Diakonia - People change the world
Niventhini Uthayakumar is now a proud producer of cassava crisps. Photo: Annette U Wallqvist

Suriya gave me hope of being able to make a living

There was a time when Niventhini Uthayakumar and her husband constantly argued about the lack of money for food and schooling for their children. Finally, she became so despondent that she tried to take her own life. But when she came in contact with the organization Suriya, everything turned around. Now, Niventhini Uthayakumar has started her own business.

Niventhini Uthayakumar points proudly at the place where she makes her cassava crisps. She fries 80 kilos of crisps per week in a large pan over an open fire. The work has made her both self-sufficient and independent of her husband. The dust swirls lightly over her bare feet as she darts back and forth over the ground in front of her house. She moves quickly, determined to show everything she has achieved thanks to her new income. 

- I do everything myself, she says, and  lifts the lid slightly off a black plastic tub filled to the brim with crunchy cassava crisps.

The family has always been poor; her husband is a fisherman and previously their income depended on a good catch. Niventhini Uthayakumar contributed to their livelihood through her employment at a small crisps factory. But when the couple had their second daughter, she was forced to stop working.

- I couldn’t leave both the girls on their own, especially not the little one, she explains.

Big arguments about money

The strain on the family has long been great and the situation didn’t improve when Niventhini’s husband prioritised supporting his mother and sisters over his wife and children.

- My father-in-law has two wives, but he only lives with one of them and no longer supports my mother-in-law. My husband felt responsible towards his mother and sisters. But he has never given me any money for our own household.

The conflicts about financial priorities escalated, along with Niventhini’s despair. She couldn’t afford to feed the children, let alone send them to school. In the end, she was so desperate that she tried to take her own life by setting herself on fire. The whole of her left arm and both hands are covered in thick scars.

Help for abused women

Diakonia’s partner organization Suriya works actively to strengthen marginalised and abused women. Via their local network their attention was drawn to Niventhini Uthayakumar’s situation and they contacted with her.

- Thanks to Suriya I gained the hope of being able to make a living. Because I had experience of making crisps, we decided that I would start making them at home.

With Suriya’s help Niventhini was able to learn how to separate her private finances from those of her business. She also learned how to structure the work to make it sustainable in the long term. In addition she has received support and advice to make her feel less dependent on her husband.

- I now know how a business should be run and I am the only one working with it. My husband doesn’t help with it - he doesn’t transport the cassava or the oil. I do everything on my bike.

Hope for the future

With the money she earns, she has been able to afford to replace her house made from palm leaves with a stable brick building. She built her new home herself together with her mother.

- We eat food three times a day and I can afford to educate my children. All with money that I earned myself.

It would be an exaggeration to say that 30-year-old Niventhini Uthayakumar is happy. Her relationship with her husband is still bad but she’s happy that she at least has greater power over her own life.

- I now live for the children getting an education and becoming good citizens, but above all I want them to avoid having the same fate as my own.