UNICEF helps a single war widow to protect and care for her seven children
By Suzanne Wooster
44year old widow Maheswary lives with her seven children in the former conflict affected region of Sivapuram in Mullaitivu. Her children eat, sleep, study and spend their time in a one room cottage in a small village community.
Maheswary lost her husband during the war a few years back. With the hope of building a new life she fell in love with a man who lived with her promising to marry her in three months. Her hopes were shattered when the man suddenly left her pregnant and penniless. “I felt lost and rejected, even my neighbours stopped talking to us because I was pregnant with another man’s child”.
“We are not playing with other children in our village. They are very much scared to talk to us” said Maheswary’s 13 year old son, Sajeepan.
Maheshwary depended on daily wage labour from her community to provide for her family, however with the sudden turn of events, her life changed for the worse. “They stopped giving me work and I could no longer afford to feed and educate my children As a result they lost out on 10 days of schooling every month, making it hard for them to catch up on their studies.
The time for the child’s birth also fast approached, leaving Maheswary in a difficult situation. ““When I delivered the baby I did not know what to do except leave her at the hospital. How could I afford to look after another child?” she said.
Maheswary’s situation was reported to the hospital’s Probation Unit. “We immediately referred her for counseling” said the Probation Officer,Thushanthan. The assistance is part of a UNICEF programme to restore essential social protection systems and help vulnerable children and their families. Hospital services, probation services and social care are integrated as part of a unique case management approach.
Maheswary received U$ 300/- (40,000 SLR) from UNICEF for her livelihood. She used it to start animal husbandry and provide milk to the local cooperative society. She also received training on how to maintain a ledger on daily income and expenditure.
The probation care staff visit her regularly to provide both psychosocial support and basic training on how to run a small business.
“I sell the milk to a pre-school to earn money” says Mahewary. In addition to milk production, Maheswary also engages in home gardening. “I am using my newly learnt skills to run a vegetable business”. She grows and sells long beans, eggplant and other vegetables to her neighbors.
The mother of seven has managed to earn U$45 in the first three months of starting her business. “Now my children have all three meals for the day, as well as regularly go to school” she said.
“I am so thankful that I got this help, if not I would have lost my new baby” said Maheswary hugging her daughter, Shajahan. Her two older children have progressed and have completed their final exams.
“When my brother got through the exams with good results, we got recognition in our village. Our friends now talk freely with us” said 13 year old Sajeepan.
The cow, named ‘Mani’, by the children has given renewed hope and a promising future. “I want to become a farmer when I grow up” says Sajeepan. “This Mani has changed our life” he said.