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Leaving Behind Civil War Memories, Sri Lankan Women Get Back On Their Feet

Leaving Behind Civil War Memories, Sri Lankan Women Get Back On Their Feet
Sri Lanka: The Sri Lankan civil war which began in 1983 and lasted 25 years, displaced hundreds of families living in the country. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) overview of the war published in 2013, the internal armed conflict and communal violence displaced as many as 8,00,000 people and killed nearly 1,00,000 people. By the end of 2012, thousands of people remained in need of protection and assistance and many of the refugees faced challenges in receiving basic requirements such as food and clothing.

Even though, today, the country shows robust economic recovery, the families residing in the countryside haven't fully recovered from the decades of violence to rebuild their lives. After the war ended, many of the displaced families made their way back to their country, from India where they had taken temporary shelter. However, due to a shortage of jobs and opportunities, especially for poor Tamil women, like Nagawani and Jermegini, life remained as hard as it had been. Says, Nagawani who returned to her home country from India after she was married,

In the 90s, Sri Lanka was in turmoil. We were three siblings and our parents had moved us to India to escape from the war. As I didn't do well academically, I dropped out of school. That's when I learned sewing and started tailoring.

Nagawani's husband is a house painter by profession and her parents are daily-wage laborers. Since, their combined income was never sufficient, Nagawani decided to contribute towards the household income by tailoring garments.

"When they (Usha Silai School coordinators) came to talk to me about the school, they asked me about my work. Impressed, they asked me to join the training programme," she said.
Usha International has set up small training schools across India, Sri Lanka and Nepal teaching underprivileged women sewing and embroidery.

"The training was conducted in Thoranamalai, and I studied with 20 other women. They taught us how to take measurements, cut and stitch" she said. "Even though I have been stitching for a long time, their techniques were new and helpful" she said. Today, her business is continuing to grow and she is earning Rs 6000 per month, and even more during festivals.

Ask her the best thing that stitching has given her, and she talks about the gift she managed to buy from her savings for her new born daughter, a gold chain. Thanks to her own earnings from tailoring.

Like Nagawani, Jermegini, 26, living in the Pannankattikottu village in Mannar District had her own share of troubles. During the entire period of the civil war, Jermegini and her parents had often moved back and forth from Sri Lanka to India. When she finally returned to Sri Lanka in 2013, she had come home with Bachelor's degree in Business Management, hoping that her qualification would help her find a job. Unfortunately for her, things didn't turn out to be easy as finding a job was proving to be an uphill task.

When I got back, I didn't know what to do. I got to know about the Usha (Silai School) tailoring course from OfERR Ceylon NGO."

The Organisation For Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation - Ceylon (OfERR) came into being in 1984 as a voice for the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who moved to India for refuge during the period of the war. The organisation has since then helped millions of victims to regain the control of their life and receive their fundamental right to live peacefully with dignity in their own country.  In Jermegini's village, the NGO introduced the Usha Silai School and helped many like her who had no sustainable source of income to earn their livelihood.

When my friends and I got to know about the training course, we were hesitant about it at first. Eventually, we were convinced and decided to go for their selection interview, she says. After going through the complete training, I learned to stitch various garments.

Like Nagawani, Jermgini has made sewing her main source of livelihood. "Initially, I thought I would only earn Rs 3,000 a month from stitching garments for women. But now that I have a formal training, more of my friends have started placing their orders with me."

Jermgini has begun earning nearly Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 on an average per month.
 
kushalta ke kadam
 
On her mother's insistence, they stayed back and her father began selling fish in the market. "Usually, for fisher-folks, the sea is the main family occupation," she said explaining the hardships they had to go through because of lack of opportunities.

Now that I have completed the training course, I see more women considering me as their role model. They, too, want to learn sewing and pursue tailoring as a career.

Echoing Jermgini's thoughts Nagawani too, believes that "finding employment is a big problem for women in Sri Lanka" and "tailoring is a good skill to acquire." For both these women and many more who have gotten back on their feet in their own country after turmoil ended, Usha Silai School has played a major role in helping rebuilding lives.



Also Read: Gomi Devi: Lifting Up The Veil To Pick Up The Reins Of Her Life

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Adopt a Silai School

Adopt a Silai School

Do you want to be a part of the huge change that Usha Silai School is bringing about in the lives of millions of rural women? With just a simple click of a button, you can now contribute towards the opening of an Usha Silai School or support various other aspects of the school.

About the Initiative

About the Initiative

Kushalta Ke Kadam, an initiative by NDTV and USHA, aims at empowering women from rural India and encourages them to become entrepreneurs by taking up sewing and training others in their respective communities. Since 2011 Usha Silai Campaign has trained more than 3.95 lakh rural women within five years, with 17,000 Silai schools, spanning over 9272 Indian villages in India.

 

Kushalta Ke Kadam in Season 4 has returned with new goals and vision. The new season will witness the establishment of the new cluster in Kashmir, apart from the existing four clusters setup last year. The women from volatile Kashmir will work with well-known fashion designer Rohit Bal and get an unique opportunity to learn from him and make clothes for him. The work done by the Silai School women will be presented at Lakme Fashion week 2019.

 

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In Pics

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching
Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Rebari girls grow up learning traditional embroidery, which along with their new found sewing skills developed at Usha Silai Schools, is helping them earn a living.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School has empowered many rural women to support their family and send their children to school.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

The Usha Silai School, established in a small nondescript village that goes by the name of Kottai, is helping empower people from varied communities.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

The all-inclusive Usha Silai School Programme covers the entire nation from hamlets tucked between hills to villages cast by the sea.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Vegetables farmers from the Mizoram hills earn very little given the topography of the area. Usha Silai Schools have played an important part in this region by skilling women to financially contribute towards their households.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School learner Lucy has trained seven other women in her community, helping them to become financially independent.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Women like Kaviben from the nomadic Rebari community are finally laying down their roots as they begin to gain financial independence and thereby stability through Usha Silai School.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School, located in the Gujarat's Bhuj village, is enabling rural women to earn as much as Rs. 2,500-4,000 each month.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School, in association with a Gujarat based NGO called Kala Raksha, is trying to bring about a Silai revolution in Bhuj.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Besides training other women from their community, many Usha Silai School learners have become entrepreneurs in their own right.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

With sewing becoming easily accessible and lucrative, the silai schools are also helping revive traditional motifs and designs.

Fashion Designers This Season

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  • Rohit Bal

    Rohit Bal

  • Sayantan Sarkar

    Sayantan Sarkar

  • Shaila Khubchandani

    Shaila Khubchandani

  • Sreejith Jeevan

    Sreejith Jeevan

  • Swati Vijaivargie

    Swati Vijaivargie

Fashion Designers This Season

More
  • Rohit Bal

    Rohit Bal

  • Sayantan Sarkar

    Sayantan Sarkar

  • Shaila Khubchandani

    Shaila Khubchandani

  • Sreejith Jeevan

    Sreejith Jeevan

  • Swati Vijaivargie

    Swati Vijaivargie