Small Change Making a Big Difference to the War Widows of Sri Lanka
On 18 May 2009, the guns finally fell silent across the disputed territories in Sri Lanka as the bloody civil war that raged for over a quarter of a century came to an end. It is difficult to put a figure on the lives lost but estimates range from 80,000-130,000.
In the five months before the Tamil Tigers finally surrendered the government forces launched an aggressive assault that resulted in the loss of up to 40,000 people in an ever decreasing war zone that became known as the killing fields of Sri Lanka.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office claims that around 89,000 women have been left widowed and urgent concerns are highlighted over incidents of rape and sexual violence by military forces based in the north and east of the country as well as general reports of violence and rape.
In 2013, the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index ranked Sri Lanka 55. In 2017, Sri Lanka is ranked 100 out of 144 countries demonstrating a worsening situation for women. Sri Lanka remains deeply patriarchal and women continue to be exploited and treated unequally.
The civil war has also left 20-40,000 people disabled with no government provision to help civilians. War widows and women whose husbands were injured during the war have been left unable to provide for their families and at the mercy of others and often reliant on begging or worse.
Since the end of the civil war the northern and eastern areas have reported economic growth but the war widows of Sri Lanka have been left struggling to cope in a system that continues to discriminate against them.
It is against this background of urgent need that British Charity, Hope Outreach UK decided to step in and offer micro loans to help promote self-sufficiency. To date, around 100 people have received loans, mainly women although some men have also benefited. The sums offered are typically small ranging from £100-£500.
Hope Outreach works with an NGO in Sri Lanka, Y-Grow, part of Youth for Christ International. The criteria is simple, anyone can apply who cannot look after themselves. Y-Grow staff help the applicants to produce a viable business plan and continue to offer support and mentoring afterwards. Except for the first year which led to some changes the repayment rate has been an impressive 100% and on time.
In addition to helping setup small businesses Hope Outreach is also willing to consider other requests. Varatharajan Sasirekha applied for a micro loan to build a toilet on her property. She was having to use a neighbours facility and with 4 children including a teenage daughter she felt increasingly uncomfortable and worried about the vulnerability of her growing daughter. Having her own toilet has given her and her children privacy and dignity.
Another woman, Priyantha Vimukthi, couldn’t find any long term work and struggled to survive and feed her children. She and her daughter came up the idea to keep cows to sell fresh milk. This allows her to earn a regular income and feed her children. Eventually the cows are sold for meat and replaced.
Selvaratnam Poomalar suffered polio as a child that left her hands deformed. She applied for a micro loan to setup a food business from produce she grows. She used the money to buy utensils and sells the fresh soup she makes to local farm workers on a daily basis. This allows her to earn a living and live independently.
If you would like to help support the work of Hope Outreach, click on the link here. http://www.hopeoutreach.org.uk