woman with my mother’s name.
That woman turned out not to be her, but she actually knew my grandmother, who had lived and worked on the same tea plantation all these years. Through her, he found my mum, who was working in a factory. She had a copy of the same photo I’d cherished.
Ashan emailed me pictures of my family – Mum had the same bone structure as me, while my grandmother had blue eyes and my brothers had my smile. I couldn’t speak my family’s native Tamil, but my mother spoke some Sinhalese, the same as Ashan’s cousin Hasith, so they arranged with her for me to visit.
It felt like something I should do alone, so after landing in Colombo, I went to Ashan’s family home to meet my birth mother. She was tiny at 5ft 2in, with size- two feet, like me. Hasith translated as my mother explained she’d let me go when she was 26 because of poverty – her take-home wage was extremely low.
There was no running water and limited access to healthcare. She hadn’t been able to get an education as her family couldn’t afford to send her to school. The conditions are the same today and although there is now access to education, the majority of teachers in tea estate schools are unqualified.
She explained my dad had left her when she got pregnant, and as unmarried mothers are shunned, my grandma had persuaded her to have me adopted. My dad returned after I was born and they married, going on to have my brothers. I felt full of love for her as I finally understood.
The next day, I met the rest of my family. I found out that my alcoholic father, Uvindu, had killed himself in 1992. I felt grief that I would never meet him and sad that my family had been left in hardship. As I arrived, a crowd from the community gathered.
I started crying, so my grandmother took me to her home where she sang me a Hindi lullaby to calm me down, before the rest of the household performed a ritual to accept me, carrying a flame and pressing cool ash between my eyebrows.
Over the next two weeks, I met my dad’s extended family, and bought clothes and shoes for my mum and brothers.
Back home, I told my adoptive parents and they were happy for me. I researched charities that support the Tamil tea plantations and in January 2010 found the Tea Leaf Trust, which teaches English and mental healthcare to young people in plantation communities. It offered places on its programme to my brothers.
I began campaigning and via my business started selling tea from a Sri Lankan Direct Trade plantation that has good living and working standards. I donate profits to my family’s community, raising more than £60,000. During the Covid- 19 pandemic, the Tea Leaf Trust has delivered 700 care packages to the community, including my family’s plantation.
I’ve been back three times, and if it wasn’t for lockdown I’d be there now for my youngest brother’s wedding. Though I’ve learned some Tamil, there’s still a language barrier, so often when I call we sing to each other. I miss my family, but I take comfort in helping them even from thousands of miles away.”
- 3,570 children were adopted in the UK in 2019.
- 40% of adopted children are of a different race or culture than one or both their adoptive parents.
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