By: Edwin Estioko and Amber Van Schooneveld   |   Posted: October 20, 2022

Maternal suicide affects women worldwide, but women in poverty are more likely to experience depression. Meet one woman who’s helping save mothers’ lives.

Preventing Maternal Suicide in a Land Healing From War

Maternal suicide affects women worldwide, but women in poverty are more likely to experience depression. Meet one woman who’s helping save mothers’ lives.

Written by Edwin Estioko and Amber Van Schooneveld
Photography by Edwin Estioko
Sasiliya holds her son

Editor’s Note: This article contains disturbing stories of maternal suicide attempts.

Sasiliya survived the civil war in Sri Lanka, but her own personal war was just beginning. She was pregnant with her second child. Her husband, Ramesh, was violent and often drunk. They lived in a one-room home, and Ramesh often spent his meager earnings on alcohol instead of providing for his family. When Sasiliya discovered she was pregnant, the thought of bringing a new life into such a world was too much.

She resolved to take her own life.

After two failed suicide attempts, Sasiliya finally cut her wrists and lay down on her home’s cold cement floor beside her drunk, unconscious husband and waited to die.

Maternal mental health disorders and maternal suicide affect women worldwide. But they affect women in poverty disproportionately.

Mental health problems during pregnancy and after childbirth are about twice as common in low-income countries as in high-income countries.

That’s what motivates Victoria to help moms and babies in Sri Lanka.

Victoria is a worker with the Compassion Survival Initiative

Victoria is a Survival implementor. She, too, is a survivor of the civil war in Sri Lanka, which ended in 2009. According to the United Nations, 40,000 Sri Lankans lost their lives. Thousands more remain missing.

Victoria lost her husband in the war. She knows the challenges of raising a family alone. So she has devoted her life to bringing love to widows and single mothers who are struggling to find hope and purpose in the wake of civil war.

In her work with the Compassion Survival initiative, she regularly visits vulnerable moms, helping them access the physical care they need to give birth and raise healthy babies.

But often the care these moms need goes far deeper than physical support. Following a tip from a friend, Victoria went to Sasiliya’s home to meet with the distraught mom.

“The house was quiet,” says Victoria. “I peeked inside and saw Sasiliya lying on the floor half-conscious. There was so much blood and so many empty bottles of alcohol everywhere.”

When Victoria called out, Sasiliya asked her to leave — she was afraid her husband would awaken. But Victoria did not leave. She took action on behalf of Sasiliya and her unborn baby, ensuring they survived. She then registered them in the Compassion Survival initiative.

Slowly, she gained the young mother’s trust.

Sasiliya and baby are visited by 2 Compassion Survival initiative workers

Victoria and another Compassion Survival initiative worker visit Sasiliya and baby Nithusick at their home.


“I talked with her every day for a month, urging her to remain strong for the sake of her child,” says Victoria.

Sasiliya started attending Compassion Survival meetings once a week, getting to know other young moms in her community. Victoria and the other social workers went well beyond giving her vital physical support. They showed compassion and love and gave her hope. They walked alongside her and helped her overcome her suicidal thoughts and depression.

In time, Sasiliya’s husband, Ramesh, became willing to talk with Victoria. Through counseling, he has changed his behavior. Realizing his responsibility to care for his family, he has begun to work hard to provide for his family. He even repaired their dilapidated house, building a toilet and a fence.

Now Sasiliya is experiencing a promising new start. Her baby, Nithusick, is a healthy 1-year-old, and Sasiliya’s firstborn, Rishanth, 11, is enrolled in the church’s sponsorship program.

“My son and I are alive because of the Compassion Survival initiative,” says Sasiliya. “I will not hurt myself anymore because now I know my family will be fine.”

Udea is another mother Victoria has rescued from maternal suicide.

Udea walks down the street with her children

Udea was desperate. When she became pregnant with her second child, the father abandoned them. After she gave birth, she and her children didn’t have food for three days. No one helped them. In her community, if a mother can’t prove who the father of her child is, she will become an outcast.

“If a young woman is pregnant without a husband, that girl will be shamed in society and humiliated and tortured,” Victoria explains.

Afraid of her community, Udea made a plan. She would find someone to sell her child to, and then she would kill herself.

But God intervened.

Victoria was on her regular rounds in the community when she met Udea, frightened and desperate. From the day they met, Victoria regularly visited Udea to make sure she wouldn’t hurt herself or her child.

“She could be silent for hours because she didn’t trust anyone,” Victoria says. “I spent three to four hours with her because I wanted her to understand that she should not sell or hurt her child, that she should trust God and not fear people because God will protect her.”

Udea's daughter plays in the Compassion center

She enrolled Udea into the Compassion Survival initiative and provided her with food and physical care. Through the program, and in partnership with another local nonprofit, they proved the child’s paternity and secured monthly alimony for her. Now Udea’s baby girl has a name — Rebeaka. She is 1 year old, healthy and happy.

“If not for the Compassion Survival initiative, I would have sold my child to someone, and I would have committed suicide,” says Udea. “I’m very grateful to Victoria. To me, she is not just a teacher or church staff; she is my friend and sister.”

We praise God for all the workers like Victoria who are dedicated to helping moms and babies.

Compassion Survival initiative workers

They are the heroes who carry hope in a world rife with tragedy. Together, they are tackling the huge issues of maternal suicide, infant mortality and hopelessness with compassion. They are bringing a sense of worth and purpose to what are seemingly hopeless situations. If you want to join Victoria in her work, you can learn more about our worldwide Compassion Survival initiative.

*If you are in a suicidal crisis or emotional distress in the U.S., please dial 988 to reach the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.