Sri Lanka

USAID/OTI Sri Lanka Hot Topics Jun 2005 - Women's rural development society moves to build peace in Seruvila area

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In May 2004, the Office of Transition Initiatives began working with the Women's Rural Development Society from Sivapuram, a Tamil village in the Muthur Division on the east coast. A grant was provided to develop agriculture in the area, and also to strengthen a collaborative relationship with the women's society of Dehiwatte, an adjacent Sinhala village. In the past, ethnic tensions and violence had frequently occurred between these two villages, and the two women's societies wanted to build strong relationships that would prevent trouble from recurring. To accomplish this, they also designed language training and peace-education activities into their grant. There was a strong vision to work together toward micro-credit and economic development activities that would be of mutual benefit to all farmers - regardless of ethnicity - who inhabit these two villages, and it was ensured that a strong sense of interdependence would result from joint management of planned grant activities. Youths also were mobilized to participate in inter-ethnic community-improvement work.

Recently, a police intelligence officer was assassinated in the region and a Home Guardsman was abducted and was later found murdered. As a result of these killings, inter-ethnic tensions and fears were high throughout the area of Seruvila surrounding Sivapuram/Dehiwatte. Violent reprisals against villagers were all too common in past years, causing Tamil villagers in Sivapuram to flee the area. These villagers would often return to find that their homes or crops had been vandalized. This time, because of the good relations facilitated and enhanced through OTI grant activities, leaders from Sivapuram were able to contact leaders in Dehiwatte directly and obtain assurances that village leaders would intercede with militants and provide protection to Sivapuram. Everyone in Sivapuram felt confident enough to remain in the village - and there were no problems.

The leaders of the two women's societies have formed a local nongovernmental organization to expand their reach to other communities. They will bring more communities together to participate in an expanded micro-credit and agricultural development initiative. And, finally, the Muthur Peace Committee - another successful OTI grantee - has been invited to help all the communities in this violence-prone and conflict-afflicted region to work together by supporting the formation of a local peace committee that will manage ethnic tensions.

For further information, please contact:

In Washington, D.C.: Rachel Wax, Asia and Near East Program Manager, 202-712-1243, rwax@usaid.gov