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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Monday, November 28, 2005

Carving out a livelihood in Sri Lanka

Carving out a livelihood in Sri Lanka: Source: International Organization for Migration (IOM)
Date: 17 Nov 2005

By Ranjitha Balasubramanyam, IOM Colombo

Nearly 2,500 families have been helped by an IOM livelihood restoration programme for tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka. The programme allows people to build a foundation for their future by developing sustainable incomes. Among them is a carpenter proud of his new but popular creation fashioned out by tools provided by IOM.

The IOM transitional settlement in Moratuwa on Sri Lanka's western coast is a beehive of activity as our vehicle pulls in one sunny afternoon. Sounds of children squealing in delight as they go back and forth on swings fill the air. But there's another persistent noise that draws our attention - the scraping of wood.

Walking around a transitional home down a rather neat little lane at the entrance to the settlement, we come upon a man in his mid-thirties working away diligently on a piece of wood. K. Wimalasiri Perera is doing what he's been doing for nearly a couple of decades now - creating things out of wood.

If there's one place in Sri Lanka renowned for handcrafted furniture, it is Moratuwa. Located some 20 kilometres from the capital Colombo, the city is home to some of the finest carpenters in the country.

Wimalasiri though, is busy fashioning something a little more humble: a wooden coconut scraper. The finished product is not very elegant but it more than makes up for that with its efficacy. It's basically a low stool with a piece of metal jutting out and an extended piece of wood to hold a bowl underneath it.

"You just have to sit on the stool and hold a halved coconut over the metal scraper. It's so easy," Wimalasiri beams. Obviously, he is proud of his creation. And he has reason to be happy too. Coconuts are a big part of Sri Lankan cuisine. So, needless to say, this little contraption is quite a hit not just with customers outside the IOM settlement but with residents too.

Wimalasiri's modest carpentry business was washed away like that of thousands of others by the 2004 tsunami.

He used to make timber beams used in the construction of roofs for houses and buildings. When he came to the IOM settlement in Moratuwa along with his wife and his young daughter in July this year, Wimalasiri was a dejected man. But he didn't sit around dwelling on his misfortunes for very long.

IOM provided Wimalasiri and other carpenters in the settlement with carpentry kits. Each kit cost about US$ 200 and consisted of a hammer, a drill, a grinder and hand-blower used in reshaping metal.

The assistance is part of an IOM livelihood restoration and development programme for tsunami-affected people funded by USAID, ECHO and Greece. So far, more than 2,400 families - including Wimalasiri's - in five districts have benefited from the programme aimed at helping people regain and develop a sustainable livelihood.

"Right from the beginning, I didn't want to depend on handouts," Wimalasiri explains, referring to aid distributed by the government and other agencies.

His coconut scraper-stool sells for 300 Sri Lankan rupees, which is less than three US dollars. It takes Wimalasiri about 90 minutes to make one and he says that while his product is already quite popular, he plans to start a door-to-door sales campaign.

The young carpenter does not conform to the stereotype of a disaster victim. And if more proof is wanted that he is a man with initiative, 35-year-old Wimalasiri is currently in the process of producing hand-held coconut scrapers as well.

So, does he see his time at the transitional settlement as a foundation for a future life?

"Yes. I definitely want to try and grow in this business. I want to provide for my family and give my daughter a good life," says Wimalasiri, exuding confidence.

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