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Sri Lanka

UNICEF encourages small entrepreneurs in northern Sri Lanka

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2011/Fletcher
Entrepreneur Amarashanthini and her three children before their new front door.

By Mervyn Fletcher

MULLAITIVU, Sri Lanka, 24 August 2011 – Amarashanthini proudly shows us the doors of her house – two solid wooden doors, with substantial locks. As a mother of three she now feels more confident about the security of her children.

It is a remarkable story of resilience and forward thinking that has enabled Amarashanthini, 44, a widow, to re-build her conflict-damaged home and start up a small business.

Starting over

The doors are the latest in a series of urgently-needed repairs to the family home in Mullaitivu, northern Sri Lanka, which Amarashanthini is gradually undertaking thanks to the profits generated by her small business venture, started from seed capital provided by UNICEF.

Amarashanthini, her husband and children were forced to flee from their house in early 2009 when fighting intensified between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan military. Her fisherman husband died during shelling shortly before the Sri Lankan conflict ended in May 2009. The remaining family wound up in Menik Farm camp, among the nearly 195,000 internally displaced Tamils.

Nearly a year later, in April 2010, Amarashanthini, and her children, Kirubakaran, 17, Jalini, 15, and Malathi, 11, returned home, and she was confronted by the stark reality of having to feed and fend for her family, while destitute. They returned to a home that had no roof or doors.

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2011/Fletcher
Amarashanthini dries fish before salting for selling to customers in her town.

“As I was now a single parent it was up to me to do something to earn money or else we would have starved,” she said.

Investing in the future

It was this that spurred her on to start a small business. As a widowed mother, she was identified by the local Social Services Department, supported by UNICEF, as a worthy recipient of 25,000 rupees (USD$ 228) livelihood assistance. She received the sum in December last year.

She promptly invested her funds in stocks of local coconuts and fresh fish. The fish she dries and salts for re-sale to the local community.

“I needed to start a business that allowed me to stay at home to look after my children,” Amarashanthini explained. “So far, it’s working well. I am generating sufficient profits to ensure my children have what they need for their education.”

Seed money

Speaking to her case, UNICEF Child Protection Officer Saji Thomas said, “Amarashanthini, like many others, acknowledges that it’s thanks to UNICEF that she was able to get back on her feet again.”

Those receiving cash assistance are largely female-headed households with children.

Amarashanthini surveys her small shaded porch, another recent property refurbishment. Propped up in the corner are two banana tree saplings. She plans to expand and diversify her fledgling enterprise and the next steps are to grow and sell bananas and to farm chickens for eggs and meat. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.



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