Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Dispatch #14 - Sri Lankan tsunami survivors sewing for money

Originally published
The following work was completed under the Tsunami relief project, funded by the Stichting Vluchteling and implemented by the Home for Human Rights (HHR). The project covers six villages -- Poonochchimunai; Cheddipalayam; Manachenai; Nasivanteevu; Thurainilavenai; and Pereeyanilavenai.

Security deteriorates: A series of bomb and grenade attacks has generated tension. HHR staff were unable to visit one of the six villages, Manalchenai, during the period.

HHR website is posted! The HHR website has been redesigned and upgraded, by Mr.Madrasmail Regan, with funds from the HHR/SV project. Visit www.hhr-srilanka/hhr. The site carries these reports.

Sanathani is married! Congratulations to Sanathani, who manages this project for HHR (below).

Poonochchimunai Village:

Sewers use their skills: The 11 trainees have completed sewing courses under the HHR/SV project. 2 have been hired to conduct sewing training elsewhere; six are sewing clothes for relatives and neighbours; one is stitching clothes; one is selling sarongs (at 20 rupees) locally.

Cheddipalayam Village:

Washing success: The washing families aided by the project are earning an average of 500 rupees a day, well above the rate they earned before the Tsunami; about 40 students on average are attending HHR's sewing classes, and HHR has intervened with the owner of the house to ensure that arrack (liquor) is not sold, and that security is improved.

Small businesses restart: Gopalapillai (who received 25,000 rupees to rebuild his café and serves tea to the fishermen) has promised to give up bad habits and set abetter example to small businesses; the family of Mr.Vinayagamoorthy, who received 10,000 rupees of HHR assistance to rebuild the family business, is earning 300 rupees a day.

Fishermen mobilize: HHR has prepared the articles of agreement for the Fishermens' Association, and will negotiate with the local government to authorize registration; a survey of the village's fishing needs begins.

Discrimination in emergency housing: The villagers have charged that two relief agencies are practicing discrimination in their emergency rebuilding programs. HHR has intervened with a local charity, SAREERAM, after the villagers complained that SAREERAM's houses were unfit for habitation. They also complained that World Vision has concentrated its aid in parts of the village that do not need aid. SAREERAM officials said that they had received insufficient funding, but that the occupants would have to fix their own houses. (AP will seek clarification from World Vision and from SAREERAM, and inform HHR.)

Nasivanteevu Village:

Women's society resumes after several years: HHR has helped to revive the women's society, which has inactive because of the war. The society is meeting monthly and developed rules. The first Treasurer has been dismissed for laziness. 110 women have joined, and 88 members have contributed dues amounting to 2112 rupees. The society has 22,000 in the bank account, including 9,504 from HHR.

Tractor training begins: 212 young men have been selected for tractor training. The women's society will make sure they all attend all classes.

Thuraineelavanai Village:

Fishing: a survey of the lagoon begins to determine the extent of pollution

1. Poonochchimunai

Sewing school

HHR staff (Vasanthan) are in close contact with the 11 students who completed the training. Two of the trainees (Ms.Manju and Ms.Pamila) have been selected as trainers in another training center in a church at Kallady. Six sew their clothes and clothes for their relatives. One stitches children's clothes and night gowns for order for her neighbours. The other one stitches sarong for Rs.20 for her relatives.

Chithrangani told that she could not do any stitching this month as her house and garden are under water due to heavy and continuous rain.

Vasanathan informed the sewers that if they stitch clothes he will market them.


HHR staff met Mr.Babu of the Municipal Council to discuss construction of a channel at Poonochchimunai. He said that Canadian Government has authorised the Batticaloa municipal council to carry out this work and thanked HHR for providing them with a plan. He further said that this work is to be commenced in February 2006.

Water tank

HHR had provided a water tank for use at the Poonochchimunai village, but the well water is usable so no one is currently using the tank.

Common building

HHR staff has been in regular contact with the divisional secretariat to find out the position of the application tendered for the common land at Poonochchimunai.

HHR staff summoned a meeting of leaders in Poonochchimunai (i.e. president, secretary, treasurer and members of the administrative body of the temple the president secretary, treasurer and members of the rural development society) and held a discussion on the construction of a common building at Poonochchimunai.

HHR staff explained that the common building is going to serve the people of this village, so the people who are going to be benefited must extend their cooperation to make it a success. the people accepted and said that they will support and help any work that take place to improve the condition of Poonochchimunai.

Complaints of Poonochchimunai Villagers

Mr.Jeevaratnam said that only the officers from Home or Human Rights came to visit when they were in the refugee camp and provide some help. Thereafter, they were photographed in the front compound of their respective houses and were told that they would be helped. Subsequently a course of training in sewing was conducted for some young women and sewing machines were supplied to those who followed the course of training. This was the only help offered.

The people living down 1st, 2nd and 3rd cross roads said that the Home for Human Rights is helping the people of 4th, 5th and 6th cross roads but they are not being helped. The other organizations which come there are also not helping them.

2. Cheddipalayam

HHR staff went to the Divisional Secretariat Kaluwanchikudy to obtain the authorization of the Divisional Secretary for HHR to work at his area.

Washer families

The washer men said that they derive an income of about Rs.500 a day. One of them said "the people in the village have found employments of various types now. Therefore, they are utilizing our services to wash their clothes. For washing and pressing we charge Rs.15/- for a trouser, Rs.10/- for a verty or a shirt, and Rs.20/- for a saree. Assistance given by HHR when we were without income was of a great help. Our people are carrying on with the same profession. Some are working in road and building construction schemes started after tsunami, for a wage of Rs.500/- per day while their wives and children look after washing clothes. But it is not permanent."

Sewing school

HHR staff have frequently visited the sewing school at Cheddipalayam and the students are progressing with their training. It was decided that the sewing classes would be held every week days from 1.00 to 5.00 pm.


All the students were enthusiastically learning. On average 40 students were present in each class when ever HHR staff visited them. One trainee called K. Thamilchelvi had informed that she is unable to attend training classes as she is working as a Teacher under some Non Governmental Organization. When HHR staff discussed with the teacher she said that it would be better if we have regular students and not more than 45 students.

On 6th December there were only 24 trainees present in the sewing class. The others were said to have attended seminars conducted by a certain organization regarding health activities and had gone to attend the certificate awarding function. They had told Sundaram, the president of the fishing labourers' society, three days earlier, but the Teacher had not been told. The Teacher said that three had given her letters, and the others had not. She had asked the 17 trainees who did not come for the classes, to bring letters from the H.H.R Office.

On 14th December 33 trainees were present, and ten were absent. Of these, 06 were sitting the G.C.E.(O/L) Examination (2nd try or 3rd try). The child of one trainee had been ill. The mother took the child to the hospital. The other three were absent due to personal reasons.

On March 26 the class participated at a commemoration for 12 persons who were caught at Cheddipalayam North in the Tsunami. An alternative class was held on 23.12.2005.


During this period the students learnt basic stitches joint stitches, embroidery, cut stitching and they fastened the pieces of clothes with the stitches in their graph book.


Two ordinary sewing machines and one sewing machine with special stitches and three plastic chairs were handed over to the sewing school.

During this period the following was supplied to the class: 90 pens, 43 rulers, 45 pencils, 5 pencil sharpeners, one ream of typing sheet, 45 file covers, 39 CR books, 40 graph books, one padlock, drawing books, 40 yards of tretrone, 135 yards of poplin, painting carbon, 84 sheets of cutting paper, 44 scissors, 30 embroidery thread, 71 reels of normal thread and 5 tapes.

Problems with the owner of the house:

The sewing school teacher has complained to HHR that one of the keys of the room given to sewing school is with the house owner, and she came to know that they open that room and making use of same room when the classes were not held. She was afraid that sewing equipments left in the class might be lost. She had further said that arrack (home brewed liquor) was being sold around the place which may lead to complications.

HHR staff had a discussion with the house owner - V.Thangavel - and the fishing laboureres' society. Mr.Thangavel said that he would give the sewing school the adjoining room, with a new pad-lock and the set of keys. He also said that sale of liquor does not take place there and that he will not permit any person to do such things. When asked about erecting a temporary shed for want of space, he said that he this would be possible if he received an advance of two months rent.

Grocery shop of Mr.Vinayagamoorthy:

Mr.Vinayagamoorthy (to whom HHR gave Rs.10, 000/- to set up a small scale boutique) has put up the boutique and is carrying on business. His daughter is in charge of the boutique. His wife does all the purchases. They earn about Rs.200/- to 300/- per day.

Tea stall of Mr.Gopalapillai

Mr. Gopalapillai has repaired his old boutique at the Batticaloa Kalmunai road at Cheddipalayam. He has purchased 4 chairs, one table, potts and pans, buckets, and for masonry work, bought 3 loads of sand, hot bricks, 2 wooden tables and 6 chairs. He has also painted the shop.

We advised him that he must run the tea shop in a good manner, save the income, give up all bad habits like consuming liquor, and educate his children for the betterment of his children. Then he said that he would give up all these bad habits and will set an example to others. HHR has given him SLRs.25,000.00.

Fishing labourers association

A meeting of the fishing Labourers Association was held on December 14, 2005. HHR has prepared a constitution and by-Laws for the association, and 26 fishing labourers were present. During the discussion, however, it was revealed that they are cannot register their association because it is not permitted to register two different associations of the fishermen in one Grama Niladhari Division.

Parasuraman explained that they can ask for help from the Government and from the NGOs only if they are an organized group. HHR would help them to organize. He also told them that they would only be able to work with other organizations through the association and once the association is well established.

Discrimination in rebuilding

People complained that the temporary houses erected by the SAREERAM organization are not suitable to dwell in during the rainy season, even though SAREERAM has displayed a sign board promoting the "Cheddipalayam-North Rehabilitation scheme -- SAREERAM." No other organization is coming to their area and no help is reaching them. At the same time, World Vision is providing all facilities to Cheddipalayam South area, which has not been so affected. The people requested if HHR can help them.

HHR staff went to SAREERAM for a discussion with Mr.Logeswaran, head of the organization, about the temporary dwellings erected at Cheddpalayam. He told HHR staff that an application was made by the divisional secretariat to erect 102 temporary houses in Cheddipalayam North area, but that only Rs.32, 000 was allocated. The cost was Rs.40, 000. He further said that if the roofs are leaking during rainy season the occupants have to repair it.

When asked about the sign that SAREERAM had displayed, he said that it would not make any difference. He also said that they had written to relief agencies that the people of that area must be helped. 'We have also informed the Divisional Secretariat in this connection,' he said.

Needs assessment report of fishing labourers

HHR staff have been in constant touch with Mr.Sornalingam, who is conducting the assessment. They also made it possible for Mr. Sornalingam to meet 30 members of the fishing labourers' society and to have a discussion with them. He said that he needs to know the background of the village, the society, the problems, needs, how to meet them etc and collected necessary information from the people gathered.

3. Manalchenai

During this period HHR staff could not travel from Batticaloa to Manalchenai because of the security problems.

4. Nasivantheevu

Women society

The society was lucky enough to get the pass book of its old accounts - current and savings. The Current Account (No/A 363) had a balance of Rs.9330.50 as at 01.01.1988. The Saving Account (No: 556) had a balance of Rs.1217.84 as at 16.05.1986.

These accounts have been renewed under different account numbers (savings account No: 1-005516-2 and the current account number is 0004077-2) in favour of the women's association. It was decided that HHR would take the responsibility for purchasing of stationary etc. for the women's Development Society of Nasivanteevu.

110 women have sought membership in the society and eighty eight women have paid Rs. 24/- as their subscription fee. HHR has contributed Rs. 9,504.00 to the society in the name of these 88 women.

The members of the society meet every month. The committee decided that all the registered members will take part in all committee meetings and they must discuss with the co-members the opinions expressed at those meetings. The president will express her opinions at each meeting; the secretary must read out the minute of the last meeting the same must be adopted by the members; the Treasurer must read out the accounts report, which will be adopted by the members; those details must be embodied in the minutes; the opinions of the participants and the members must be included in the minutes with their respective names.

The society removed Ms.Saraswathy Krishnamoorthy from the post of treasurer and unanimously elected Ms.Yogam Sinnathamby as new treasurer. It was decided that Mrs. Saraswathy was not functioning properly.

Tractor driving and boat mechanism Training for youth

12 youth have been selected to undergo driver training at the Nadheera learners at Valachenai. They are: Vanniyasingam Parimalakanthan, Thambirasa Dineshan, Suvethan Pradeesh, Sabapathy Niranjan, Yogan Sabesan, Sellathamby Nagendram, Kalikutty Suthaharan, Thangavel Jegan, Sabaratnam Thavarajah, Nallathamby Paranthaman, Vanniyasingam Vasantharuban and Manikkam Nithirkumar.

As the age of those which to undergo driver training should be above 18 years, the names of the two persons who were 17 years were removed from the list with their consent. Sabesan, who is suffering from heart disease, did not participate and his name too was removed from the list with the consent of those present. Anyone over the age of 18 years is eligible for CCDL and those over 21 years of age are eligible for A.D. type vehicles.

To undergo the training, the trainees have submitted original of the Birth Certificate, three copies of black and white photographs (certified by the Grama Niladhari), a photo copy of the National Identity card and Medical examination report.

It was agreed that tractor driver training will be undertaken under the supervision of the women's association, and that the women's association will be held responsible if any one gives up training halfway through. Participants were informed that they should sign an agreement to the effect that they will undergo the training without break and finish the same successfully. The agreement should be signed by them as well as by their respective parents and by the members of the women's society.

For the first 7 days the trainees will be taught to drive motor bicycles in 14 days they will be trained in four wheel vehicles 14 days. Training on six wheel vehicles will be provided thereafter. Temporary license will be provided depending on their ability.

5. Thuraineelavanai

Widows association

Information collected revealed that most of the women who had lost their husbands are managing to run their homes by keeping poultry, catching small fish and prawns, selling rice, betel leaves and running small scale shops and living a hand to mouth. Some said that their relatives help them when they are in need, and that they do not get any help from their relatives because they are also very poor.

The Fishermen's Society at Thuraineelavanai is very interested in helping to create a widows' society, and will discuss this with the Grama Niladhari.

Cleaning the lagoon

HHR staff has been in touch with Mr.Sornalingam, and helped him to meet the fishermen in Thuraineelavanai. As at Cheddipalayam he explained what he will need. He also collected information regarding the damages to their lively hood caused by Tsunami.

Visit by the officers from Dutch Refugee Foundation. In December 2005 Ms. Loan Liem and Ms. Tirsa Hoftee from the Dutch Refugee Foundation (who are the funders of this project) visited HHR's Batticaloa office. They met the target groups in Cheddipalayam and in Thuraineelavanai.

Deteriorating Situation in the East

1. Hartals

There was a Hartal (strike) on 05.12.2005 in Muslim areas.

On 06.12.2005 Parasuraman, Sanathani, Jacob and Sasiharan, all set out to go to Thuraineelavanai. But there was an army barrier at the Periyaneelavanai preventing vehicles passing through Maruthamunai. Two Muslim persons had been shot at Maruthamunai.

27.12.05 was declared a day of sorrow due to the brutal murder of Joseph Pararajasingam, member of parliament for Batticaloa. All the shops were closed for business.

On 05.01.2006 the HHR office was not open. All shops were closed for business and a day of sorrow was observed to protest violence against Tamil people, sexual harassments etc in Batticaloa, Mannar, Vavuniya, and the killing of five students in Trincomalee

On 30.12.05 the situation was again tense. A day of sorrow was declared, and all shops were closed, in protest against the murder of a young woman who was sexually assaulted in Jaffna; the burning of a mother and her child at a housing scheme in Mannar; the murder of Joseph Pararajasingam in Batticaloa; and attacks on innocent people in the North Eastern province.

2. High risk situations

HHR staff could not go to the villages due to high security and tensed situations. Among the examples:

- Tight security arrangements following the funeral of late Mr.Joseph Pararajasingam is to take place.

- On 19.01.06, a hand grenade was detonated in front of the Batticaloa MPCS union, injuring women police constables. The situation was very tense around the area. Around 5.00 p.m. on the same day, another bomb blast took place at Thadavanveli. 20 members of the security force were injured; one civilian and two of the security force died.

- On 23.01.06, around 7.45 a bomb blast took place at Air Port road near urani, killing two personnel of the security forces and one member of the rasik groups. A hand grenade was detonated around 10.30 am at Arasady junction, injuring one police officer. There was great tension as a result.

Information Technology

A proper network cabling was setup in Colombo Office by the ABC Trade & Investment (Pvt) Ltd. An IBM server was purchased and an Internet Security and Acceleration Server (ISA 2000 Server) and installed client computers, virus protection cards and configured them.