Verandhi Wadugodapitiya, Chrysalis (Sri Lanka)

In the North of Sri Lanka, CARE - in partnership with Chrysalis - delivers the WEAVE project which focuses on reviving the art of weaving in order to empower women to become entrepreneurs and sell their hand woven products. In this beautifully personal account, 20-year-old Verandhi Wadugodapitiya, an intern at Chrysalis, describes her visit to the weavers.

Verandhi interviews an entrepreneur

When I first joined Chrysalis, I did it seeking the answer to a question that I had been asking myself- “Is working towards empowerment and poverty eradication really a true goal in your future?” My initial plans were actually to study Marine biology in Tasmania. By some stroke of fate that didn’t materialize into reality, I decided to venture into the possibility of a life involved in helping those in need. I thought that Chrysalis seemed like the most fitting choice in order to cultivate my curiosity.

My first field trip as an intern working here, began with a journey to the North in order to meet the Weavers of the “WEAVE PROJECT”, whereby the art of weaving is being revived and utilized as a method of empowering women in the North by providing them with the opportunity to become entrepreneurs and sell products that they’ve woven by hand to a sustainable and profitable market in the West of Sri Lanka.

Travelling through the roads in the North, I realized that the barren and dry lands reminded me of the war. The clearance of trees was done through burning, and as large fumes of smoke entered into view, I was reminded of the constant bomb drills in school, when all us kids, Tamil and Sinhalese, used to huddle together. Too young to understand the profoundness of it all.

I think the reason there is so much segregation in society nowadays is because we as human beings are constantly seeking to differentiate. Separate the particles, break it apart to rebuild it. Divide the parts of a nation that were always meant to operate as a whole. I used to have that similar mentality. That we strive by being different, and utilizing those differences to get ahead. But I believe I had somewhat of a cognitive epiphany.

If all creativity truly is, is our working memories, then we are a product of our experiences. And I now understand that everything is more alike, than it is different. We can look at something, and picture something else. Most often times this is a result of our memories being mapped out through eyes that see things that humanize us.

I taste the strong spice of the North’s food and I am reminded of my father’s chili garden that grew in the backyard of our house by the beach. I see the turquoise blue of the Mullaitivu beach and I remember my mother’s blue kaftan dress which she wore when we played in a butterfly dome when I was 5. When we ate our lunch on a wooden bed instead of a table, it reminded me of how her and her 8 siblings could never fit at the dining table growing up. I hear Bageerathi (one of the weavers) speak of her love for playing in the rain, and I see my brother and I relishing the feeling of rain on our skin every October when the monsoon began and we would walk home together from the beach, or from our nursery when we were little.  I see the barren landscape of Kilinochchi, and I think of the bomb drills we used to have in school.

Personally, my favorite part of this whole experience was meeting the women. I realized that it’s all a wonderful process, but one that requires patience and time. The time taken to implement the weaving training and the placement of centers where they can learn. I felt every unique persona, carrying an undefinable impression of strength in their demeanor.

Chrysalis interns meeting women entrepreneurs

The rain is rare in these lands. The earth’s dirt almost seemed as if it was screaming for water. A concept of phantom rain comes to mind. The dry lands of Kilinochchi and the need for hope in the eyes of its people. A curtain of rain that dangles in the sky, but never really falls. Phantom rain evaporates before it ever touches the ground. A teasing seduction of hope, without any true form of fulfilment. The earth can wither away due to want of water, as its people are never nourished with the help that they needed.

Often the push and pull of life can sometimes leave us in the middle of what feels like a tug of war with two sides. One side representing perseverance and the other representing indifference to hope. The question remains, which side wins? Like a quote from one of my favorite books, “Love, love always wins.”

We asked every weaver that we met, who they admired the most. Each of their answers embraced a love so deep in their veins that will always push them towards the side of perseverance. They persevere due to an incentive, completely fueled by love. After a war like that, a large dose of love seems like the medicinal route we all need. See, I was looking for the meaning behind that quote in a more tangible sense, and they brought me this clarity.

To me, this project influences the rain that actually falls and seeps into the dirt, while the earth eventually learns to grow on its own. That’s what I admire about this project. It gives hope. Knowing it’s the result of hard work done by their hands that fed that child, got them through school or paid for someone’s treatment. They had the capability all along. For even though the rain may water this hope, it is they that must pave the road to fulfill it. Perhaps then the trees will begin to grow again, and the North will be fed.

In an interview my favorite Spoken-Word Poet, Amal Kassir, once quoted a line from a poem she wrote about Syria during the war, “And we will rebuild Syria…with a meal…a prayer…and enough food to feed the neighbors.”

Let’s feed our neighbors.