Sri Lanka: Taking on life with needle and thread

Armed with a needle and thread, Suntharalingam Saraswathi is ready to take on the world. Not long ago, her world was full of chaos. Life was hard for her family during the 30-year conflict. Her parents lost two sons and the family was displaced three times.

One of her brothers went missing while being displaced during the last phase of the war in Mullaitivu. Saraswathi now lives with her parents and two remaining brothers, one of whom has a disability following an accident.

"I am the main source of strength for my parents and I love them unconditionally. I realized that I had to do something to find a stable source of income," she says. Saraswathi found this source through her passion for creativity with fabrics and fabric draping.

As a first step, she decided to get herself trained by enrolling in a sewing course conducted by the District Secretariat of Kilinochchi. Upon completing the course, she took on a few sewing projects with her small sewing machine and was able to make an income with a decent profit that enabled her to cover some household expenditure.

In 2019, Saraswathi received support from the microeconomic initiative component of the ICRC's accompaniment programme for families of missing persons. The grant strengthened the foundation Saraswathi had already built through her own courage, drive and passion. She was able to upgrade from her small sewing machine to a professional JUKI machine.

Saraswathi developed her expertise in customized orders for school uniforms, school bags, sarees for special occasions, handbags, wedding gift boxes and jewellery boxes and amenity bags, etc. She now also customizes wedding sarees by threading intricate and unique details into the designs, earning a sufficient amount from each order she undertakes.

"I am the main source of strength for my parents ... and I had to do something to find a stable source of income"

To make production more linear and efficient, she has developed a network of tailors to whom she delegates tasks based on the bulk of orders received, while retaining a small commission. She also promotes herself through social media platforms and trade exhibitions. These promotional efforts have helped her gather a few international orders.

"I now make a sustainable income on a weekly basis and I am able to save something while investing in my own business, in order to further expand it... I can also now cover my parents' medical expenses and other household expenses without being in debt to anyone," says Saraswathi. She has successfully further diversified her business by commencing sewing classes for beginners at a reasonable course fee.

Saraswathi is a shining example of what can be achieved with hard work, dedication and a little help.