Looking to the Future with Confidence

Veerasingam Vasanthakumari is 36 years old with six children (7 to 18 years old). The family lives in the Puthukudiyiruppu Central Grama Sevaka Division in Batticaloa District. Her husband abandoned Vasanthakumari and the children in 2002. For the past 7 years, Vasanthakumari has been the family’s principal breadwinner. There has been tremendous responsibility on her shoulders to ensure the family’s survival. Until the 26 December 2004 tsunami, her family lived in a small house near the coast. Vasathakumari’s children were in and out of school, and were not receiving an adequate education due to their dire poverty.

Vasanthakumari and her family were tsunami victims. On that fateful day in 2004, Vasanthakumari managed to escape the waves with her children. Sadly though, the family lost their home and meagre belongings, along with all their (nominal) assets. Vasanthakumari and her children stayed in a temporary welfare centre housed in a nearby school for many months following the tsunami. She received relief items from several international NGOs. The government provided a grant of Rs. 250,000 to assist with the construction of a new house. Vasanthakumari used the grant to start construction on the house, although funds ran out before the house was finished. In the interest of her children’s security, Vasanthakumari was determined to move her family from the temporary shelter to their own home.

Vasanthakumari was very skilled making a variety of food items. She borrowed some money (Rs. 500-1,000) from neighbours and started making string hoppers for local consumption. With this small venture, she earned a modest income but not enough to cater to her family’s needs and children’s education. As a result of the continued hardship, two of her older children dropped out of school. Before long, all six of her children had left school. This worried Vasanthakumari a great deal, but she simply couldn’t afford the costs associated with educating her children.

Meanwhile, Vasanthakumari participated in an awareness programme conducted by DESMIO, a member NGO of the Batticaloa District Consortium. The awareness programme inspired Vasanthakumari to start her own income-generating activity, and gave her hope that the family’s dire poverty could be reversed. The problem with starting her own business was that she had no capital for the initial expenditure. Vasanthakumari was encouraged to join a savings and credit group in her village sponsored by DESMIO.

Through facilitation by SLCDF, DESMIO provided credit to Vasathakumari amounting to Rs. 10,000 in August 2008. These funds came from Guelph University’s RESTORE project, a CIDA-funded project (A-032760-010) employing a multi-sectoral approach to environmental restoration and sustainable livelihoods with full community input and participation. Vasathakumari utilized her loan to purchase the required equipment, utensils and ingredients to start making breakfast items like hoppers, string hoppers, rolls and sweetmeat based on local demand. She also cultivated relationships with local merchants to sell her products on a regular basis. In the evenings, Vasathakumari also makes chips and vadai that she sells to other retail shops in her area. Her hard work enabled her to start a business that soon boasted turnover and profit. Her children also help enthusiastically with her business venture.

Although Vasathakumari started her business on a tight budget, she was soon in the position to set aside Rs. 300 daily to help with family expenses. Her first priority was to send the children back to school – which she did. Finishing the house is her next priority, and she is confident that this too will come about shortly. The awareness programme offered by DESMIO led Vasathakumari and her children down a new path and towards a new life, lifted from the destitution and poverty that characterized their life before and directly after the 2004 tsunami. Through hard work and a persevering spirit, Vasathakumari is looking forward to the future with confidence.