Diakonia - People change the world

She finds strength in her savings group

During the long war in Sri Lanka, many thousands of people were internally displaced. Many of them are traumatized by the war and when returning to their former homes they are often met by nothing. They have to start from scratch and this is especially hard for the young widows. Priyadharshini Ravindraraja is one of them.

Priyadharshini Ravindraraja is a young widow who is working 60 hours every week in a garment factory. Her husband was one of many men who were killed in the shelling during the final months of the Sri Lankan government’s attacks at the Tamil held territory in northern Sri Lanka in 2009. At the time, Priyadharshini and her husband had two small children, 6 and 2 years old, and they were expecting a third child.

Priyadharshini and the children were displaced to a camp in a neighbouring district, Trincomalee. In the camp there was no medical support and when it was time to deliver the baby Priyadharshini had to walk to the hospital by herself. The birth of her third baby was unforgettable. 

“At the hospital it was my 6 year old son who looked after me and his younger sibling. It was he who poured me my first cup of tea after the delivery”, she says with tears in her eyes.

Returned just to find nothing 

When Priyadharshini three years later returned with her children to their home village there was nothing left of their house, just a jungle. But Priyadhashini still had to find the strength to restart her life. She went to live with relatives in a neighbouring village and tried to support her family on fishing labour. But the earnings, about 300 Rupee (USD 2) per day, were not enough even for one person.

Priyadharshini didn’t know what do with the children, but with help from a priest she managed to send the two oldest, now fourteen and ten years, to a Christian boarding school, far from their home. 

When she moved to a temporary shelter she came in contact with the organisation Yugashakthy Women Federation, and through them she received counselling for nearly six months.

A loan helped her to set up a small shop

Together with Diakonia’s partner organisation Sri Lanka Centre for Development Facilitation (SLCDF) and Yugashakthy Women Federation supports and empowers female victims of war. The organizations initiate saving groups and provide trainings on small businesses. Priyadharshini received training on income generation and then a loan for chicken farming and for setting up a small grocery shop with essential items and sweets. But the income was still poor and Priyadharshini decided to work in a garment factory in order to earn a more regular income. The grocery shop is now managed by her parents, who also live with her.

She works more than 10 hours a day and she earns 10,500 Rupees (USD 72) per month if she doesn’t take any leave. Harassments are common at the workplace, but she is not quitting.

“I face a lot of problems in the workplace, but I am enduring it. I don’t have any other option”, she explains. 

Plans to expand the business

According to SLCDF and Yugashakthy the garment workers are exploited and there are many work place issues to address. For instance the workers are being forced to stay on their feet during the whole work day, as there is no place to rest.

But Priyadharshini feels empowered and to give up hope is not an option. Now she wants to make sure her children are educated and she has some ideas on how to extend her business as well. With the help of Diakonia’s partner organization she will be able to receive more funds from her saving group to invest in her business and hopefully be able to leave the work at the factory.

“I would like to be known as a strong women, who has come out at the other end of a most difficult path”, she says.  

Story told by: Murgaverl Murugesu, program officer Sri Lanka.