Groundviews

Coconut saplings for war widows – an innovative project worth emulating

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Since the end of the war the Government and other organisations  within and outside Sri Lanka  have being helping the victims of the war in the North and the East  to enable them to resume their normal lives.  Among the organisations that helped  were  many  charitable institutions of  the Tamils in the  diaspora.  Their  affinity   towards  the members of their own community prompted  them instinctively to help the victims  who had survived the vagaries of the war.  These charitable organisations and some of the philanthropists in the diaspora  have disbursed  large amounts of monies  during the past six years providing various kinds of assistance for the rehabilitation of the victims and to reconstruct some of the damages caused  by  the war to the infrastructure.

So far  no one has done a  proper  evaluation  to make an assessment  of  the extent to which such  assistance provided to war victims  has borne fruit, and to see how better the funds could have been utilized. The extent to which all the assistance provided during the past six years has helped  the victims meaningfully, is debatable. However it is evident that many of the victims have now  become afflicted with a dependency syndrome  and continue to look forward for more and more help from the diaspora. The paucity of  employment opportunities and the regular  flow of help to their relatives by the diaspora,  has perhaps made them lazy and created a fertile environment to let a good percentage  of the unemployed youth among the war victims and even school boys to be enticed by dealers in drugs and alcoholic beverages.  A news report in the Ceylon Today  dated 14.6.2015 states that there has been a five fold increase in the consumption of alcoholic beverages in 2013 in the Jaffna Peninsula.   Some blame the visiting relatives from the diaspora are to blame as they had encouraged the proliferation of alcoholic drinks in the parties and other functions they attended during their stay in Sri Lanka.  Whatever the causes may be,  there is an urgent need to stem the drug menace and the consumption of alcoholic beverages.  It is heartening to hear that Honourable Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council has taken a serious note of this scourge and is to collaborate with the Central Government to deal with this matter.

It was reported that recently a decision has been taken by the current cabinet to allow an unhindered flow of funds to help the war victims, especially the women in the North, who form a bulk of them.  This decision  provides a golden opportunity for those in the diaspora to launch on well-considered and meaningful projects to deal with the current issues facing the people of the North and the East. They need to think of innovative projects to deal with not only the menace of drugs and liquor but also the other problems of the war victims.   They also should  review the manner in which assistance  had been  provided  to war victims in the past.   Some of the  organisations which have been making remittances to various livelihood activities so far have now  realized the need to review their methods.  They are now looking at the other options available to help them.

Some of the options being considered include providing funds for livelihood activities for feasible projects of the beneficiaries  through  community based co-operative societies among them. Since such co-operative societies are grass-root level time tested democratic institutions that appears to be a good option.  But there is a need to improve the capacity of such societies to deal with the current issues and to manage their institutions effectively.  Therefore some funding agencies have decided to  conduct programmes  to  systematically raise the awareness of the victims to the  options available to them;  and,  to   build  the  capacity of the victims to develop themselves and manage their own institutions such as their co-operative societies.   Most of the war victims  are women who now find they have to  play a dual role,  as the sole breadwinner of the family and as the head of their households. Many of them still suffer from the trauma they have gone through.  The last government had placed a taboo on counselling programmes to get them out of the effects of the trauma.  Perhaps now they may allow such programmes.   The women   also need to be trained to manage their homes and their livelihood activities  more effectively.  They have also to be educated on group dynamics so that they could uplift themselves as a group rather than as individuals.   For this purpose  the promotion of the co-operative or other societies among them could be considered.  It has been stated that there  are more than 1300 grass root level co-operative thrift and credit societies in the Northern Province. Since the membership of these societies consists  largely of victims of the war it would be worth strengthening these societies which have already  formed themselves into  five District Unions in the Northern Province. These District Unions have recently formed an apex body in the Province called the Federation of the District Unions of these societies in the North.    Strengthening the management capabilities of these societies and their ability to identify feasible projects for their members is a need of the hour. That would facilitate donor agencies to avail of the community based co-operatives to channel whatever assistance needed through them and ensure effective management of the funds and the activities for which the funds are going to be provided. Some of the officials of these societies had undergone training  by the Co-operative College in Manchester on the effective management of the activities of their societies.   The Co-operative College in Manchester is to continue the training of these officials in the coming months in collaboration with the Co-operative Institute of Charitable Organisations of the United Kingdom.

Realising the importance of these societies, a co-operative society in the Netherlands which has been collaborating in the past with  these District Unions to provide help for the livelihood activities of the war widows among the members of these societies, has launched on a novel project this year.  That project is to provide quick yielding coconut saplings to as many war widows as possible through the Federation of these societies, to commemorate the International Widows’ Day falling on June 23rd.   The Provincial Council in the North has given its blessings to this project.    The society in the Netherlands has been able to raise the awareness of the Tamils in the diaspora on the environmental damage caused during the war by the destruction of a large number of coconut trees.    Those in the diaspora have been made to realize the importance of providing coconut saplings to the widows. These saplings would start yielding in a few years and provide them with a steady source of income to supplement their needs, for many years.    Realising the benefits of this innovative project, it is learnt that a large number of Tamils in the diaspora and Hindu Temples in Netherlands and the United Kingdom have contributed generously to make the project a success.

Arrangements have been made for the Federation of Thrift and Credit Co-operative Societies to collaborate with the Coconut Development Board of Sri Lanka in implementing this project. The beneficiaries are to be trained by the officials of the branch of the Coconut Board in Atchuvely. This training is to be provided in the localities of the beneficiaries before they actually receive the saplings.  The training is to focus on how best to nurse the saplings, protect them from pests and get optimum benefits from these plants.  The saplings to be provided are  those  that the Board had recommended as suitable for the Northern Province. So the chances of the success of this project is high.  It is hoped that they will extend the project to as many villages as possible in the Northern Province and even to the East.

More innovative projects of this nature is needed to help the war victims.  A cost benefit analysis of the coconut sapling project had shown  that this is an exceptional example of how  more and more could be helped at the  small cost of  coconut saplings to be provided. As the life of a coconut tree extends to about ten to twelve years or more  a whole generation is going to benefit from it  when these trees  start yielding in three or four years.

It is hoped that donor agencies would henceforth consider innovative projects that  need low cost inputs  which  would benefit more and more in the years to come. The resources available in the diaspora need to be co-ordinated and focussed on specific projects that could benefit more and more persons and benefit the community as a whole.  They should explore the manner in which the diaspora could collaborate with the efforts of the Northern Provincial Council to stem the proliferation of the drug menace and the consumption of alcohol.  They should make optimum use of the window of opportunity that has been created by the current government which has openly invited the diaspora to provide funds for development of the war victims in the North and the East.