Weaving wonders: Sustainable recovery from tsunami and conflict

Published: 9 April 2009 0:00 CET

Amanda George, British Red Cross, in Sri Lanka This is the second in a series of four profiles/case studies, looking at how Red Cross Red Crescent has helped people to rebuild their own lives after the tsunami in Sri Lanka.

Sathrukkondan village in Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka, has been badly affected by the armed conflict that has raged though the country for most of the past 20 years.

All of the village’s residents have been displaced at least once, and the settlement is well known for a massacre in 1990 when most of the male villagers were shot dead in the main square. In addition, the 2004 tsunami affected the livelihoods of many residents who relied on fishing in nearby coastal villages.

This is the backdrop that the British Red Cross came to Sathrukkondan in 2007, initiating a series of livelihoods interventions to improve the lives of the community. This included the distribution of group grants, an important part of the British Red Cross’ livelihoods recovery programme in Batticaloa.

Trained in crafts

Grants were given to groups of women of all ages who came together to choose collectively how to spend the money. They decided to be trained in the craft of cane furniture making, and the Red Cross Red Crescent found a trainer to take this forward.

Vimaladevia, 38, is one of the women who took part in this training and is now manufacturing items from home.

She describes how the process began: “We have always had the resources in the village but did not have the skills, so this is where the grant has helped so much. Before the training we were at home all day, but now we have more independence as we make our own money. We have also built up our confidence.

Expand the business

“I enjoyed the training very much,” she continues. “The income I can generate now helps to pay for the household expenses and for school supplies and uniforms for my two children. I hope to be able to expand my business in the future.”

Vimaladevia and her family were displaced three times in the 1990s as a result of the civil war and forced to live in four different places during this time. After displacement, they decided to move nearer to the sea, as her husband is a fisherman. Through fishing they were able to make ends meet, until Boxing Day 2004 when the tsunami devastated the east coast.

“My husband lost his boat and all his equipment in the tsunami,” Vimaladevia explains. “I thank God that he was not killed, because he saw the tsunami coming as he was cycling to the market to sell his fish and he took to high ground as his bicycle was swept away.

Coastal areas evacuated

“We lived for two months in a shelter as all the coastal areas were evacuated and we received some aid from the government during this time. My husband was scared to go back to fishing, even in the river, and there were rumours that all the fish had been contaminated so it was not safe.

“He has finally gone back to fishing,” Vimaladevia says. “He has to fish with someone else now though because he does not have his own boat. This means they have to divide the cash and he does not make as much money for the family. He also has bad asthma and this means he can not fish every day. That is why the British Red Cross cane training has been so important to me and will make a huge difference to my family and our livelihoods.”

Vimaladevia’s hopes for the future are simple: “I hope that the future brings a good life for my family and that we can live in a house and feed our children without any problems.”