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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. 

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Tsunami - hit women running a gauntlet of new challenges

Daily News: 23/12/2005" by Chandani Jayatilleke

They were paddy cultivators, string hopper makers or vegetable sellers before the tsunami struck exactly one-year ago. The killer waves wrecked their lives. The pain remains to this day, and some of the losses are permanent. But even so, many have sprung to life and picked up the lost threads, though some have been idling, depending on relief and grants. A few have taken to begging too.

Maheshwari from Thirukkovil in Ampara district wants to build her life and provide a better future for her children. Still living in her transitional house, she dreams of continuing her paddy farming which she did with her husband prior to the tsunami. Her husband perished in the deadly tidal waves.

Today, she anxiously waits the monsoons which are to begin in the next few days or weeks. The rain, she believes, will water her rice crop and bring new hope to her family.

“I want to build a house and find partners for my unmarried children,” says Maheshwari, who speaks Tamil and communicated with the Daily News through a translator. Maheshwari is small in stature and worn down by the hard life in the village. At 56 she looks more like 80. She is the mother of 10 children, eight daughters and two sons, who died during the region’s two-decade conflict.

Five of her eight daughters are married. For months she has been living in a transitional house made of planks in a tiny, temporary village especially set up for the tsunami survivors. Even after one-year she continues to live in the same settlement.

However, she has the courage to lead a gainful life. Thanks to a grant scheme initiated by an international NGO, Maheshwari could plough her paddy fields for the second time. “I have courage now,” she says. “I know I’ll have to be strong and do everything alone to be successful,” she said.

Amid all obstacles, hundreds of women such as Maheshwari are showing remarkable determination to move themselves and their families from the temporary shelters to better places.

Often, the crucial boost comes from various government and non governmental organisations. But this is not the complete story. According to a study done by Sumika Perera of the Women and Media Collective many women survivors are still languishing and the hardships that they were exposed to over the last year were immense.

Perera says that she visited many tsunami-affected areas through the Coalition for Assisting Tsunami Affected Women-CATAW and observed that many women survivors are faced with issues such as lack of proper houses, toilets, health facilities (specially for pregnant and lactating mothers), livelihoods and education facilities for their children.

Perera is of the view that there are many important points to consider when resettling the tsunami-affected people, as many women want to live in an area where there is sufficient security for their children and where they can restart livelihoods without much hassle.

Perera says that a group of women she met in Galle lamented that they would not be able to continue to be involved in the coir industry in the future because the housing units they are getting are far away from the coir industry locations.

In certain villages, women also complained that the cash their families received in building self-help housing units were not spent 100 percent for that purpose, because, the money was received by their husbands. And they spent the money on their own. There were women who found fault with their husbands because the men sold certain relief items they received to buy liquor.

However, the situation with regard to the affected women in the North and the East is more vulnerable. Many Muslim women who continue to live in camps and in the temporary shelter do not have sufficient freedom. Their movements are restricted as they have to live among strangers in the temporary settlements.

Therefore, Perera calls upon the authorities concerned to provide decent living facilities and opportunities for earning money.

What is most disturbing about the tsunami survivors in the South is that many have got into the ‘dependency syndrome’. Around the three damaged railway carriages in Peraliya is a growing begging culture. The moment a vehicle carrying foreigners or locals stops near the railway track in Peraliya - just to have a glimpse of the train, a group of women and children runs to the scene and asks for help - money. The women encourage their children to beg.

These women are supposed to be those who lived within the 100-metere zone before the tsunami. Their houses are being constructed elsewhere at present, although they still occupy the temporary wooden houses built within the 100-metre zone.

When the Daily News queried why they behaved in this manner, they said that they were in the coir industry before and were now jobless. And up to now, they haven’t got any support.

We asked the children whether they went to school, to which they answered happily ‘Yes’. They’ve got their books and everything as well.

One thing never stops in Sri Lanka - school education. Come war or the tsunami, kids in white uniforms and dark ties trudge to school. And this is true both in the Sinhala speaking South and the Tamil speaking North-East.

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