|SRI LANKA: ‘Animal Tracks’ Lead Villagers Out of Poverty|
|Friday, 29 August 2008|
By Feizal Samath
KOULARA, Sri Lanka, Aug 28 (IPS) - An impoverished village in southern Sri Lanka is slowly pulling out of poverty by churning out terracotta moulds of animal footprints for tea connoisseurs all over the world.
The relationship between once-struggling villagers from this small hamlet adjoining Uda Walawe National Park, IUCN and Dilmah has brought man and beast closer to a harmonious coexistence. "These villagers who never stepped into the national park [because they were so poor] are now collecting animal footprints and learning about the animals and their lifestyles," said Perera.
Young workers at the ‘Animal Tracks’ workshop and training centre this week were placing the finishing touches to dozens of tiny pendants made out of terra cotta. We need a quality raw material because the pendants are exported to consumers across the world, says Dilhan C. Fernando, Trustee of the MJF Foundation, Dilmah’s charitable arm. In September, the dainty pendants -- inserted into tea packets -- will make their way to stores in Poland, Australia and New Zealand. "This is a pure charity project. There is no commercial value that we seek or get. The pendants are free giveaways to our customers to show our gratitude and also profile what our villagers are capable of," Fernando said.
Recently competition in the brick business forced Koulara residents to take jobs in a nearby sugarcane plantation. "We would make less than 3,000 rupees [below 30 dollars] a month and that too if there is work," said Sriyani Subasinghe, manager of the Animal Tracks workplace.
"Now women and girls are making 24,000 rupees [nearly 240 dollars] a month through this initiative. We make in two months what would take more than a year to earn through the sugar plantation and other menial daily work," she said sitting in Animal Tracks’ thatch-roofed office. The complex employs 100 women in wattle-and-daub huts thatched with dry coconut leaves. Open spaces to allow natural light and ventilation.
A range of plates, ornaments and jewellery are also produced from clay using the footprints of elephants, leopard and other animals from the park. Venturing into the park, with the help of park wardens, villagers look for footprints and then fill them with plaster-of-paris, turning out a mould within minutes. "Often -- in the case of elephants -- you need to follow the animals and look for fresh footprints which provide a better mould," Abayakoon explained.
Perera, who regularly shuttles between Koulara and his own pottery studio in Boralesgamuwa near Colombo, says the MJF Foundation has rejuvenated the village. "From virtually nothing, the village has become a ‘somebody’. Imagine using the hitherto-unknown skills of these women to produce delicately carved ornaments and pendants for world markets? It’s like a dream for them," Perera said."This project has given hope to all of us. With the comfortable income they get, our workers are rebuilding their homes, buying other needs and also saving in the local bank," says 24-year old Anoma Jayaratne, Animal Tracks Production Manager.
Thirty-two-year-old Shanthi Kumar works in the comfort of her home turning out pendants. She started three weeks ago, after initial training at Animal Tracks, and now produces 300 pieces a day. "I am very happy with this job as I am able to earn a comfortable living working at home," she said while her two children -- aged 13 and 5 years -- watched as she worked. Her husband, who does not have a regular job and does odd work in the village, proudly sits near a TV set which they got on ‘hire-purchase’ terms just a few days back. "This project has lifted us," he says. Fifty other villagers work from their homes.
Animal Tracks has been picked as one of the five best environmentally sustainable projects to be profiled at the upcoming IUCN international conference in Barcelona, in which Dilmah founder Merril J. Fernando and his son Dilhan C. Fernando are also taking part.
The partnership between IUCN and Dilmah began in the aftermath of the disastrous tsunami that hit Sri Lanka and parts of Asia in Dec. 2004 when the Sri Lankan company sought IUCN assistance in a relief project. The contact solidified later when Dilmah sought the world environmental agency’s help to streamline its social responsibility work. It was a mutual kind of relationship, according to Dilhan C. Fernando, where "we learned sustainable work while they [IUCN] learnt management techniques and how the private sector works".
"We have an entry and exit strategy. We want them to stand on their own… [we] help in finding the markets. From Jun. 2008 we trained them in cash management, etc. and now they are strictly a business operation run by a cooperative society, which we helped set up. They made a 2.5 million rupee profit [more than 25,000 dollars] in three months this year," Dilhan C. Fernando said.
(Courtesy : IPS )
|Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )|
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