Four weddings and a funeral. Not the film: it’s what Dhanalakshmi Rentals in the town of Kalmunai in eastern Sri lanka has catered to this month. Its owner, 58-year-old Kunjilaiyapodi Dhanalakshmi, is a busy woman these days. She’s just made a receipt of items for another wedding ceremony that will take place this evening.
“I have rented out 100 chairs, 100 porcelain items and 50 glasses. I’ll get my payment tomorrow when they return the items.”
Until two years ago, Kunjilaiyapodi couldn’t imagine a regular monthly income. She lost her husband and two teenage sons in the early 90s when the Sri Lankan civil war was at its peak.
“The army suspected my husband and sons and they took them away. I never saw them after that. We were later told that they were killed. Their bodies were never found.”
And as if one disaster wasn’t enough, the tsunami in 2004 swept away her coastal home. She lived in a temporary camp and later was provided with a concrete house by one of the local NGOs.
But her life changed completely when Rose Charities came to her town, and introduced micro credit schemes there. She borrowed Rs.20,000 and paid a monthly installment of Rs.2,000. She began a small business of renting out household items. Kunjilaiyapodi now has an average monthly income of Rs.3000, that’s US$26 - enough to support herself as well as her ailing elder brother.
Richard Anthony the head of Rose charities, Sri Lanka says Kunjilaiyapodi is just one of hundreds of war widows and Tsunami victims they’ve helped.
“We started with our work immediately after the Tsunami. Our first priority was to provide medical and Psychological care, and then later we started the micro credit schemes.”
The people of Kalmunai were first encouraged to save a small sum and then they were offered vocational training and small loans to help them start small businesses. More than 750 families of Kalmunai have successfully set up small businesses like poultry farming, Homemade foods, a tailor shop, beauty saloon and saree designing.
Kunjilaiyapodi has made herself a new life. Though this can never make up for what she’s been through, it’s at least brought her out of the refugee tents, and given her financial independence.
Photos: Rose Charities