Ms. Prema Nilaweera lives in Welagoda near Dondra, in the Matara District. During the JVP rebellion related strife in the 1980s, her husband “disappeared” leaving her to support single-handedly her son and two daughters. This traumatic event nearly pushed her over the edge. A friend recognised her grief and mental anguish, and convinced her to come to a meeting of a local NGO called Sahana Padanama. The NGO offered women a chance to discuss their problems in small group discussions, and this new outlet helped Prema move forward with her life.
Prema found she now had more energy and no longer felt so alone and isolated. She was resolute that her children would receive an education, no small feat considering that it would be her income alone that would finance this ambition. Sahana Padanama also offered members small revolving loans; Prema applied and received Rs. 10,000. She decided to start a small venture of drying fish and producing Maldive fish. In addition to this work, she prepared lunch packs for nearby workers at the Fisheries Harbour. A small amount of money through the government’s Poverty Alleviation Programme also supplemented her meagre income. With passage of time, Prema found she had become a local community leader, helping other women in need, just as she herself had been rescued in her darkest moments.
Prema’s proudest moment was learning of her daughter’s acceptance to university. After the moment passed, Prema started to worry about how she would finance this endeavour. Her son started to work as a fisherman to contribute to the family’s income. Prema continued her dutiful savings with the NGO that became instrumental when she inherited an old dilapidated house from her parents. The house was in need of urgent repairs, so the family’s money was stretched amongst fixing the house, supporting the family, and investing in her eldest daughter’s education. Then, in a matter of minutes, the 2004 Tsunami destroyed all of Prema’s hard work at rebuilding her family’s future. Prema and her family were back to square one.
Sahana Padanama came to Prema’s rescue once again. Prema received a loan for Rs. 10,000 from the NGO, supported by SLCDF and funded by LCCRP. She used the loan to restart her earlier ventures. Prema then suffered another blow when she learned that she would have to give up their house, as it was located within the official buffer zone. The Government helped the family resettle in another area, further inland. Prema’s resilience was tested, but stronger than ever, and she started bringing dry fish from coastal communities and reselling her stock further inland. Her three children are now married and she lives by herself. Prema currently makes about Rs. 4,000 monthly from her dry fish sales and coir-rope making. Prema’s relocation to an inland community has greatly affected her current income. Prema had been dealt a hard hand of cards in her lifetime more than once, but her determination coupled with her involvement with Sahana Padanama provided knowledge, created awareness, built solidarity, and taught self-resilience. Her relationship with the NGO is an ongoing source of support and she has nearly finished paying off her post-tsunami loan.