Like hundreds of others along the eastern coast,
Pathima Nithaya of Akkaraipattu had been overwhelmed by the
By dint of sheer determination, however, Nithaya
continued to give between 25 and 30 rupees a month to the
Akkaraipattu Women’s Association (AWA). According to the rules
of the association, contributions had to be made for at least a
year before a member could qualify for any benefits.
Nithaya’s diligence paid off. She was chosen as
a beneficiary in the association’s revolving loan scheme, funded
by the United Nations Development Programme’s Strong
Places project. The AWA trained her in agriculture
technology and gave her seedlings to start an organic home
garden. She had to make an extra effort to prepare the soil
which she did by mixing manure and fertile soil before planting
seedlings in the small plot in her garden.
Tending an organic vegetable garden while
looking after three young children was tedious work but Nithaya
was grateful for a chance to supplement her family’s meagre
income. The wife of a casual labourer, Nithaya had found it
difficult to save even a few rupees a month.
Now, not only can she feed her childxzren
chemical-free vegetables, but she can also sell the surplus
produce once she extends her organic garden with her husband’s
help. She plans, too, to expand to poultry farming with credit
facilities from the AWA, valuable support that she can count on
given her steady resolve.
Nithaya’s tale is one of many success stories
told in the UNDP’s new post-tsunami recovery report.
Titled ‘Looking Back`85 Looking Forward’, it showcases
the lives of tsunami survivors who learned to help themselves
with a little help from outside. These are accounts of courage
and perseverance in the face of tremendous challenges.
Take B M A Gunapala. He lives in Ukwatte, a
farming village at Gintota in the Galle district. The hamlet
supplies Galle town with vegetables. Their main crop being snake
gourd but they also grow bitter gourd, okra,(bandakka)
capsicum and green chillies.
The tsunami waters flowed up the Gin Ganga and
inundated the fertile soil, damaging both vegetable and paddy
farms. For the subsequent six or seven months, the soil remained
infertile. But farmers say that after a few showers, the soil
appeared richer than before for growing leafy green vegetables.
Gunapala, whose father and grandfather were both
tillers of the soil, now tends to his two-and-a-half acre farm
cultivated with a variety of vegetables. He had sustained
considerable losses due to the tsunami. Almost everything in
their vegetable plots was destroyed.
But Gunapala was a member of a farmers’
association and the UNDP assisted him through this society. "The
fertiliser and equipment we received were very useful," he
recalls. "In fact, we didn’t get into debt as on previous
occasions because of the assistance we received. This time, our
income was good."
"We depend on this cultivation for our
livelihood," Gunapala reflects. "We are traditional cultivators.
The lands are not my own. They are leased out. Most farmers
cultivate in lands that have been leased out. We settle our
loans and then we borrow again. I generally market my produce
through a wholesaler with whom I have a long-standing
relationship. We are aware that the intermediary makes a high
profit but we are helpless as we have to accept whatever price
is offered to us."
An artist at heart, 23-year-old W H Udara Asanga
of Devinuwara in Matara has turned his designing skills into a
lucrative business. He builds specially fitted dashboards and
stereo lockers for three-wheeler scooter taxis. Himself a
three-wheeler driver in the past, he had first tried out a new
dashboard and locker design for his own vehicle. His friends
were soon admiring his handiwork.
When he lost his house in the tsunami, Asanga
moved into his parents’ home. He obtained a loan of Rs 25,000
from the Devinuwara Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society – one of
the many microfinance institutions funded by UNDP – to buy a new
jigsaw and drill so that he could resume his business.
now have customers from Trincomalee on one side and Haputale on
the other," Asanga, a father-of-two, says. "I generally take
about three or four sets of dashboards and lockers by bus to
Trincomalee every month. I sell each set for about Rs 7,000 or
"When the three-wheeler looks nice, it is good
for the driver’s business," Asanga explains. "As a result he is
happy. I get a lot of satisfaction from this work. I introduce
new designs, change the colours and the material. These products
are made with plywood covered with formica and decorated with
printed pictures and stickers with appropriate wording I get the
stickers done outside according to my requirements. I also get
digital stickers printed in Matara."
Asanga has leased a three-wheeler out of the
profits he has made. He pays a monthly lease rental of around Rs
7,000. He also takes passengers on hire.
M Naufiya is one of six members of the Agaram
Social Service Organisation of Kalmunai. Like Nithaya, she
qualified for a loan from a revolving fund financed by the
Strong Places project. A widow fending for four
children, Naufiya makes stringhoppers which she sells to people
in the neighbourhood. She earns a daily profit of about Rs 200.
The loan helped Naufiya replace old equipment as
well as buy larger stocks of rice. "I am happy because I was
able to buy some new equipment and because I don’t have to buy
rice on credit anymore. Now, I am looking forward to buying a
rice grinder and have already begun saving for this."
After the tsunami, the Agaram Social Service
Organisation (ASSO) helped clear debris and also contributed
towards reconstruction. Recognising the potential of this group,
Strong Places gave a grant of Rs 175,900 along with training in
writing proposals, identifying needs and financial management.
With this guidance, the organisation was able to re-establish
itself. Volunteers were taken on, more documentation was
introduced and accounting procedures put in place.
"We have become an established organisation,
recognised by our community and accepted by donors," says T
Thusiyanathan, president of ASSO. "We feel that now we have the
knowledge, experience and staff capacity to implement any
project that will benefit our village."
The UNDP report documents numerous other
post-tsunami projects that had helped Sri Lankans recover their
livelihoods and their lives.
For instance, Ratnam – a toddy tapper from
Kudiyiruppu in Batticaloa – benefited from the UNDP’s Quick
Recovery Project under which palymrah trees uprooted by the
tsunami or conflict were speedily replaced by the planting of
Ratnam considers the palmyrah palm as a gift
from nature. It provides the community with food, shelter, and
livelihood and protects them from recurrent natural hazards like
cyclones and heavy winds.
Ratnam’s wife and children use the leaves and
fruits of the palm to supplement their income. She makes edible
items like panattu, jam and sauce from the fruits and odial,
khool and pittu from the tuber. The family also makes marketable
products such as mats, baskets and fences from the dried palm
leaves and even pots and vases.
Palm fronds are used as roofing material and as
fencing which the unused parts of the tree go into the family
hearth as firewood.
Neglect and two decades of fighting had already
left scars on the extensive palmyrah plantations of the east
coast when the tsunami uprooted whatever was left.
(Extracted from the UNDP’s post-tsunami recovery report)