I spend the morning with LEADS looking at Diaspora Lanka and LEADS’ cooperative project, which looks very interesting. I went to visit the three villages (a christian, a hindu and a newly resettled muslim village) in the Manthai West District. These villages were on a longtime LTTE/SLA front-line, and were subject to much gunfire, aerial bombing and shelling: the towns were almost wholly destroyed.
The first village I visited was Pappamothai (excuse the spelling), a catholic fisherman’s village off the A32 (the Jaffna-Mannar road). It was resettled 2 and a bit years back, and was beginning to get back on its feet. We first went to the town centre, where there was a meeting with an Indian government representative about the construction of permanent housing.
On the way, I met a lovely Ms A Dahrmaseelee (again, excuse the spelling). She was a teacher specialising in remedial education, and had about 5 years under her belt before she was moved away from her home in late 2008. She left mannar, and headed north and east, fleeing the front-lines. When she was in the first “No fire zone,” like many others, she was injured by shelling, losing her arm at the shoulder. Three years on, she is just about to get a prosthetic, and just about to undergo rehabilitation. Until now, she hasn’t had the opportunity to work as a teacher, since no-one would hire her. It is a huge shame, since she is qualified, educated, experienced and specialised.
After meeting Ms D, we went to the ocean to visit the fishermen. All under licence from the government, they went out at night with their lanterns and cast their nets (fish nets, special conic nets for shrimp, traps for crabs) and, when dawn breaks, they go out to collect them. They sell the (delicious looking) blue crab, mud crab, shrimp and other valuables to a wholesaler, who carts them off to Colombo in an ice-truck to be exported. The rest is left to be sold in Mannar, or dried and sold inland. These fishermen sell their crab for close to nothing, to a wholesaler who sells it to an exporter, who sells it to an importer, to a processor, to a final consumer at a totally unrelated price. The well-being of these fishermen could be radically improved by organising them into cooperatives and having them cut out some of the middle men.
Next, we were off to Ter Udian, a hindu village that focussed on paddy cultivation. I met an inspiring gentleman who had sold all of his excess land to buy a tractor, which he now leases to other farmers for a massive profit. It is still on mortgage, but his entrepreneurism literally put a roof (one of the only roofs in the village) over hi families head.
The last village we visited was Kandal. This village was recently resettled and very very basic. All the housing was temporary, much of it mud-brick.
Our hope is to unite these three villages with a “road of reconciliation” that they might work together to wrench themselves out of poverty.
In the afternoon, it was a quick hop (like 5/6 hours) to Kilinochchi, and a night of rest at the familiar and homely Sela Hotel.
*Photos to come*