Growing up, Poppy Royal’s life was happy and secure. Her parents Cliff, now 68, and Jenny, 58, had adopted her at five weeks old, and never kept a secret of where she actually came from – Sri Lanka.
“Mum and Dad adopted me and another Sri Lankan child, Joshua,” says Poppy.
But growing up in a comfortable home in Oxfordshire was a world away from the life of her birth family, who toiled on tea plantations for desperately low wages.
Cliff and Jenny took Poppy and Joshua to Sri Lanka when they were little, but Poppy was too young to ask questions about her roots. It wasn’t until she was 18 and studying anthropology at Manchester University that she felt the desire to trace her birth mother.
“As I grew older I wondered whether I looked like her,” explains Poppy.
Her mum and dad were supportive, so in April 2013 she flew to Sri Lanka with friends. “The only thing I had to go on was the name of the tea plantation where she used to work, and her name – Kalinga.”
Poppy didn’t even know if her family had survived the brutal civil war that had torn the country apart for 25 years, which ended in 2009. But her luck changed when she met a local man at her hotel who spoke English and offered to translate.
After a five-hour journey to a remote village, Poppy walked into the foyer of a guest house and a small woman dressed in a sari came running towards her, crying.
“She threw her arms around me,” says Poppy. “It was my birth mother. It was such an emotional moment. It was one I couldn’t share with my own mother, but this was something I needed to do on my own.”
Through the translator, Kalinga explained that her husband had died of alcoholism, leaving her with two young daughters, Pushpalalitah, now 24, and Manila Khanti, now 28, while she was pregnant with Poppy. Unable to cope financially, she’d given Poppy up for adoption.
“Kalinga always wondered if she’d ever see me again,” says Poppy. “Any time a British couple with a Sri Lankan child visited the plantation, heartbreakingly, she always wondered if it was me.”
Poppy then travelled to Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, and met Pushpalalitah, who was working in a tea factory. “It was shocking how similar she and I looked,” explains Poppy. “I felt a bond with her straightaway. Until I was adopted, she’d helped to look after me, and she remembered that.”
Pushpalalitah was studying to become a teacher, but she couldn’t afford computer classes and didn’t even own a laptop to teach herself the basics. So Poppy came back to see her in August 2014, bringing her spare laptop.
“I felt so excited, because I knew this was the opportunity to help my birth sister fulfil her dreams,” she says.
Now, Poppy’s launched a charity to collect old laptops to donate to Sri Lankan women who come from tea estates.
“I think about my birth family every day. We contact each other regularly on Facebook or by email, and later this year my whole family will be going out to visit them. I can’t believe we met each other again. It’s like a miracle.”
- Poppy’s charity, Laptops For Ladies, aims to empower women like her sister through education. She says, “No matter how much money is raised, even one laptop will change somebody’s life and that change will be forever appreciated and remembered.”
- To donate money or laptops visit Laptops-for-ladies.com