ILO helps Sri Lanka war victims pick up the pieces
Fishermen who lost their boats during Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war are back at sea. Farmers are learning to get better yields and war widows are running businesses. A look at how an ILO project is helping victims of the bitter conflict.
IRANAIMATHA NAGAR, Sri Lanka (ILO News) – As the morning sun glints off the pristine waters of Poonakary Lagoon, fishermen haul in their latest catch of crab in a serene scene that contrasts with the grim years of Sri Lanka’s bitter civil war.
Most of the villagers in the northern district of Kilinochchi were displaced during the 26-year conflict that exacted a massive toll and shattered many businesses, including fisheries.
When they returned to their homes in 2009, they had to start from scratch. Their boats and fishing gear were gone.
“We lost everything in the war. All we had left was our lives,” says Alosias Savin, 39.
But now they are back in business. The Iranaithivu Iranaimatha Nagar Fishermen Cooperative Society received boats from an NGO and a grant to rehabilitate its fishery.
The grant was part of the ILO’s Local Empowerment through Economic Development (LEED) project, which is funded by Australian Aid and aims at promoting economic empowerment and decent employment for the most vulnerable and conflict-affected communities.
The cooperative’s biggest need at this stage is more boats. It is due to receive a donation of 20 vessels, which will be built at a boatyard set up by the LEED project.
The yard employs eight people and has the capacity to build 80 boats a year. Colombo-based Neil Marine – a major fibreglass boat manufacturing company – has a master boat builder at the facility to train war-affected youth.
Helping women find employment One component of the LEED project focuses on helping war widows who were left with no source of income when their husbands died in the civil war.
The project is supporting the Iranaimatha Nagar Co-op in the planned construction of a crab processing plant, as well as a day care facility to facilitate the employment of local women. A private company, Taprobane Sea Foods, already has agreed to buy the processed crab meat.
The LEED project has also helped women set up or rehabilitate small-scale farms, sell their produce or set up small businesses.
Selva Malar Indrakumar, 45, lost her husband in 1991 and was displaced 15 years later with her only son. Today, she helps oversee the Women Rural Development Society, which received a grant from the ILO to help women sell the rice they grow at fixed rates.
In neighbouring Vavuniya district, 200 women will receive half an acre of land, papaya seedlings and training to grow papaya trees. This follows a pilot project in which 34 farmers successfully grew red lady papaya, a high-yielding hybrid variety.
Chandrabalasinham Shanmugam, 57, one of the farmers who took part in the pilot project, was displaced twice during the civil war. When he returned for good, only the walls of his farm were standing. With help from an ILO grant, he has been growing eggplants, plantain and groundnuts, and has now doubled his income since he started growing papaya.