When Nilmini Priyanka went around asking women living in Kandagodella camp to join the small thrift society she was trying to set up, W. P. Samanthi decided to join it.
Samanthi and other members of the thrift society, called the Arthacharya Foundation Dewagampura, were all affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami that struck Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004.
While Samanthi's husband, who was a daily wage labourer, lost his earnings, many others living in the Kandagodella camp of Matarta district, had lost their homes as well as their livelihood.
The Kandagodella camp is a cluster of transitional shelters built by Oxfam and several other aid agencies that came forward to help the displaced families providing them with shelter and livelihood support.
Samanthi, who is the mother of a small child, stayed at home, while her husband went out looking for work.
Encouraged by Nirosha, the official from the Arthacharya foundation, Samathi joined the society and started saving a few rupees a week.
As the society expanded, Arthacharya foundation decided to introduce a programme of recycling garbage so that the members of the society could earn some money from the solid waste.
The foundation trained the members of the society how to sort the garbage generated at home.
"We were told to keep the plastic, tin and glass material separately. The food items and other were to be kept apart. Earlier, we threw all this away, but the foundation officials told us not to do that," said Samanthi, pointing towards a collection of glass bottles, tin containers and plastic bags piled up in a corner.
The foundation provided each family with a compost bin and taught the women how to store all the biodegradable material in the bin.
"The food items, dry leaves and other material that is not plastic, glass or tin is kept in the bin and then transferred to the compost sack. Then we put some leaves of makulatha (Albizia lebbeck) in the compost sack and leave it in hot sun. In a few days it becomes compost," said Nirosha Lakugamhewa, a neighbour of Samanthi, who became a member when she saw the other members of the society earning from selling the garbage.
The solid waste is bought by Arthacharya foundation, which runs a recycling plant in the southern Galle city.
"The foundation buys ploythene bags and plastic for Rs 8 a kilogram, glass for Rs 2 a kilogram," said Nilmini Priyanka, President of the local Arthacharya foundation society Dewagampura.
The plastic and polythene bags are taken to the recycling plant in Galle.
"Members of our society can make Rs 2000 to Rs 3000 a month depending on how much they can produce in terms of compost and the solid waste," Nilmini said.
Most women have created patch of home garden adjacent to their dwellings where they cultivate vegetables like lady’s finger, tomatoes, beetroot etc and then sell the surplus in the market. Some of the members also sell the compost they produce at home.
"The recycling of garbage has helped the displaced families earn some money, while ensuring that the environment in which they live is clean," said Subadra Meegasdeniya, Programme Support Office of Oxfam GB in Matara.
Supported by Oxfam GB, the Arthcharya foundation has extended this compost and garbage-recycling programme to some 1,500 beneficiaries in the districts of Galle, Matara and Tangalle.
Ravi R. Prasad
Media and Communications Coordinator
Oxfam GB, Sri Lanka