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Reestablishing Livelihoods Helps to Mend Deep Wounds from the Tsunami in Sri Lanka
This story is reprinted courtesy of the JDC.
May 2005

Realizing she has no food remaining with which to feed her family, Chandrakanti instinctively reaches to pick up her 10-month-old before heading out to replenish their supply of rice. Chandra’s long braids whip around to her face as she reaches for the baby, then abruptly around the other cheek as she turns to call her middle child, who was lost to the tsunami that swept portions of Sri Lanka’s coast. "I try to forget that so much has changed," says the young mother, gazing upward. "The store…our home…our lives." Chandra and her extended family can no longer rely on income from the family-owned grocery, whose building was damaged extensively and whose stock of food was so severely waterlogged that all had to be discarded.

Like so many others, Chandra’s life was turned upside down by the tsunami. In addition to losing one of her three children, her mother, too, drowned in the deadly waves that ravaged their coastal village of Randombe. Chandra’s husband was seriously injured and their home almost completely destroyed. Their only means of livelihood was all but washed away with the tides.

Still grieving her losses, Chandra knows that the burden of helping the family regain its footing falls to her. She participates in regular activities at the local Buddhist Temple, situated on a hill that had not been reached by the tsunami. There, Chandra is able to avail herself of JDC-sponsored programs: she is building her skills at an employment preparation and handicrafts workshop for women, while her two remaining children are receiving psychosocial support through art therapy and other interactive exercises.

As part of its Tsunami Relief effort, JDC, in partnership with the renowned local NGO Sarvodaya is running psychosocial and livelihood-support programs in parts of the hard-hit Galle region of Sri Lanka. In the 10 villages currently being targeted by these programs, 54% of families were directly affected by the tsunami; close to 1,000 homes were fully destroyed and over 900 were partially damaged; tens of small businesses —including tailor shops, groceries and workshops —were damaged or destroyed; and nearly 300 jobs were lost in industries such as coir (coconut fiber) weaving, tailoring, and baking.

The Dawothe family, that six months ago relied on their now-destroyed tailor shop along the main street of Randombe, is among the thousands of families that have been forced to change their lives virtually overnight. The mother is now participating is a JDC-sponsored coir weaving and handicrafts program to garner income, support, and training in new skills such as marketing.

In nearby Keerahandigoda, JDC is sponsoring sewing classes for women who worked in, or owned, tailor shops that no longer exist. One course is teaching 20 women advanced sewing skills and handicraft production so that they can create goods that will then be marketed to tourists in Sri Lanka and abroad.

Sitting at her new Singer sewing machine purchased by JDC, Sheila now feels some hope for the future. "I was lost without this equipment," she stated "I felt helpless to provide help and meaning to my family." The owner of a beachfront tailor shop decimated by the tsunami, Sheila had no means of earning money and was becoming frustrated. "We are all poor people now, and very sad," she explains, looking at a Polaroid of her old sewing machine. "We have lost everything." Now participating in a handicrafts workshop sponsored by JDC and Sarvodaya, Sheila is able to get her life —and that of her family —back on track.