By Sumudu Perera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.
Woven baskets, vases and hats made with multi-colored palm leaves are piled on a hall table as women go about their work in the Sri Lankan district of Jaffna.
Some women weave hats, while others work on baskets or bags. Some sit in chairs, but many prefer to sit on the floor. Now and then everyone has a break to chat with others nearby.
Jaffna, in the northernmost region of Sri Lanka, is highly populated and busy, but this production center is tranquil. Five women who work here are war widows, following the 26-year civil war that ripped apart the country.
Sopa is a widow and has a 4-year-old son, Methayan, to support. After losing her husband, Sopa suffered psychologically and had to depend on her elderly parents for months, which made all of their lives more difficult. Coming to accept that her husband was gone, she started to think about how to feed Methayan and educate him.
This production center, which uses materials from local palmyrah trees, was started in 2011 through a partnership between ChildFund and a government board to help provide employment opportunities after the war ended in 2009. During the resettlement phase, 35 women were initially trained. Now the center employs 45 women between the ages of 18 and 40.
The woven products have a high demand in other countries. Every two weeks, a large truck comes to the center and picks up the craft items. The center has attracted the attention of many unemployed women in the region, mainly because they would not have to travel long distances or move away from home to find work. Since its start, the center has trained an additional 80 women.
The women working here have bigger dreams now. They hope to expand the business and provide employment opportunities to more women in the area.
After attending training, Sopa found a job she liked, and she is still available to Methayan, who stays with other family members at home a 10-minute walk away. She attends to his needs in the morning, goes home at lunch time to feed him and then returns home before dark. Sopa makes US$110 a month, and she can earn more if she weaves more pieces. With her income, she’s able to support herself and her son.
“It was devastating to lose my husband,” she says. “I lost all my hopes. I was suffering for months without doing anything. This job brought me some hope. Also, spending time with other women in the community here has helped me to forget about my problems. Now I want to educate my child and ensure a good future for him.”
Reporting by ChildFund Zambia
She owns her own tailoring shop and makes student uniforms for the local school. Jacqueline also has regular clients in the Mpanshya community for whom she makes clothes.
But how did Jacqueline manage to own a shop of her own at such a young age?
“Life was really hard for me before I learned about the ChildFund livelihood programs,” she explains. “I failed to continue school after grade nine, as my parents could no longer afford to pay my tuition fees and other school requirements.”
After dropping out of school, Jacqueline started spending most of her time doing odd jobs at people’s farms to help her family earn a living. But the jobs were poorly paid, and Jacqueline’s family continued to struggle.
“I joined my mother as she did odd jobs, but we never made enough to make ends meet. It was very hard and sometimes we went to bed without eating anything,” Jacqueline recalls.
Her life took a turn for the better when a friend invited her to a youth meeting organized by ChildFund in Mpanshya. After that meeting, she began attending trainings in entrepreneurship, life skills and basic accounting, among others.
After being trained in tailoring and clothing design, Jacqueline and other youth received sewing machines. “I was in the group business for three years and after sharing the profits, I decided to buy my own sewing machine and do my own business on the side, she explains.
As her business grew, Jacqueline decided to leave the group and set up her own shop at the local market. Immediately, she was approached by the local school who later gave her a contract to start making uniforms.
Today her business has grown, and Jacqueline has now taken on the responsibility of helping send her siblings to school.
“I’m very happy now that I can help my parents send my younger siblings to school,” Jacqueline says, “and I will forever remain grateful to ChildFund for empowering me with tailoring skills.”
You can help empower other girls like Jacqueline by sending them a gift from ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope Catalog.