Women, power and pure joy! Writing these lines brings back pure happiness.
We first visited the widow, who had applied for a credit to buy a water pump, as she lived in Ambalantota, a couple of kilometers before Hambantota. It was not an easy task. After endless paddy fields, banana plantations and the directions of passersby like: “go to the right after that water buffalo back there……….”, we finally found the water pump, but not the widow. Neighbors told us that she was in Hambantota at the market to sell bananas.
Her modest house was part of a settlement of about 20 families and all the habitants came forward to have a look at the long nosed foreigners. The spokesperson of the gathering was an elderly lady who told us, that they had enough water for washing and watering purposes but that they had to walk three miles to get drinking water.
Maybe? Just maybe? we could make it possible that the settlement would get a mechanical water pump for drinking water, as they did not have any electricity anyway?
Well, if somebody asked so nicely and on behalf of the whole community!
To make a long story short, I will spare the reader the details. With a search for a well engineer, a lot of driving back and forth and also, some quite foolish trips, sure enough, five days later the settlement had a drinking water pump exactly at the spot where the old lady had wished for and the engineer had approved of it! Together with the people of the settlement, we were overjoyed.
We could not have done without Victor’s translation and help, but I insist it was “woman power”! At the time I had suggested to give it a try, he had only raised his eyebrows. I had quite some problems to convince him.
When he then stood at the finished well and passersby told him that it was a blessing, not only for the settlement but also for many living along this little road, he could not stop smiling and repeatedly said: “very useful…………very, very useful!”
The overall costs for the well added up to 15`000 rupees (about 180 Swiss francs) and I kept the address of the engineer. It is unbelievable that in a country with monsoon rain, 50% of the people have to go for long distances for drinking water.
The next joyful surprise was waiting for us at Zariya’s house. She showed us her perfect bookkeeping records with 28`819.54 rupees already in the payback pool. She was able to give a credit to one more widow during our stay out of that pool.
Sifaya’s Father had also asked for a credit as he wanted to expand his fish business. As the project was only for widows, I gave him a credit of 30`000 rupees out of my pocket but the contract and the payments he had to make to Zariya. That brought the number of credits to 12 and therefore, 12 people will make monthly payments of their loans and hopefully, so on and on.
Maybe one day the Bank Cial would think about opening a branch at Hambantota? I would know a perfect candidate to manage that branch.
We visited each of the participating widows and I could forget my plans to give them some further assistance: they were doing perfectly well on their own!
We saw a great grocery shop, a sewing shop with embroidered or with patchwork refined pillow cases, another one for Cap Hijaps (the Muslim headscarf) that were sold to Badulla upcountry and a tailor shop (she was the only trained tailor) that was doing so well that the widow had been able to employ a young girl! Please forgive me all the !!!!!!!!
Only to the widow with the grinding mill we paid a second visit to bring her a scale. She was grinding rice and produced string hoppers, a kind of noodle paddies that are served for breakfast. She was also grinding rice for others and earned some money with that service but because of the lack of a scale, they would take advantage of her.
She was overjoyed of the present but at the same time expressed her fear, that the bowl of the scale was too little. The difficulties to explain to her on how to tare the scale with each and every bowl is a story that became only funny in retrospect!
Without a shared language it took a while until she had all available bowls – three of them – at the table. I repeated the tare to zero with each bowl over and over again and finally, she went for two bags of rice. In one there was one kilo of rice, in the other two kilos and obviously she had used them before as comparison for the amount others had brought to grind.
She was overjoyed as the scale was showing the right weight in each individual bowl after correct tare.
There was also a catering service and one widow was producing dodol on huge tin sheets. Dodol is a local specialty made out of rice flour, coconut oil and sugar. A dark, sticky and terribly sweet mass that sells very well as far as Colombo.
We had at all houses a very friendly welcome and were invited to tea and pastry. In the evening we were very happy, tired and terribly sick to our stomach because of the overdose of sugar and tea!
I had a very good feeling about this project from the beginning but my expectation had been exceeded by far. On the other hand, it was not surprising what these women had done with the amount of 400 to 600 Swiss francs in a country where many make a living with hardly anything.
I was also positively surprised by Sifaya’s Father. He had shown initiative by building a little shop in the front yard and he had asked me for a credit, not just money to help him out.
The people of Hambantota are quite different from those in close contact to tourists on the west coast who consider “long nosed tourists” as “wallets on two legs”. Whether they or the tourists are to be blamed for this fact is another question.
None of the participants of the micro credit program would have been able to get credit from a bank. Therefore, they would have to seek money from loan sharks with very high interest rates. Or they would have only been able to deal with commission goods and ultimately, give most of the profit to the owner.
To be able to provide them with an interest free credit and at the same time take business from the loan sharks doubled the joy.