Thatchadampan Community Hall
Date: 7 April 2016
Location: Thatchadampan Community Hall, Oddisuddan
Diaspora: Siva and Team
CFCD: Nathan and Kohul
Participants: 11 women members and a man from the village
End of the war in May 2009 has seen many socio-political changes in Sri Lanka from the racial barriers becoming reduced to positive changes in the political sphere. The more than 500,000 Diaspora populations from the North and East of the country could come back freely to meet and see the differences in the homeland. The war has created big gaps among communities and families with the loss of individual members to the destroyed property and livelihoods. The rehabilitation task is rather heavy and it might take more time than anyone could guess. However, fast infrastructure development is noticed especially in the urban areas with affluent families trying to rebuild their lives quicker. In the rural set up the picture is vague and people want support to make them realize the goals.
With the global attention shifting to disaster and conflict affected countries the priority has taken a sharp shift from Sri Lanka to other countries in the post-war scenario. Thus, the flow of funds from international donors including UN agencies has got reduced drastically making the marginalized and the vulnerable returnees and resettled families feel the impact quite heavily. The environment is much worse for the more than 40,000 women headed households (WHHs) especially young women with young children in the North and East.
The Diaspora population all over the world is concerned of the well-being of those affected by war which is a welcome signal and an encouragement for those with no support at all. They are trying to provide assistance individually and through organizations. Just like any other donor agencies the Diasporas too want very clear accountability, transparency and honesty in the identification and execution of projects through their hard earned money.
In that sense, this field visit has been arranged by the Centre for Child Development, a Local NGO functioning in Jaffna, Killinochchi, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya Districts, for interested Diaspora personnel to see and identify specific needs of a special vulnerable group in Mullaitivu District.
Mullaitivu is one of the five districts of the North which has been severely affected at the last stages of war. It has 4 DS Divisions and one is Oddisuddan. Puthiyanagar is a village in Thatchadampan GN Division falling within Oddisuddan DS Division. Thatchadampan is around 6 km from Mankulam towards East and from there Puthiyanagar is around 3 km towards South. The path going to Puthiyanagar from the main road is of gravel and the people face many difficulties during the rainy season.
Puthiyanagar is a new settlement made by the government for the returnees and the displaced with the end of the conflict in 2010. The people are from many parts of the country who had no other alternatives but to accept the offer of the government. They lived at IDP welfare centres and with friends and relatives for almost 14 years. The government allocated ½ an acre of state land per family through ‘permits’ and allowed them to get settled. They are from Murukandy, Killinochchi, Vavuniya and the Upcountry. There are 76 families in the settlement.
Many families find the allocated land to be insufficient to involve in their livelihood activities and thus encroach in to state lands in the surrounding areas with some knowledge of the GN Officer. However, the Forest Department personnel are not quite happy on the move of the villagers and they keep on warning the people to pull back to own territories.
There are 44 women headed households in the village who are mostly in their mid-thirties. When the resettlement was initiated they lived in fear for being lonely and isolated in a forest environment. However, in late 2012 when CFCD came for an intervention and made them in to small groups of 15 in each they gained confidence gradually and provided mutual assistance and support as and when required.
The families are involved in farming, livestock development and micro enterprises apart from many women going out for farm Labour work when they get paid Rs 600 per day.
The terrain is almost flat and contains jungle trees. Water channels to the farming land could be noticed and the flow of water is sufficient for highland crops in the irrigated areas. Ground nut, onion, chilies, banana and vegetable crops could be noticed to grow healthily. Grass for the livestock, cows and goats, is available in plenty and also steps could be taken to grow the special grass varieties required.
There are 76 families in the settlement and they have permanent houses provided under the Indian Government’s 50,000 houses @ Rs 550,000. The internal roads are of gravel and pose great risks for travel especially for school children, elderly and the sickly people during rainy days.
A community hall has been constructed but gives an old look where the preschool functions. The WRDS is active and has to be registered.
The villagers have to reach out to adjoining small towns for the basic primary health facilities and the government offices.
The village has a total of 34 open dug wells constructed with the support of JEN, a NGO. Four families are without direct water facilities. The water source is sufficient in general for family use but during extreme drought conditions it becomes difficult and people have to find alternate options. The quality of the water is good for consumption.
The children from the village attend two schools situated around 3 km away on the main road. Most children walk the distance and are very much used to the difficult conditions. However, the rainy days become difficult to manage with the gravel roads floating with flood water. The schools cater up to GCE (OL) and there is total enrolment of all the eligible children from the village and parents are well aware of the importance of education. The parents are active at the village sponsored preschool and take turns in the preparation and provision of nutritious food to the toddlers.
The village has private bus service to connect the villagers to Mankulam town and Oddisuddan. The service is a minimum of one in the morning and another in the evening. Otherwise the women and men depend on push bicycles and a few on motor bicycles. Three wheelers are also available for hire during any emergencies. Isolated grocery stores could be seen in the village and people primarily depend on the local boutiques to satisfy their needs. Electricity supply is available in the village and the families are able to make use of modern electrical appliances depending on their capacity. Telecommunication facilities with the mobile phones have become quite familiar to almost everyone in the community with good signals to connect with the outer world.
CFCD has been working with the WHHs to empower the livelihood aspects since mid-2012 with combined funds of TECH Norway and Development Fund Norway. 27 households were provided support for the preferred livelihood activity. 17 received assistance for rearing goats, 9 for cows and one for agriculture. Although a few families could not get good results through goat rearing the others showed improvements in their livelihood status. Savings groups initiated through the intervention is successfully functioning now and the women meet weekly to discuss issues, recollect loans and disburse new loans.
JEN is the other NGO which is quite active to solve the water problems of the villagers. One open dug well serves 4 adjoining families in some places while it becomes two in other locations and yet there are a few cases of individual wells supported.
The visiting team had useful and interactive discussions with the members present without much publicity. The sudden visit did not allow time for the villagers to understand and prepare themselves for any planned submissions. Thus, the discussions brought out the true status and feelings of the participants in general which formed the basis for further discussions and collaborations.
The participants feel that they have lost everything and yet cannot build up their assets. The earnings they make through the various efforts are just sufficient to make them survive and lead average or just below normal lives.
The emphasis is that the families require further financial support to become self-reliant. As an example, for a person involved in livestock development two potential cows are necessary so that the earnings would continue with no disruption. However, they were provided only one cow and even that the total cost was not provided. A cow costs around Rs 90,000 while the input provided was only Rs 60,000. Thus, most families prefer the support for two cows.
The village has sufficient land area to grow the special CO3 grass for the cows with minimum effort. The veterinary office is situated around 9 km at Oddisuddan and the services rendered by the department could not be termed excellent but the facilities could be obtained. The families have a fair knowledge and experience in the rearing of cows for some time. The milk collection is done daily at the door steps by NESTLE at around Rs 60.00 per liter. There is no limit of quantity that could be supplied.
Thus, it becomes clear that if the veterinary department could be brought more closely for the villagers to get immediate guidance and facilitation as and when required rearing of cows on the increased mode should bring in fruitful results for the villagers towards sustainability.
Pappadam making has been brought forward as a group initiative. After lengthy discussions it became evident that the commodity is highly competitive and as such should be very carefully produced with appropriate value addition techniques and marketing strategies. The production should be through using machinery and by a very limited number of workers so that the available profit margin is sufficient to sustain the venture.
The positive aspect is that one woman within the group has a very long experience in the industry for around 14 years and is confident of achieving good results. However, she has no idea or knowledge about the modern machinery that could be used to make the base-paste, roll and sharply cut in to required shapes and sizes. Maintaining primary hygienic standards during the entire production routine is another challenge, often making such home based industries to become RED marks for the PHIs.
The initial cost of setting up the micro industry is large including the cost of the building with its many hygiene standards, the procurement of machinery, the provision of appropriate furniture, the facilities to maintain personal hygienic standards including uniforms, hand gloves, over coats etc and the investment on marking and packeting the end-products. Support to market the products through appropriate linkages, advertisements, campaigns and sales promotions successfully to maintain regular supply chain is the other challenge. However, the total number of persons who could be involved in this heavy investment cannot be more than five initially and the members should have the capacity for free movements to cover miscellaneous tasks so that the initial profits could be sufficient to support the members.
A woman member from the village who is a beneficiary of CFCD’s livelihood support under DF project has an energetic success story which she would not want to disclose publicly. She has a few personal reasons for the situation. She is a young woman living all alone with the history of two marriage failures but has no off springs. The community is suspicious about her social behaviors and is not prepared to accept her as a normal woman.
CFCD provided her two goats at the beginning and now she has developed herd of around 40 goats within the past 4 years. The goats reproduce every six months and she has capitalized on the goats and is able to dispose at least two goats to make satisfactory earning for a month. She says that it is the devotion and good maintenance which is required to develop such a large number of goats and without one’s hard work and willingness it would not be easy to achieve good results.
In general, in the village goat rearing has been looked down as something of a wasted investment by many others.
The village has more young WHHs than families living with male counterparts. This creates all sorts of situations for the helpless women to be abused by men including the armed groups. One such young woman was seen in the village with her third child who is just around one year. The woman is said to be having mental disorders in addition to being a mother without a male support. The story is that someone has contacts with the woman who is being abused and who has no knowledge on the responsible male person fathering the children.
The situation requires urgent intervention for the benefit of the children and the health of the young mother having mental disorders. The community as a whole has to take up the responsibility to provide security and safety to such an innocent woman and the children.
The field visit has created a lot of discussions among the visiting Diaspora members and opened their eyes to the hard realities of the situation of the resettled vulnerable families.
The Diaspora members want to consider the weak economic side initially of the families which is the primary cause for the total social disorders. From there they could come up with further plans of strengthening the social structure and the social networking systems.
The assistance and the future work plans may be either taken forward by delegated persons of the Diaspora members or through CFCD which is already working in the village for the past 4 to 5 years with minimum financial resources.
Diaspora members have made their direct contacts with the community including the field Animator for future visits and dialogues and to get more information when necessary.
CFCD is glad that at least one needy community in Mullaitivu district has been spotted by well-wishers who want to do positive development and see definite changes in the lives of the under privileged and war affected people. The task has to reach many more lives in the district as well as in the other districts of the North and the East gradually.