} Lalith Abeysinghe: 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sathyarani: Blossomed, yet rooted

Sathyarani: Blossomed, yet rooted

“We have to put more efforts to make the Plantation people aware of their rights. They in fact trapped in a viscous circle. The very environment that they are in preventing them coming out from this fate. The ‘Plantation Set-up’ has made these people to live in poorer conditions, which is same in all the plantation set-ups in the world, whether they are tea, cocoa or coffee. Even though the village people are poor, they have the sense of ‘freedom’ in their minds. They at least ‘enjoy’ some sort of belongingness to their own community. But, the Plantation People though they live in Sri Lanka for generations, they still live as ‘strangers’ and alienated from the other people. Hence we have to involve more with these people to facilitate to get them out of this trap. It is still a very difficult task as these people in this situation for at least two centuries”, said Mr. Prabath Kumara, the Director of Future in Our Hands (FIOH) a Social Action Organization work in Baddulla, Sri Lanka

Rightly so: The situation of the Plantation People compare to the village and urban people lagging behind in every aspects of the human and social life.

The situation of the Plantation People

The Origin and the history

The Plantation People in Sri Lanka originally brought from Sothern India by the British in1820 s to work mainly in the Tea Plantations. By 1931 there were 693,000 such people brought from India and use them in establishing Plantation Industry in the country. They were used to clear the then thick virgin jungles and turn them to the present day ‘beautiful Tea plantations. They have labored immensely for the development of the Tea Industry, thus the country in very tough and unfavorable environment and had to deal with harsh weather conditions.

Immediately after the country gained ‘Independence’ in 1948, the then government brought the ‘Citizenship Act’ in the same year and denied the citizenship for the Plantation People who couldn’t ‘prove’ their citizenship rights. They suddenly become ‘stateless’ and lost all the benefits that a citizen could enjoy including the voting rights.

Under the Sirima-Shasthri Pact signed in 1964 between the Prime Ministers of Ceylon and India decided the fate of then numbering 975,000 ‘stateless people’ and agreed to accept 300,000 and 525,000 people by Ceylon and India respectively. The rest 150,000 people were subjected to a separate agreement. The whole processes of ‘Repatriation’ of the ‘Indian people’ and to offer citizenship to the other were expected to complete within 15 years. The armed conflict started between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) and the Government forces disrupted this process. As a result, the Sri Lankan government offered citizenship to all the remaining people live in Sri Lanka in 1982, though the ‘paper work’ still has to be completed.

The Hardships

The Plantation People (about 1,050,000) record the worse social indicators in the country. The literacy rate, infant mortality rate, the lifespan, the malnutrition rate, passes at GCE O/L and A/L examinations and the University entrances of the Plantation People record the worst figures in the country. The ‘ownership’ of land in the country is the lowest among the Plantation Community. The wages of the Plantation workers are the lowest as well in the country.

The Plantation People were subjected to violent racial attacks at many times as a result of the ethnic tension prevailed in the country, though they were not a party to the claim of a separate state by LTTE.

After even centuries, majority of them still remain as plantation laborers. Most of them confined to the Tea Estate where they live and work. They still work in unfavorable conditions and there were many efforts taken to improve their situation by various groups including Social Action Groups and Trade Unions.

“I wanted to be an engineer, when I was at school and my sister Komadi wanted to be a Teacher”, said Sathyarani, 23 years old, an Estate Worker at Queens Town Estate, Baddulla. Her father was a watcher in the same estate and died in 2002. Her mother is also an Estate worker. She had two elder sisters and the elder brother, got married and lives elsewhere. Sathyarani now lives with her mother and her younger sister Komadi. Sathyarani and her family faced with a very sad incident, when her younger brother 17 years old died after a prolonged illness in 2009. They still suffer from the untimely demise of their younger brother.

Sathyarani family lives in a ‘line room’ provided by the estate. The line “room”, in fact the ‘house’ of these workers, in a double barrack type block consists of twenty ‘Line Rooms’ on the both sides. The ‘line room’ is the ‘house ‘for the workers provided by the Estate Management. The ‘house’ is basically an 8x10 sq. feet room with a small 5x 10 verandah, which usually they use for the kitchen. The ‘house’ has no windows, as three sides are covered with the walls of the other ‘houses’. The 8 x 10 house is the place for everything. Sathyarani’s family was an ‘average plantation family’, with parents and six children. They all have to live, eat, study, sleep and do everything else in the 8 x 10 ‘house’.

“I studied at the Estate School up to grade 5 and went to the Haliela Tamil School in the town. I was only managed to pass five subjects at the GCE O/L exam. Then I went work in a small factory in Colombo as we faced with lots of economic hardships. I had to come back to look after my younger brother who fall sick, as nobody was around. Sadly my brother died and mother also fallen sick. As she cannot go to work every day, I decided to go to work as an Estate Worker, though it was a very hard decision. We all as a family was very depressed and we felt that all of our dreams were shattered. The situation was unbearable. We really faced with lots of hardships. We were wondering how we survived”.

“I very much remember, in 2007, Mydili akka, (akka means ‘sister’ and it uses only for the people who are very close to each other) from FIOH visited our house. Mydili akka was a Field Officer of FIOH. She first sat with us and listened to our story. Nobody listened to our plight before. By this time my brother was sick and we were facing with lots of economic hardships. She told us not to be isolated and advised us to form a Small Group (SG). So I and my sister Komadi formed a group with 10 people (8 women and 2 men) who live in our line. Mydili akka instructed us to collect 20 Rupees from the ‘members’ of the group and gave a ‘pass book’ to enter the cash received. It was a real opening, we realized, when looked back. We, together with Mydili akka formed 10 such groups in our estate, Queens Town”.

“We meet every month, had a chat, discuss some important matters, collect money, involve and help with whatever work of a member family and we felt that we were ‘engaged’ in some useful activity. We were participated in various kinds of ‘training and awareness creation programs’, ‘exchange programs’ and various other engagements. Earlier we used to work and work round the clock. We couldn’t find any spare time. But with the formation of the ‘small groups’, we were able to give some time even for the community work. May be, that kind of thinking was not in our mindset earlier. We had different names for our 10 groups. It gives us a feeling that these groups were ours. We took decisions, though small ones in the beginning. Mydili akka and the training given by FIOH encouraged us to take full control and the ownership of these groups. We decided to get all the 10 groups together and form an organization with the guidance of FIOH. Then we formed the Integrated Community Organization (ICO) for our estate and we call it “Kalaimagal Makkal Abhivirudi Ameyppu”. We feel so happy. Most of the members were women. I became the Secretary of our ICO in 2008.We discussed various issues related to our life, our future and the situation of the estate. We were able to get lots of help from FIOH and from the other government organizations for the work in the estate. Earlier we didn’t know that, such kind of helps could be taken from the government organizations. The exposures and the awareness creation programs conducted by FIOH helped us to open our eyes.

We decided to open a Pre School in the estate. My sister Komadi and Nalayini were selected on merit to be the teachers of the Pre School. They underwent a thorough training under an Instructress attached to the Education Department. I really felt very happy for two reasons. The first is that we got a Pre School for our Estate. The second is that my sister was able to be a Teacher, and fulfill her childhood dream. I am also feeling very happy, as everybody is praising the performances and the standards maintain by the Pre School. There are about fifty children studying at the Pre School now.”

“Normally I go with Mydili akka to visit other groups also. She trained us in many things, such as keeping accounts of the group’s money, keeping minutes of the group meetings, how to conduct a meeting , how to speak in a meeting and so on. I often go to Baddulla now to attend various meetings, discussions and training. There we used to meet lots of other people from other areas, villages and other estates. Earlier we do not know anybody out side of our own estate. Now, when we come to Baddulla there were lots of people who we know. We now know even the government officers, as we have met them for getting some support for activities in our estate or as we met to make complains about the shortcomings of our estate. We meet even the Superintendent of our estate to ‘discuss’ various community problems and needs. They know what we do now and they listened to us and give whatever help they could. Earlier only the Trade Union leaders used to meet the Superintendent and we used to tell the Trade Union leaders of our problems. They all were men. Now because of the ICO we, most of us are women deal with the authorities. “

“I used to reflect on my mother’s life. She too was an Estate worker. But she didn’t have any of these opportunities. We remember she worked round the clock at home and in the estate. She hardly had gone out of the estate. I feel so sorry about her”.

“One thing happened in my life, rather in my family, I never forget. That is the illness and the untimely demise of my younger brother. We all were in a state of shock. But, hundreds if not thousands of people were gathered around our house on the funeral day. The whole estate had not witness that size of gathering earlier. Even though we were very sad, we also realize the enormous support we get, just because of being with the people through SGs, ICOs and CLO. It was a tremendous strength, when we were really in need”.

“Another thing happened. All the ICO s used to meet at the FIOH office and eventually had formed an apex body, the Cluster organization (CLO). As there are many ICOs in this apex body, we call it The Plantation Community Development Forum (PCDF)[1]. This is an unbelievable situation. All the money that FIOH got for the work of Small Groups, ICOs and CLO is now managed by us! We plan our work. The money is transferred to our (CLO/PCDF) Bank account. In June this year (2010) I was elected by the representatives of ICOs as the Secretary of CLO. First of all I couldn’t believe it. I remember the every second of this event and in a way I was surprised too. I alone with the Treasurer and the Chairmen of the PCDF, they too from the different ICOs, authorize and sign the cheques to obtain money for the work. I was only an ordinary estate worker. Though I had dreams to come up with my education, the harsh realities that we were encountering made them shattered. I was literally confined to the estate earlier. I live, work and did everything in the estate itself. We had no much connection with the outside world. But everything was changed with the visit made by Mydili akka to our home. The whole thing, when I reflected, a wonderful story. My sister Komadi and my mother too help and encourage me, as we have already witnessed the usefulness of such engagements”.

Komadi, her sister intervenes and said, “My sister and I contributed to the expenses of our home and now we manage everything. We want our mother to feel ‘free’ of the affairs of our home.We go to town on the pay day and bring most of the food stuffs for the whole month. It cost about Rs 5000-6000”. How much you contribute? I asked a question, one should not suppose to ask though! “I give Rs 2000, and keep another 2000 for my needs and save another 2000. I get only 4000-6000 per month. I also save some money for another thing, she said. What is that for? I asked another unwanted question. First she smiled, and then took couple of seconds, with a deep sense of emotion, she said, “I have collected Rs 2500 so far and I am going to buy a ring for my sister for her wedding!

Compiled by

Lalith Abeysinghe



[1] This is a unique initiative by FIOH and first in this kind in the Plantation sector. FIOH, with this initiative has taken steps to hand over all the responsibilities, the ownership, decision making authority, and the available funds to the PCDF. The ‘beneficiaries’ of the Plantation Project have now become the owners and the implementers of the program. FIOH is helping them in ‘capacity building’ and remain as a mentor. This initiative will certainly helps to take the so called ‘target group’ or beneficiaries in the Plantations to new heights.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Road to Governance

Road to Governance

Monaragala is one of the least developed areas in Sri Lanka, situated in the Uva Province. Uva province consists of two districts namely Monaragala and Badulla.

Monaragala district consists of 11 Divisional Secretary Divisions (DSD), namely, Madulla, Siyambalanduwa, Bibile, Medagama, Badalkumbura, Monaragala, Wellawaya, Buttala, Thanamalwila, Sewanagala and Kataragama. In each DSD, there is a Pradeshiya Sabha (PS), which is the primary local government body in the country. The elections were held in every four years to elect the representatives for the PS.

Monaragala is one of such DSD, in the Monaragala district, which too has an elected PS.

Although the country has hundreds of PSs, most of them were very ineffective and, though this is primary elected body, there were no much interactions with the people.

The Uva Network of Peace and Development (UNPD), formed in 2004, with 17 Social Action Organizations “to increase citizen participation in governance” and “to promote friendship and understanding among different ethnic groups” in the Uva province. The original intention of the UNPD was to help to build up a ‘complete citizen’ in the society. The Uva Community Development Center (UCDC) in Badulla, which had lots of experiences in the Uva province and experiences and engagements in networking and advocacy work in and out side of the Uva province led the network during the whole five year period.

“We had to explore new ways and means to achieve our objectives. There were no tested set programs or activities to follow. On the other hand the Uva province has its own characteristics, “identical” with ‘Uva’. So we had to be very innovative and during the last five years, almost everything we implemented in a way were new things. We had to put lot of thinking and efforts to come up with some new ideas, which suit to the pattern of thinking of the Uva people. We were thinking as how to ‘increase the citizen participation in governance’ in the Uva Province. We know that the majority of people who live in the villages and on the estates in the province are poor. They were engage in casual work, farming and work as estate labors to earn their living. Farming in Uva, especially in Monaragala is harsh, as there is a four month long dry season. People get very low price too for their products. Casual labor has no guarantee of continuous income. The estate workers get the lowest wage in the country. Hence it was a challenge to ‘involve’ these people in ‘governance’ which is a ‘distance’ concern for them, as their prime concern is livelihood.”, said Navarathne Hennayake, the Program Manager of the UNPD.

“We also were thinking, discussing and searching for way outs and to possible structures to involve with. We thought the Pradeshiya Sabhas are one of the structures that we could work with. It is the closest ‘Elected Body’ for the village/ estate people.

The UNPD deployed two District Coordinators, one in Monaragala and the other in Badulla. Dhammika, the Monaragala district coordinator and the Head of the Community Resource Protection Center (CRPC), one of the 17 network organizations explained how all it happened. We see this program as a big challenge. The citizen participation in governance is a tricky area to deal with. In one hand the people at the grassroots levels, do not have an interest to participate in this type of act and on the other hand, the elected members do not like to see the people meddle with their work. We thought (UNPD); it was good to select some Social Mobilizers involve in this work and implementing this program through them. Because as the program requires an intense involvement with the people. The ordinary people normally expect some material benefits from NGOs. But the UNPD program was not a ‘delivery program’ as such. So I went to the villages with Amara, the President of CRCP for searching for a suitable person to involve as a Social Mobilizer in the UNPD program”.

“I am a mother of two children, a daughter and son, both of them are schooling. My husband is a farmer. We are a farmer family, live on what ever we grow on our land. We had a very difficult time for the last few years because of the drought. One day when I was working in my garden, the Midwife of the village came and told me, that the CRCP is looking for a person who has a good rapport with the people to assist with a program. She did not know much about the program though. By that time I was engaging in the community work with the villagers through Funeral Aid Society, Women’s society and with the Farmer Society in my own village. So I went to the CRPC and there were nine candidates. The CRCP interviewed us and they asked me lots of questions. At the end the interview they asked me to come to work from the following day. It was in 2007 November. Though I started work, I couldn’t understand most of the things they were saying”, explained Magilin the one of Social Mobilizers selected for work.

Navarathne explained the real situation, “This is in fact the situation in the villages. If you take Magilin for example, she has studied up to Advance Level, had an early marriage, confine to basically to home and to the village. Being a woman, she has to perform lots of duties for her family ranging from cooking, cleaning, bringing up children, and working on the garden and usually she has to work long hours almost every day. How can we involve this type of people in the issues relating to governance? It is altogether a challenge”

“For the last two years we went through lots of training and awareness programs with the UNPD program. I was fortunate to involve in all of those things. We learned lots of things that are very alien for us at that time. We participated in Leadership Training Programs, Theories and Practice of Conflict Transformation and Management, Facilitation, Gender roles and the Nature and the consequences of the War. They were very informative. We gained lots of knowledge. Slowly we were able to understand something, that goes beyond the developmental activities takes place in the village such as making a road way, digging a well etc. We were able to place all those activities in a larger frame as we gained a ‘different kind of knowledge’ from the training programs and through other interactions at UNPD. But it was still difficult for us to take this message to the people. They were in a different mindset. But we realized that we too were in the same situation before. We also were beginning to change as we interacted with this program. How ever we were very depressed, as we couldn’t deliver this message to the people. Here Mr. Navarathne came to the rescue”, explained Magilin.

“Yes, I saw this problem in most of the Social Mobilizers and even among the staff members. We were thinking and planning different things to break this barrier. Some of the Mobilizers were reluctant to interact with the Pradeshiya Sabhas (PS). Our aim was to increase the participation of the citizen in the affairs of PSs. We saw, that though there are many small organizations in the villages/ estates they were only confined to the small areas such as Funeral Aid and Thrift. They were not involved in any way with the issues related to governance and, first they have no motivation to involve in them and secondly there were no organized structure in the villages/ estates to deal with that sort of issues. Then we came up with the idea of formation of Citizen Committees (CC). The mechanism was to bring all the small societies, the prominent people and the community leaders of the village/ estate to one structure. We called it the Citizen Committee. Every body understood that the CC goes beyond the matters that the small societies engaged with in their localities. We then trained the CCs to find out the problems and resources they have in the village/ estate and to come with possible solutions. We used Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) techniques for this and we trained the people in the villages /estates to conduct them. We understood that the people want gather just to talk about governance. We directed these CCs to organize the Public Mobile Clinics (PMC), to which most of the government officers who are responsible for the development and service delivery activities in the villages/ estates invited. Before that, there were Awareness raising programs for the people on the roles and responsibilities of the government institutions and of government officers. The villagers under the common banner of the Citizen Committee presented their problems to these officers. The people too were aware at least to some extent the responsibilities of the government officers and institutions. At the PMC, some of the problems the people encountered with directed to the proper authority. In some cases surprisingly, the officers gave instant solutions. But, though the PMCs achieved some results, this was not our intention. We wanted to get the people involve in decision making process and in particular in PS affairs. Navarathne explained the hectic process the program went through.

“Yes, we did all of these, and we knew that was not the expected aim. In the middle of program, as I earlier too mentioned, we were not that confident to carry out some of the aspects of the program. We felt that something is lacking within us, but couldn’t explain what they were”, Magilin complained.

“Yes we too observed that. We took an ‘unconventional’ move. We organized a four day ‘‘Outdoor Adventure’ training program in Wariyapola and involved all the SMs and the staff. It was amazing to see how the SMs and the staff do the ‘imposable’ things in ‘possible’ ways”.

“Mr. Navarathne was right. It largely changed us. We felt that we could do anything. We built up the confidence. We felt that we acted with some inferior complexes earlier, when we implemented the program”, Magilin endorsed Navarathne’s observation.

“We started to talk with the members and the Chairman of the PS. We were able to learn the roles and the responsibilities of the PS through awareness programs. We conducted awareness programs for the members and the Chairmen of the PSs too. They too were not that much aware of the real purpose of the PS. Most of them were not aware of the PS Act, the provisions in it and the spaces which should arrange for the citizens to participate in PS affairs. In the same time we gave training for the leaders of the CCs on the role, responsibilities of the PSs, about the Public Galleries and about the Committees of the PS. Then only the people felt that the PS is theirs and they should involve in the affairs of the PS”. Magilin explained the outcome of the ‘outdoor adventure training’.

Dhammika adds, “We had to do lots of things. We first submitted a report to the PS to get the consent and the permission to open up the gallery in the PS. We had to supply some essential furniture to the PS to organize the gallery, as they lack the resources for such move. After many interventions at various levels, we were able to ‘ceremonially’ open the Public Gallery in Monaragala Pradeshiya Sabha. I had the opportunity to preside over the meeting. Mr. Navarathne explained the purpose of this effort. The Chairman, the other members including the opposition members and the representatives of the public, who were assigned to participate in the gallery, addressed the meeting. For the first time the people, the Chairman and the members were seeing around a same table having a ‘high tea’.

One member of the PS said, “To tell you the truth, we were not aware as how even to present a proposal to the PS. We used to ‘meet’ in a ‘closed door’ room. There was no proper system. Now we have to behave with sense of responsibility as there are people in the gallery. On the other hand it helps the transparency of the transactions of the PS. We feel that the people see that the PS shifted from the ‘contract mentality’ to the ‘governance’.

I asked Magilin very casually, do you like to be a member of PS?

YES! , it was a firm answer. Three years ago a housewife, who confined basically to her own house and to the village.

What a change! , took place in three years, not only in Magilin but in many people and in many places.

Lalith Abeysinghe

20 March 2009.

Bridging the village to the future….

Bridging the village to the future….

Kosgolla, a traditional Sinhala village is situated seven kilometers away from Badulla, the main city of the Uva province.. It remained a poor ‘traditional Sinhala village’, with lack of even basic facilities though it situated only seven km away from Badulla, and by the side of the main Badulla- Kandy road, till recently. Kosgolla village consists of four hamlets, namely, Wellayaya, Bulugahapitiya, Kiulwatta, Elwatta and Konehena. The main livelihood of the people is small scale agriculture, mainly paddy and chena cultivation.

Kosgolla (Annex 01) is one of the villages, which UNPD involves with its programs.

“We were very happy that we were able to select Kosgolla as one of the villages for the UNPD program. First, it is a disadvantaged village, which we saw needs an input. Secondly, this village was a ‘socially backward’ village. Even the politicians did not show any interest as the village has only small voter population. We started work there with establishing a ‘Peace committee’. Ms Nayana, the Social Mobilizer laid a solid foundation for this process. Mr. Vajira of REDEF (Rural Economic and development Foundation) one of the UNPD network partner took a keen interest as Kosgolla was one of the five villages that REDEF selected for the program”, Sumith Abeykoon, (Tissa), the District Coordinator for Badulla of the UNPD program explained as how it all stated.

May be that was the time, I really can not remember the exact date. I was in the upper part of the Kosgolla village. After the marriage I put up a little hut and came to live in Dambagahamaditta. That is in the lower part of Kosgolla. One day two youth came to meet me and we had a discussion under the Nelli[1] tree with regard to the ‘development’ of the village. They requested me to take the leadership. Then we called a meeting on a following day with the villages. If I remember correctly, some forty people came from the forty families. So we organized a Funeral Aid Society[2]. During this time, Mr. Vajira and Tissa came to our village. Through this contact we were able to meet Mr. Manel Ratnayake and he was then the President of the Uva Provincial Council”, says Palitharatne, the President of the Funeral Aid Society.

“Yes, I visited Kosgolla. I visited there with the UNPD program. I can imagine that no politician have gone there. There was no proper road way. The villages have to cross the Badulu Oya, but no proper bridge. The villages have made a ‘bridge’ with ropes, wood and with the help of a cable. When we go in to the middle of the bridge, it starts swinging. It is very dangerous. Only one or two can go for a time. I crossed the ‘swing bridge’ and walk through the village. I was wondering, as how to help these people”, says Manel Ratnayake, Head of Uva Community Development Center (UCDC) and UNPD.

“The UNPD program first helped us to ‘understand’ the village and to identify the problems, resources and the basic information of the village. The UNPD taught us the techniques to do this exercise. We learned how to do a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA). After that only, we came to know the very basic information of the village such as the population, number of families, and number of houses with out toilets and also the main problems of the village. Before this we also did not know the exact problems of the village. Different people used to say different things. We also realized through PRA, that our village has many societies[3]. They ranged from Funeral Aid Societies to Women, Farmer, and Temple etc. We formed a Peace Committee in the village with the guidance of UNDP to deal with the wider issues that country and the society face with. This time was a crucial time as the government intensified the war against LTTE. Though in our village, all are Sinhalese and Buddhists, in Badulla and Uva province there is a large Tamil population. We were very happy to see that all the societies and the community leaders in our village came in to one forum. We just felt that we become strong. We had lots of discussions Awareness Programs, Training Programs on the themes related to the problems that country faced including the War and Peace related issues”, says Palitha.

“When we interact with the village, we were bit careful not to ‘help’ these disadvantages ‘target group’ people with dole outs. We were really trying to empower them, make them aware of the government structures, officers and their roles and responsibilities and also the rights of the people. The UNPD, had a different mission, it did not have resources to do ‘development activities’ in these villages. Instead we did lots of awareness raising programs. As far as I remember, during the whole project period, UNPD gave only Rs 5000 to ‘start’ construction of the Community Centre. Later, we reduced the number of our visits to the village also, in order to allow them to grow”. I later rated this village as a ‘grade one’ village which needs very little outside support and the Citizen Committee is strong enough to deal with their problems”, said Vajira, Head of REDEF, the organization responsible for Kosgolla. “Even we visited, we only advised them as how to do things, but never undertook work on behalf of them. We allow them to do their work by themselves, even it takes little more time” added Tissa.

“It is true. We did lots of things by our own, though it was a difficult task. Some time we faced with very difficult situations. But overall we really achieved a lot. We even cannot imagine, we could do all these things, supposing we confined only to the Funeral Aid Society. Most of the things changed with our involvements with the Peace Committee and later in the Citizen Committees. It was a powerful collective. All came together. I think we are a solid case of success. As you know, even we are only seven kilometers away from Badulla; we really lived in the eighteenth century. We used to carry a sick person on a chair as there were no roads. It was very difficult to cross the Badulu Oya. Many people fell down from the ‘Swing Bridge’ to the Badulu Oya and were badly injured. Parents, mostly mothers used to come in the morning and in the afternoon up to this Oya to see off their children to schools and to bring them back. The “bridge” washed away several times during the rainy times as Oya carries lots of water. It was very dangerous to cross the Oya during the rainy season. Even though we grow lots of things for our living, the prices are very low as there is no transportation”. Palitha explained the situation in which they were in.

“UNPD helped the villagers with lots of awareness and training programs. It helped people to understand the problems, the context, and get to know the government institutions and officers and other organizations. We conducted Public Mobile Clinics (PMC) in the village. Some of the government officers came for these PMCs. They, for the first time realized the difficulties that we face. It was a long process. We stated construction of the Community Center with the Rs 5000 got from the UNPD. Mr. Vajira advised us to find a piece of land for this purpose. One of a villager donated a land for this and we laid the foundation. We managed to get some roofing sheets from the Uva Development Bank. We also got Rs 150,000 from Soranathota Pradeshiya Sabha (PS). At least we have now a common place to meet. We also got Rs 200,000 from the Soranathota Pradeshiya Sabha to start a drinking water project for the village. The PS was convinced to donate the funds as they saw us organized. We ‘signed agreements’ with the PS. The ’signing of the agreement’ gave us a tremendous boost in confidence, as we feel that we were recognized. At the end of the project we were able to get pipe born water to our houses”.

“We then, as we learned the roles and responsibilities from the awareness programs conducted by UNPD, went and meet the Medical Officer of Health (MOH) and the Public Health Inspector (PHI) and invited them to the village. They came to our village for the first time in the history. We presented our problems to the MOH and PHI verbally and in written form. We were able to get twenty toilets for the houses which had no toilets, and eighteen mosquito nets to prevent dengue and malaria. The PHI wanted to do a PRA in the village for his official needs and we ourselves did it and gave it to him. He was happy as he got it. We were happy as we were able to ‘help’ him!” Palitha come up with the whole story as how they proceeded.

“Though we got lots of things to the village, our main concern was the road way and constructing of the main bridge over the Badulu Oya, to get easy access to the village. We knew that this is a big task. But we were also equally confident that we could do this. Two things happened. One is with constructing the bridge and the other thing is cutting the road ways inside the village. It was during the Provincial Council election. We approached a Tamil candidate who was contesting for the PC election. We explained our problem to him. He acted promptly and sends a bulldozer to the village and cut and prepared a wide road way in the village. We as the villagers, though all are Sinhalese, discussed and decided to vote for him at the election. This type of thing happened in our village for the first time”. Palitha explained how it happened.

“We knew that constructing of the bridge is a serious affair. We contacted some people in Moratuwa, associated with the “Institute of Engineers Sri Lanka” (IESL) to get some help from them. They came to the village. They promised us to help. They made a plan and made an estimate of Rs 5,600,000. They then sent old Train Chassis to be used for the bridge. They sent them from Colombo to Badulla Railway Station by train and we brought them from there by a lorry. They gave us 12 bags of cement also. We started to build a small bunt, but the work stopped as there were no funds. Then the IESL asked us to get support from a Member of Parliament. We were not that convinced with the suggestion. Then we contacted the CHA, which had some funds through Japanese Embassy. A Japanese lady wanted to have a meeting in the village. We organized a meeting and 47 people attended. We later got the information, that some group in the village has told the villagers not to attend this meeting as this will not happen. Then they made another estimate amounting Rs 9,650.000. They agreed to help. So we were very happy, as the ‘Kosgolla Bridge’ made known to the whole world through their website. But soon, there was another problem that we have to solve. The land situated at the entrance to the bridge belongs to a person and we had to collect money and buy it. We had to collect Rs 50,000 for this from the villagers”.

“We were very happy to see then the construction of the bridge was progressing. The ‘contract’ of the construction was given to THERMOTEC Engineers Pvt. Ltd. The work has to be completed with in 36 weeks and started on 28 November 2008. They built the main bunts and the pillars of the bridge. They have taken more than Rs 7,000,000. However we later learned that they did not have the skills to place the train chassis on the bunt. They abandoned the whole operations and went away! Then again we went and meet the CHA. They said, this is very unfortunate, if the villagers could complete the rest of the work with in three weeks, they are happy to disburse the balance funds! Even though we realized that the former contractor has overspent, and thus it had a small amount, we accept it as a challenge. We came back and talk to some of the villagers. One of our villagers, Somasiri said that he could complete the work with in three weeks, even though the contractors couldn’t do it. With in three weeks Somasiri, an ordinary villager, made the impossible task possible”.

“When we looked back, we feel so happy and proud of ourselves. We realized that we have very talented people like Somasiri. They lack only the opportunity”.

Palitha concludes the whole story, “We have come a long way. From Nelli Tree to the Community Centre, from Funeral Aid Society to the Citizen Committee, from mere passive member to the active participant, from dole out recipient to a go getter, from a villager to a citizen, from a disintegrated village to a connected village, we have come a long way.

All this happened because of establishing the Citizen Committee and through the Citizen Committee. It only brought all of us, all the societies together and exposes all of us to a new arena. We never thought that we could do so much work, influence so many people and institutions and get so many resources. We stated the whole process with the ‘donation’ of Rs 5000 from the UNPD to start work of constructing the Community Center. The Citizen committee was the ‘Trigger event’, which instrumented the whole change. With these Rs 5000, we were able to get or generate more than Rs 20,000,000 to our village in cash, services and in material with in four years. So we feel very happy.

We really “Bridge” our village to the future.

Lalith Abeysinghe

30 March 2010.

Annex 01.

Kosgolla village

The Fact Box (Year 2008)

The Population : 811 ( Female 501/ Male 310)

Number of Families : 247

Ethnicity / Religion : All Sinhala/ Buddhist

Educational status : Primary education - 255 (F 155/M 100)

Grade 06 to 10 - 450 (F 300/M 150)

GCE O/L - 32 (F 15/ M 17)

GCE A/L - 17 (F 07/ M 10)

Diploma - 06 (F 03/ M 03)

Graduates - 06 (F 03/ M 03)

Not gone to school - 45 (F 20/ M 25)

Main Occupation : Agriculture

Land usage : Paddy - H 10

(Out of 78 Hectares ) Chena - H 15

Vegetables - H 05

Tea - H 03

[1] Famous ‘medicinal’ fruit in Sri Lanka

[2] Funeral Aid Societies are very famous among the poorest segments in the villages in Sri Lanka. Its main aim is to help its members in the event of a funeral in their families. This is in a way a ‘symbol of poverty and helplessness’ in the village setup. It indicates that these people have no way other than get help from their fellow villages when they in distress.

[3] This refers to the ‘organization’ in the village set up, but very small, informal, with limited small aims.

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.