We again paid our first visit to the widow in Ambalantota as it was on the way to Hambantota. I wanted to show Michel the drinking water well that had been built in April.
We had not left the car yet when an old man had appeared with an even older, rusty bicycle and a canister to get water. He was full of praise for the drinking water well. Only minutes later the people from the settlement gathered around us and were delighted to get photographs that had been taken in April. The engineer also showed up and he was quite proud to receive his pictures.
We had contacted him prior to our visit and told him to look for a good place to build a second well. He took us about 3 kilometers inland to a broken water pump.
The water pump had been broken for more than a year and nobody had been able to collect enough money to have it fixed. There would also be roughly 20 families who would benefit from the well.
We agreed to cover the costs and to learn later on why the well had been broken. The owner of the house behind the well had destroyed it on purpose as he felt bothered by the gatherings of the inhabitants of the settlement at the well. Of course he had his own well in the backyard………
Therefore, the new well was built some hundred meters from that spot. Three days later, we were able to see the new drinking water well. To meet the very grateful women and children that were overjoyed was almost humiliating.
Zariya, Roy`s sister-in-law that managed the micro credit program, also started with the bad news. One of the ladies had disappeared! She had moved to the new settlement of Siribopura and had also moved her grocery shop there. Then obviously had left the country later on without giving any notice. Zariya had told us very vividly and with some very dramatic gestures so that we had a hard time not to chuckle.
Her credit amount was definitely not sufficient enough to go abroad and we were not able to empathize with the thoughts of a woman who had lost her husband and her two children in one day. Maybe she was somewhere saving up every dime from a meager income as a maid to be able to repay her credit eventually? maybe she did not care at all?
This had not made the overall success of the project any smaller and there were again 50`000 rupees in the repayment pool. Zariya`s bookkeeping in a schoolbook was very accurate but also a bit confusing.
We bought folders and with the help of a laptop sponsored by the Bank Cial, we created individual files for each credit. That way it was easy for the widows to see their progress.
Thanks to contributions of money from the Bank Cial and the Swisscom (telecommunications company) we were not only able to finance the construction of the Kindergarten, we were also able to hand over six more credits. It was amazing what the women had achieved. The system of micro credits is as simple as it is effective. As we mentioned before, the confusing names of streets in the new settlement added some difficulties to find all the women in that labyrinth. The fact that it had been built six kilometers inland also caused some problems to the women themselves.
For example, Nihara was not able to move to the new house in Siribopura as she would not be able to raise the money to send her four children to school. If she were to move to the widespread settlement, she also feared for her income that she was generating with her rice milling. There was nothing else for her to do than live in the new house only during school holidays in order to not lose the ownership. Her wish to give her 17 year old daughter into marriage, might not have been so distinctive in other circumstances.
The most outstanding performance was made by Chammi, the only trained seamstress among the women. Even back in the refugee camp, she was rattling on an old treadle machine. Now her house was stuffed with different sewing machines and fabric. She was working together with three more women and very proudly she told us that they had been invited to present their work at an exhibition at the convention center in Colombo.
We visited her there later on and were quite impressed. About 50 different vendors from the south presented and sold their goods. Chammi`s sales stall was a real eye catcher, especially her company logo. It was not by accident that The Daily News had chosen a picture of her stall for the report in the next day’s paper.
She told us that they had been able to sell a lot of their work and also had received some orders. But she also had to deal with difficulties.
To get the ownership of her house in Siribopura will take five more years. The Chamber of Commerce refused to list her as a business as she was working in a house belonging to the government. Therefore, she was not able to get insurance coverage for her machines.
With the rest of the money the Bank Cial had donated, the repayment pool of the 18 micro credits and some more efforts, we knew it might be possible to buy a piece of land and build a little simple factory.
Chammi has the knowledge and the energy to create many more jobs for women and she deserves all the help she can get.