Despite tsunami's merciless devastation of the East nine months ago, some women have managed to restart their lives from their temporary shelters through courage and sheer determination.
The women we met in the many villages around Akkaraipattu and Thirukkovil, showed immense courage and commitment to their work. Besides, they also had interesting future plans for their children and families. They all want to build their own houses and expand their support systems. They are encouraged to restart income generation activities through a micro credit scheme launched by Oxfam together with several NGOs in the area.
We spoke to K. Maheshwari who now lives in a tiny transitional house in an area allocated for tsunami affected people.
Maheshwari (56) of Thambiluvil is a mother of eight daughters, of whom five are married. During the tsunami she and her daughters managed to save their lives. When the tsunami came she got onto a tree and her children managed to run to a safe place. But, she lost her husband who was drowned in the deadly tidal waves.
Although she saved her life, her body was badly wounded and bleeding. Her clothes were torn when she finally managed to find shelter in a temporary camp. Life became very unpleasant and miserable for her and her daughters.
Before the tsunami, Maheshwari and her husband used to cultivate paddy over six acres. But with the tsunami she lost all her hopes. Her paddy land disappeared under water.
But Maheshwari was undaunted, she obtained a loan of Rs. 30,000 from Oxfam and restarted cultivation. She got Rs. 15,000 as a grant and Rs. 15,000 as a loan. She did most of the work alone. She toiled hard with the only support of her daughters. Her hard work brought good results. In the past season, she had an ample harvest. She sold the paddy and managed to repay the loan.
"I have the courage. I know, I'll have to be strong and do everything alone to be successful," she said.
Life in the transitional camp is not good at all. "I want to build a house and find partners for my unmarried children," she says. Her ultimate goal is to find a better future for her children.
K. Navamani lived in a house by the sea. When the tsunami struck, she managed to run away and save her two children and her disabled husband. However, her mother was not that fortunate.
She earlier had a shop in the village where she made a substantial income for a living. But with the tsunami, she lost all her wealth.
After the initial period of living in a camp, Navamani's family got a transitional house where she thought of opening a boutique. With a loan from Oxfam, she purchased goods for her small boutique. She now gets an income to support her family. But she says, there are many other boutiques in the village now and her business has been affected as a result.
Kalpana Jeyanathan is a young woman who yearns to become a successful businesswoman.
After the tsunami, for three months she and her husband lived in a camp. Her life was a misery. She had lost the energy and the self confidence.
But after the first three months there were various programs where they could earn some money like 'cash for work' program. Kalpana made use of these opportunities and actively engaged in various cash for work projects. She knew, if she worked hard, she could turn the disaster into an opportunity.
And after she, her husband and her grandmother got a transitional house, she needed to work. And she wanted to be successful in whatever she did.
She already had some experience in poultry farming. She had also got some training in the field through a WUSC - World University of Canada program.
She obtained a loan from Oxfam under the micro credit program, and set up a small chicken farm right behind her transitional house. Now she has 50 broiler chickens and chickens for eggs. She keeps on getting new stocks of chicks for broiler.
Now she has a ready market, traders come and buy her produce and the villagers also buy her chicken and eggs. She gets a reasonable income to run her family.
Now that she has started repaying her loan of Rs. 15,000, Kalpana has lots of plans for the future. She neatly maintains account books and profiles. She has already made an expansion report for her business. "Although I have expansion plans, I don't have the space right now. And I also need to get finances for such a project," she says.
Now Kalpana has her own bank account. With that she manages to save money to expand her business. She wants to be successful and she craves for it.
Kala Malar, a 42 year old widow is another brave woman whom we met. She currently lives with her two sons and her mother. One of her sons is going to school while the other son is working. Her husband died during the conflict. He was a farmer.
During the tsunami, Kala's house got damaged and all her wealth was washed away. They lived in a camp for two months, and returned to her house which needed renovation. She managed to clean the house and do the repairs.
She spent whatever money she got from the Government with utmost care, and even managed to save a little. Kala used to make string hoppers for an income before the tsunami. She wanted to restart her profession, but she did not have the necessary equipment. This is where Oxfam came to her rescue with a loan of Rs. 7,000 rupees inclusive of a Rs. 2,000 grant.
She is now earning a small profit on a daily basis. In addition she takes orders from various people. As we said earlier, she had spent her money with much care and she was able to save a little to buy several pieces of gold jewellery which she wears proudly.
She now wants a better life for her children." I hope that they would look after me in my old age," she sighs.