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Encouraging entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka’s north

By Mervyn Fletcher

Amarashanthini proudly shows us the two doors of her house, front and side entrances; 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 again

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 300,000 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.

“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.

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 (250 USD) 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.

Amarashanthini explained: “I needed to start a business that allowed me to stay at home to look after my children. So far, it’s working well. I am generating sufficient profits to ensure my children have what they need for their education. I desperately want them to have the same opportunities in life as wealthier children.”

Seed money

Since 2009, UNICEF has supported more than 12,000 vulnerable families in Sri Lanka with self-employment grants, cash grants and other forms of welfare assistance, in partnership with the government’s Ministry of Social Services and the Department of Social Services.

Amarashanthini is just one example of the striking results.

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. This approach is enabling the most vulnerable families to help themselves.”

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.The next steps are to grow and sell bananas and to farmchickens for egg and meat. From small seeds do large trees grow.



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