Up to this date, 95% of the marriages in Sri Lanka are arranged by the parents. It is not easy to be born as a daughter and it is very costly for the family to get their daughters married.
At first, the feminist part in me disliked this system. But I learned over the years to see the advantages, especially considering our divorce rate.
This all because it is still very much a caste society in Sri Lanka, part of which includes the beliefs: parents know the best for their children; children know they can trust their parents. With these strong family ties, it is very important to avoid a mismatch. Many never speak to their husband before the marriage and it is the most natural thing to them. I also found out that all young ladies wanted nothing more than to get married and are in acceptance of the arranged marriages. Remember, parents know best!
In their society, a woman without a husband and children does not count for much. And being a widow counts even less. There is no word for “widow’s pension” neither in Sinhalese nor in Tamil. The chances of getting remarried are slim and only for a childless widow.
A widow with children would not get any support from her new husband for the children of her first marriage. She would still rely on the help of relatives, unless all of them had died in the tsunami and there were no more relatives.
Due to religious reasons a widow has to stay in her house for 140 days and is excluded from public life. This “rule” is for the safety of the unborn children. In their society, “who is your Father?” is the most important thing.
Therefore, they had no access to government help as they could not leave their homes to register in person.
Of course, it would have been possible for the women to break this “rule” because of the emergency but they went with their tradition. It is not for us to judge or condemn traditions of other cultures.
For this reason, we only have pictures of children and while I was visiting the women together with Humaid’s wife, Faye and Roy’s wife, Mefuza, there was no other choice for Humaid and Michel than to wait out in the hot sun (38°C).
I felt uncomfortable about disturbing the women in their grief or even to ask any questions. The exact opposite was the case. Their need to speak to outsiders about their fate was enormous.
We visited many women, heard many stories and each one was heartbreaking. Most of them found shelter in the corner of a house of neighbors or relatives. It was hard to tell who had higher hopes for a house for them from the government: the widows? Or the people who gave them shelter?
Each and everyone were affected when giving shelter and food to the now widowed women and their children. It brought all of them to the “edge” of their capability. Stress? It was more than stress, as they hardly had enough for themselves. They were thankful for our visit and our presents.
Mefuza made a list of the donations given to them and their further needs. Faye donated 3,000 Rupees to each of the women.
Their fears and hopes were heartbreaking and their wishes humiliating: three goats, a sewing machine, a semi-automatic washing machine or a refrigerator to cool sweets.
Thanks to all the help we received we were able to donate three sewing machines, a washing machine and a refrigerator. All these things would enable the women, to make a living for themselves and their children.
Later, we bargained for each and every item at the local Singer Store, and delivered them to the widows in person. Roy’s brother-in-law acquired the goats.
Roy distributing the donations