Jeyamalar is part of an UMCOR-supported Village Livelihood Group in Eastern Sri Lanka. Her family's income, once reliant on fishing, cows, and chickens, now includes a thriving clothing business.
Successes for Sri Lanka
By David Tereshchuk *
June 4, 2012―
Three decades of civil war have badly scarred Sri Lanka. And 2004’s cataclysmic tsunami wreaked more havoc on people’s lives.
UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, came to Sri Lanka in the tsunami’s immediate aftermath, and reconstruction efforts soon had to face a fresh resurgence of fighting as well. The renewed violence created a massive displacement of population that continued until a peace settlement was finally worked out in 2009.
As work proceeds now to rebuild normal life, the latest example of progress is in the eastern coastal district of Batticaloa—an area where war and natural disaster seriously damaged economic activity, not least the fishing trade that was once so dominant. Here UMCOR, with funding from Lutheran World Relief, just completed a three-year Sustainable Livelihoods Development program that significantly raised income levels for rural and impoverished families.
The program directly supported a total of 2,234 families and launched about a thousand small-scale family-managed businesses. A recent survey indicates that average household incomes for these families increased by a remarkable 160 percent—mainly because they were able to diversify their efforts and gain income from a range of new sources.
The community dimension of the initiative was key to its success. More than a hundred Village Livelihood Groups (VLGs) were mobilized and provided with training. These groups, typically comprising eight to ten people, in effect pool their savings to create a revolving loan fund to finance their ventures and enable expansion and growth when needed. New group businesses also were started, including the region’s familiar crop farming (rice is the common staple), poultry farming, a brick-making operation, and a local small dairy development that partners with a major Sri Lankan milk company.
Jeyamalar is a member, and current president, of the “Ten Chittu
” VLG; the group’s name means “Honey-bird”—a bird that’s constantly busy, amassing what its family needs.
Jeyamalar’s family previously relied on her husband’s fishing business, which was badly hit by the war and almost destroyed by the tsunami. Now she supplements his very seasonal fishing with not only a few cows and some chickens but a whole new commercial enterprise of her own, which she started with help from UMCOR Sri Lanka, operating in support of her VLG.
Taking advantage of UMCOR training, she developed a business plan for making and selling clothing, and took out a low-interest loan of less than $200 from the group’s revolving savings-and-loan account to finance her start-up.
She bought a used sewing machine—for $150—and obtained fabrics in bulk at a discount. “Then I began to sew and sell the material in my village,” she recalls. “I earn about LKR 5,000 [about $38] a month net profit.” She has since taken on employees, who are paid a third of her profits, and she has invested in a second sewing machine. She is careful to monitor her progress closely; “Saree blouses and Punjabi material make the most profit,” she says.
The individual members of Ten Chittu
– all women – benefit from operating as a group. “We previously couldn’t get loans,” says Jeyamalar, “except from moneylenders—and they charged too much interest.” They insure their micro-loans themselves through each woman paying a small monthly amount into an emergency fund.
“So far none of us has needed to use it,” Jeyamalar is proud to point out.
Your gift to Relief and Development, UMCOR Advance #3020630
, supports ongoing UMCOR projects in Sri Lanka.
* David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media analyst, and a regular contributor to umcor.org