The tide is turning in Sri Lanka

Originally published on April 14, 2017.

Dakshani was in the prime of her youth when she got caught in heavy shelling and lost a leg. Rapti’s husband left the house one day and never returned to her. Single-mum Padma lived in constant, daily fear of being raped. Three stories of destruction, violence and loss endured by some of the typical female workers at the Sivanarul Vocational Training & Production Center (SVTPC); a socio-economic food enterprise located in Sri Lanka’s war-scarred Northern township of Kilinochchi.

SVTPC is a food processing factory and distribution center dedicated to offering sustainable employment opportunities, shelter and stability to such susceptible individuals as widows, abandoned wives, young singles, victims of abuse and the war-disabled. By training them to process and package a variety of flour, powdered chili, curry powder and other condiments, Sivanarul is equipping and empowering a sisterhood of courageous head-of-households to come into their own.

In 2013, the Center entered a new wave of development following a US$279,000 investment partnership with VEGA/BIZ+ – a four-year program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Led by the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) and implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, VEGA/BIZ+ is committed to growing enterprises with the potential for substantial economic growth and job creation in economically lagging areas of Sri Lanka.

SVTPC was founded after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to assist victims. However, following the escalation of the war, the initiative continued to work amongst these communities, and over the years, has helped desperate thousands rebuild their lives – including the 90 percent female employees of SVTPC.  

BIZ+’s contribution of $100,000 saw to construction of a warehouse for vital storage of raw materials like rice paddy; the building of a hostel to house female workers, and the purchase of a truck to transport produce and distribute the company’s fair-priced, packaged products to wholesale traders.

Sivanarul co-partnered in the investment to a tune of $179,000 which went towards the building works, electricity connection, and the purchase of more food processing machinery. BIZ+ has also inputted a further $3,500 to strengthen SVTPC’s capacity in the areas of HR, business management, product marketing, energy efficiency, financial management and accounting software. Additionally, nutritional testing was carried out on the product line. 

The results of the alliance are manifold. The bigger storage space has enabled the operation to increase its daily production capacity, while the truck has meant faster transportation of goods from start to finish. The on-site residential hostel provides safe lodging for at-risk female workers, the disabled, and those who have to commute long distances.

Most importantly, a total of 59 new jobs, worth almost $110,000 in income, have been created, affording opportunities to women who were once unemployed due to internal displacement, lack of skills and the prevailing economic climate. Worker benefits include unit-based pay, overtime, annual profit sharing, life insurance, flexi-working hours, free meals, and even educational support for employee’s children. Meanwhile, farmers (especially paddy) and suppliers in Kilinochchi and neighboring Vavuniya are also profiting from SVTPC’s operations which are rejuvenating not only the local agricultural sector, but whole communities.

Enhancements have culminated in reduced operating costs, improved marketing, plus increased inventory turnover, profitability, and cash-flow. Sales of Sivanarul-branded products are currently at $48,000 a month with an ever-growing customer base at select outlets in the North, and the capital Colombo. The brand is also sold in the UK and Australia and the extra income earned, regenerated into further social projects.

As this innovative livelihood model continues to evolve, more women like Rapti and Padma will be saved from the hardship and poverty that yet prevails seven years after the conflict has ended. Dakshani explains, “My job at [Sivanarul] gives me an opportunity to learn, work, earn and also find time to spend with my family, even after losing a limb. It has given me a lot of courage to look forward to the future with hope and enthusiasm. My colleagues – all vulnerable women like me – at the Center feel the same way."

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