} Lalith Abeysinghe: Siriliya, the Women Farmer’s Society Witnessing success…

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Siriliya, the Women Farmer’s Society Witnessing success…

Siriliya, the Women Farmer’s Society

Witnessing success…

Siriliya, the Women Farmer’s Society[1] started by Ms Anula Herath in 2004 in Bogahayaya in Mahiyanganaya. There were only fourteen members in the society. It was operated as a very small informal group of women who meet occasionally and share their concerns. Anula was the Chairperson and she acted as the Treasurer as well, as there was no much money to deal with. The society had no proper engagement with the people.

Ms Madurani Rambukwella, the Farmer Field Facilitator (FFF) for Mahiyanganaya and the present secretary of Siriliya, comes with the whole story. “Many years ago I had some training in eco farming at a training center in Nawalapitiya with Mr. Upawansa. I worked with a small organization in Mahiyanganaya for little while. I used my knowledge gained from the training program to develop my brother’s garden. By the time my farther died and soon after my mother also died. I was so upset and depressed. During this time, I happened to meet some people from MONLAR/SARD. I wrote a letter to SARD requesting to select our village to promote eco farming, as I knew something in eco farming, I wanted some direction, guidance and further training to popularize eco farming among the villagers. SARD agreed to help and we started work in July 2007. It was really a help for me personally as well as I was very sad because of my parents’ demise”

“I went and talk to Anula. I told her that we can work through ‘Siriliya’, though it was not functioning well. I thought that we could develop this society as it was a women’s society. So we gathered again as ‘Siriliya’ society. We invited some other women too. I was elected as the Secretary, and W.M. Kamala was elected as the treasurer. We wanted Anula to be remaining as the Chairperson. We nominated 08 women as the committee members[2]. Then we informed SARD that we like to work through Siriliya. SARD accepted our request and we decided to strengthen our society through SARD work. Now we have some work to do with people. We started our first eco farming program in a village called 33 Ela. We were very happy. We did the first Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) with the assistance of SARD staff. We, the women and Siriliya took the leadership. With the PRA, we and the villagers were able to see the whole village in different way. Then only we realized the problems, the resources we have and the institutions that are supposed to work in our village. We started eco farming with 25 women. SARD gave us lots of training. They come to see the gardens. They taught us as how to monitor the progress in eco farming. I believe that the very systematic, active, continuous and successful approach of Dr Weerakoon is the key behind our success”.

“While we engage in eco farming we started, really re-started the small savings program with our members. By this time our membership was increased up to about 50. We collected Rs 50 from each member per month. We gave the collected money to a needy member as a loan on 4% interest”.

“SARD, apart from its intervention in eco farming, helped us to develop our society. SARD did lots of training and awareness programs. We share our experiences. The reports and record keeping improved. SARD advised us as how to maintain funds and how to submit the financial reports. Through this work, we become known and popular in the area”.

Anula, the Chairperson added, “In 2008 we gave Rs 25000 as loans to 25 women farmers, each Rupees 1000. They spent this money to buy the initial seeds and plants. We increased our monthly contribution from Rs. 50 to Rs 125. It goes as Rs 100 for savings and Rs 25 for the society. We asked our women to set aside one handful of rice, out of the quantity they take for preparing the meal every day. At least two such portions could be collected a day. When collected it comes to four kilograms at the end of the month. That is sufficient to pay Rs 125. We pay 10% interest for fixed deposits and 06% for normal savings. When the savings of a member comes to 2000-3000 we advised them to put them in a fixed deposit. We use this money to give loans to our members. We have now 72 members. We give up to Rs 10000 as loans on the personal guarantees. Two members have to sign as guarantors. We have given Rs 185,000 as loans. We charge 4% interest per month on loans. The repayments of the loans were never a problem for us, as all the members are women. They repay as promised. If there is a difficulty for some one we take only the interest. As we are closely associated, we know the problems our members face. We have Rs 10000 as cash in hand and we have Rs 31000 in the Bank. We now operate as a ‘Mini Bank” for the needy women. We also have an instant loan scheme, for urgent matters for our members. SARD also gave some money to pay the FFFs and to buy seeds etc. This helped us to interact with another organization and we learned a lot of the procedures involving in such transactions”.

She further explains,” We register our society in the Central provincial Council. We have all the documents, records, reports, financial reports, receipt books, letterheads and all the basic things that an organization should have”. She requested the Secretary and the Treasurer to show all the books, records etc. There were about 15 such files, neatly kept.

Madurani says, “I am really happy with the progress. If not for the intervention of SARD, we may not be able to come so far. It helped the women to come together, organized in a small society, implement eco farming project in the area, and also earned a name and recognition in the area. We were able to convince over 200 farmers to engage in eco farming. We are very happy to see the progress they made”

“I get lots of satisfaction from this work. Any triumph made by any of our member consider as my own achievement. I feel very happy as I know that I instrumented lots of things with the assistance of SARD. They intervene at the right moment. We really engage in very difficult work. As all know we have a four month long drought and it is windy as well. We all face lots of difficulties during this time. But our togetherness keeps us going. Even if every other thing fails, this bond among us gives a tremendous strength. I think this is enough for us to be happy with”.

I asked, whether they have gained any recognition from others. This is what they say. Surprisingly, they did not say any thing about this, till I asked, as my final question.

“Yes, Siriliya was awarded as “The Best Women’s Organization” in the Minipe Divisional Secretariat Division in 2008. We were awarded with lots of Prizes and Certificates. The Women’s Bureau of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs awarded us the “Liya Abhimani” award. Our Chairperson Anula’s eco garden was selected and awarded as the “Best Home Garden” in the Kandy District. We felt so happy to become the first from the whole district. SARD, when they monitor and rate the performances of the organizations in every six months, we the Siriliya Women Farmer’s Society, came First for the last three consecutive periods.

“When look back, though it was a difficult experience, we feel very happy about the level we have reached today”.

Lalith Abeysinghe

28 March 2010.

[1] ‘Society’ is a word use in the place of “organization” in a village/ estate set up. Usually is a small and not a formal ‘organization’.

[2] M.G. Anusha, Chandrani de Silva, Sriyani Manel, A. G. Vijitha, Saumya Samanthi, Dhammika Kumari, G. G. Seelawathi and R. M. Mutumanike.

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