Through our work in rural villages, we have found that teenage girls are the most vulnerable, neglected and sometimes abused segment of the village population. Young women in remote Sri Lankan villages are at particularly high risk with few positive opportunities. Often they are viewed as a financial liability by their families. Girls approximately 15 and over frequently end up being placed into arranged marriages or working as maids in foreign countries, where they experience physical abuse or worse. For these reasons, we focus on girls and young women with our micro-enterprise program.

Our pilot programs for investing in women focused on creating opportunities for teenage girls. Because of their age, the village advised us to work through collectives consisting of six young women, two parents and one teacher from their community. The first collective was a micro-enterprise that makes chili powder. Before the formation of this chili business, villagers pointed out to us that the community sold chilies to an out-of-town chili factory that ground chili into powder or flakes and then resold the packaged goods back to the villagers at a high profit. In September 2007, the chili collective and a rice flour collective were formed with just under $1,000 of social-venture capital investment from Community Friends. Now profits from chili and flour businesses stay in the community, circulating and multiplying to help relieve poverty. And the possibility of a better future has been demonstrated by these young women in their very homes, under the guidance of their own parents and teachers.

Other micro-businesses have been launched since then. Community Friends has assisted women in establishing small plant nurseries that supply our Land Reforestation projects. In one such nursery, mi trees are being grown with the goal of re-establishing the once common practice of soil replenishment using these trees. In another nursery, women are raising 10,000 fruit-bearing trees for sale to Community Friends, which will eventually support the local village economy and create self sufficiency for all its inhabitants.

 

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