Prospect for a Sweet Future

Rubia Ummah is 30 year old and lives with her husband and two young children. The family currently lives in Sennel village, part of Sammanthurai District Secretary’s Division, in the Ampara district of Sri Lanka.

Before the 2004 tsunami, the family lived with her husband’s parents in Kalmunai, also in Ampara district. Rubia’s husband was a busy man, and earned ample income from his own business preparing and selling candy. His income adequately supported his family and his parents. The tsunami sadly took the lives of many of his family, including his mother, and some of his sisters and brothers. The young family also lost all their material possessions, including the equipment and materials to produce the sweets. Rubia and her family were absent from Kalmunai the day the tsunami battered the coast, visiting family relatives’ further inland. In the aftermath of the tsunami, her husband was emotionally shattered and depressed with the loss of so many of his relations. Although the family had lived in Kalmunai, they were officially registered as living in nearby Sennel. As Sennel is further inland, the family did not receive compensation following the tsunami.

Women’s Development Foundation (WDF) is a local women-headed NGO, part of the Ampara District Consortium, which works in the Sennel village. WDF is one of the earliest organizations that SLCDF funded based on their impressive savings and credit programme. WDF is comprised of many grassroots CBOs involved in a plethora of small group activities. Rubia is a member of the WDF, and the NGO identified her vulnerable situation and provided a loan of Rs. 11,200. SLCDF contributed Rs. 10,000 while WDF provided Rs. 1,200. Rubia used to help her husband in the candy preparation, and knowing that he was still too devastated to work, she courageously started making candy on her own. She used the loan money to purchase bulk purchases of sugar and other ingredients required to make the sweets.

Rubia started off on a small scale using the loan very sparingly. She was excited when she collected her first income from the venture, Rs. 1,000. This boost of confidence resulted in her expanding the business and earning on average, Rs. 3,000 per month. Over time, Rubia’s husband has come to terms with the loss of so many of his family members and now plays a part in their new venture, as well as working as a day labourer. The couple distributes the candy to local shops for distribution. She makes the sweets (previously his job) and he takes them to shops and collects the money once they are sold. Rubia playfully remarks that, “I don’t have marketing problems. Small children like my candy.” She now manages the household expenses efficiently with the dual incomes received from both husband and wife.

The family has built a small house on her own land in Sennel village, which was given by her parents as dowry when they first married. Rubia has also saved Rs. 4,680 in her savings and credit group. She wants to save another Rs. 5,000 and then the young couple will have the capital to expand their business. Though they have endured much sorrow and loss, the future is promising for this young family.

It is a high labour task – a whole day’s work nets her only Rs. 200 daily. He also fishes to supplement their income. She can make 50 packets in a day (if she has enough sugar and flour). They sell the candy for Rs. 50 a bag in the shops (and get back Rs. 40 once sold). It is not continuous work, since they rely on the money in advance to make more. Good example of a marital team effort rebuilding their lives after the tsunami. PS. The candy is damned sweet!!!!