Sri Lanka: Helping vulnerable people to rebuild their lives

15-07-2014 Feature

In the north and east of Sri Lanka, households headed by women and persons who were disabled due to the conflict are among the vulnerable needing support to develop sustainable livelihoods. The ICRC is enabling them to start income-generating activities and develop appropriate skills.

The past conflict in Sri Lanka resulted in women having to become the bread winners for their families.  Similarly, people who became disabled and other economically vulnerable people were left to fend for themselves or even support entire families. They had to find a way of earning a living without necessarily having the skills or experience.

“The ICRC helps these people to find sustainable ways of generating income,” explained MSM Kamil, head of the ICRC Economic Security Department in Colombo, adding, “This is one step towards rebuilding their futures.”

Much of this is achieved through micro-economic initiatives (MEI) and community-based livelihood support programmes in the districts of Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Mulaithivu, benefiting some 1,120 households between October 2011 and June 2014. Some of these programmes were run in conjunction with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society. In addition, the MEI programme has helped more than 373 rehabilitated former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fighters to become self-employed and socially integrated into the community.

Since the beginning of 2014, the assistance provided to vulnerable households accords with the Sri Lankan government's community empowerment programmes.

Hope renewed

Multi-tasking breadwinner – Kavita takes care of her daughter and manages her business, maintaining a ledger to track the shop’s income and profits, while her father repairs the bicycles.
© CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / M Kamil 

Puvaneswaran Kavita (24) is a widow. She resettled in Valluvarpuram, Kilinochchi with her daughter and her parents after the conflict ended, but she had no steady income. She qualified for the MEI programme and, with the cash grant she received, opened a bicycle repair shop.

“My business has been a profitable one so far,” she said. “From my monthly earnings of LKR 15,000, I reinvest LKR 5,000 in buying spare parts and I have seen my business grow.”

Today, Kavita earns enough not only to cover the daily needs of her household, but she is also able to put away some savings for her daughter and support her parents. She can now look to the future with renewed hope.

Laying foundations for a new future

Starting afresh – Nadarasa and his wife have begun building their own house. Because his workshop is at home, he is able to spend precious time with his family, catching up on the years they lost while displaced and separated. © CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Lyanne Lin Chu Kao

Building life anew, Veerakudy Nadarasa (53) has many reasons to be happy. He has been reunited with his family after being separated from them during the conflict and they now live in a temporary shelter in Puthukudiyiruppu East, where they have resettled. He also has a booming business from which he earns enough to look after his wife and three children.

Nadarasa is a construction worker who manufactures concrete posts for fencing. He started his business with an MEI cash grant, for which he qualified owing to his economic vulnerability. He has steadily acquired enough experience to be the only person in the village with the skills to do this type of work. Word about the high standard of his work has spread to neighbouring villages and beyond, bringing him more orders, including some from overseas.

“I get so many orders I sometimes find it difficult to fulfil them,” he said happily.

Like Kavita, Nadarasa too has expanded his business by reinvesting the profits to buy tools for his trade.

Beyond economic success

Rani Amma harvests an abundant crop of onions in her garden. © CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / M Kamil

In her home town of Mannakandal, Oddusudan, in Mullaitivu district, 62-year-old Nadeeshan Rani Amma used to be a well-known cattle farmer. Sadly, she lost her entire herd of 100 cattle during the conflict.

When she received her MEI cash grant, she opted to cultivate onions. She sold her first crop at the local market for LKR 20,000, with which she bought two cattle. Today, Rani Amma has 17 cattle and has expanded her business by selling milk. She is also constructing a hand-dug well which will help her to cultivate her crops more efficiently in the future.

“I collect up to 15 litres of milk every day,” explained Rani Amma. “I sell the milk to Nestlé, which has a milk collection point in the village, and they pay me LKR 46 for every litre.”

Her economic success has enabled her to provide a home to a boy, orphaned during the conflict, who she is now fostering. She is also incredibly happy at having been able to see her daughter get married.