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Update on Collectives

The war in the North and East of Sri Lanka made it difficult and very unsafe for Community Friends to visit the village of Ulla. Guerrilla attacks in the rural areas surrounding the town were happening regularly in 2008 and early 2009, catching farmers and other innocent victims in the brutal conflict between rebels and government forces. Kidnappings and political abductions also started cropping up in this region, with the most senseless of incidents occurring with the abduction of the head monk from a nearby Buddhist hermitage – who found himself in the hands of the Tamil Tigers deep inside the interior of Yala National Park.

Fortunately, this incident ended well – the monk found an opportunity to escape captivity and somehow found his way home. But our inability to visit the community due to this danger created an obvious gap for us in our relationship with the two collectives. This problem was made worse by the fact that the school principal, Mr. Piyasena, who had been instrumental in overseeing the two collectives, was transferred to the school in Pottuvil. So for nearly a year we went without any reports from Ulla about the state of the two collectives.

With the war ending in the summer of 2009, travel has once again become possible to the East. And so it was with this in mind that we came to Ulla in December of 2009.

Coming here to Ulla again, it is obvious that the community is rebounding in most ways. Schools are open, restaurants and hotels are flourishing, roads and infrastructure has been rebuilt and everyone is generally back to work. You see small children everywhere. Now trees, scrubs and other vegetation have rebounded as well, giving the impression that the soil has managed to shake off the layer of salt that was deposited by the tidal floods. Still, the question remaining for us was, what has become of the two collectives that we had set in motion.

Parents from the community had volunteered to act as mentors for each of these collectives. Each also had a designated spot where the grinding machines were to be housed. The expectation had been that the mentor would supervise the four or five teenage girls in the respective collectives, one with the mission of grinding rice into rice flour, the other with the purpose of creating chili power.

The rice flour collective was supervised by a local fisherman named Shanta. His work shack, a small space standing next to the school, was our first visit. Regrettably, we found that the collective under Shanta’s supervision was not running. After much discussion, we concluded that this collective was not a good candidate for additional support from CommunityFriends, so we effectively terminated this venture.

The chili power collective was supervised by a woman named Latha. She and the young women originally set up their work in a small house located in Ulla. After finishing with Shanta, we made our way to Latha’s house to see how things were going there.

Like Shanta, Latha was very surprised to see us. After serving us tea, we explained what had been happening since our last visit. The house she had been using for the work had become unusable – she had difficulty accessing the property and the electricity was too sporadic. So, for mostly practical reasons, she relocated the business to nearby Panama.

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There, the collective has been experiencing success. In fact, Latha’s group now nets 200-300 rupees/week ($2 to $3 USD) for each participant. These are:

Shamali, aged 17, student in Panama school
Nirosha, aged 29, Panama resident
Sabitha, aged 25, Panama resident
Abehami, aged 75, Latha’s mother

The five women feel that they now have a stable business and are looking to expand. They are now saving for a second grinding machine. Latha also wants them to go into rice flour grinding business. Good luck Latha and great job with your success so far!

Jay Goodfriend