Green Thumb

Ms. R. Vasanthi is 38 years old, married and with three children. Vasanthi lives in a village called Thiraikerney (Palamunai 06 DS Division) in Ampara district. Until 1990, the young family lived happily in their own home. Her husband was involved with local fisheries, earning approximately Rs. 9,000 monthly. She spent her days cultivating vegetables on their land for domestic consumption. Vasanthi enjoyed gardening and had a natural skill for it. The young family lived a content life – no one went hungry or faced hardship.

This all changed with the ethnic conflict in the Eastern province in 1990. Her family was displaced from their home and shifted to a refugee camp in Karatheevu. After a year living among other displaced families, they returned to their village. The happy home Vasanthi recalled had been destroyed, and all their belongings were gone. The family settled down and started to rebuild their lives, but this time life was more of a struggle. Her husband returned to fishing, but could not earn adequate money due to the prevailing security situation and the fishing restrictions imposed by the government. Nonetheless, the family managed, and continued to fight for their daily survival.

In 2004, the tsunami struck and Vasanthi’s husband lost his livelihood. He had been a member of the Fisheries Society in Palamunai, where the society stored all its boats and gear. All the assets of the Fisheries Society were destroyed. In the aftermath of the tsunami, the former fishing village became a ghost town, with no one returning to fishing for over a year when more projects were initiated in the area. Vasanthi’s husband found work as a day labourer and she continued home gardening on a small-scale. Although she wanted to expand the home garden, she lacked the capital to do so for nearly 3 years following the tsunami. As hardship continued to escalate for the family, Vasanthi’s eldest son dropped out of school and started working as a day laborer to contribute to the family income. This saddened Vasanthi to no end: “Though I was determined to educate my children however I could, I failed with my son. I know education is the only asset that will never leave a person, no matter what situation they find themselves in.”

Social Renaissance Council (SRC) is a local NGO and a member of the Ampara District Consortium. SRC implements development programmes and a post-tsunami rehabilitation programme in Palamunai. SRC identified Vasanthi as a worthy beneficiary for a loan after recognizing her flair with gardening. Vasanthi received a loan for Rs.10,000 in January 2008. The loan was facilitated by SLCDF, and funded under the Local Capacity & Community Restoration project. Vasanthi invested the loan into expanding her garden, and started to cultivate more varieties of vegetables, including long beans, eggplant, and ladyfingers. After her first harvest, Vasanthi was elated when she returned home from the market with a profit of Rs.7,500.

Vasanthi’s husband and son continue to work as day labourers. She stays busy with the garden and repaid her loan to SRC within 10 months. Since repaying the loan, Vasanthi has opened up a savings account with a local CBO and puts away at least Rs. 100 a month. Every two months, Vasanthi earns about Rs. 13,000 from her hard work and green thumb. With the profit from the garden, she supports the education of her two daughters and covers household expenses. Vasanthi is thankful for her family, who regularly assist her with the gardening and says: “I would not have this garden today without the support of my family. Without the assistance of SRC, who was willing to lend me capital to start my gardening venture, my family would still be struggling to survive.”

SRC works mainly with Muslim communities in Ampara district. Vasanthi is a Tamil by ethnicity. This case also demonstrates budding social cohesion within a district that less than 20 years was torn apart by ethnic conflict. Vasanthi engages with both Tamil and Muslim women in her savings and credit group with the local CBO. This example shows how a project activity can help transform communities by fostering notions of peaceful existence and social harmony.