Subitha, Unlikely Entrepreneur?

“I never thought I’d make it this far. The things you see in war stay forever. They don't leave. But I’m still standing.”

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Subitha Partheepan, 36 Sri Lanka Craft Storyline

If you thought a civil war, family problems, sleepless nights and a weak heart could stop someone from running a successful enterprise, think again. This is the story of Subitha.

36-year-old Subitha Partheepan is from Visuvamadu in the north of Sri Lanka.  Despite facing a multitude of setbacks in her life, she has proved her doubters wrong and gone on to set up a successful enterprise. 

Subitha was born just before the Sri Lankan civil war broke out, which lasted more than 30 years. During the war her family faced extreme poverty. Adding to this, she was born with a weak heart, which can be very debilitating, causing breathing difficulties, speech loss and paralysis in her hands and legs. 

“My greatest fear is that I will die from my heart disease before I can share all my knowledge with my students and children.” says Subitha.

Soon after completing a diploma in sewing, Subitha fell in love.  Sadly, her father was unable to provide a wedding dowry as he had spent all the family money trying to support Subitha’s sister, whose husband was an abusive alcoholic.  Subitha was determined to prove that she would not be a burden, and started sewing and selling baby clothes.

“It gave me quiet satisfaction that I was not depending on others. The training I received gave me the confidence to stand on my own two feet and earn my own money. I did not buy anything for me from those early earnings. I used them to buy milk powder and biscuits for my child.”

Subitha received a seed capital grant from CARE to construct a workshop, having previously worked out of her cramped home, as well as purchasing equipment for expansion including motors for sewing and embroidery machines, furniture, and a computer.  Chrysalis, working with CARE, provided additional basic training in marketing and business management.  All the funding is thanks to CARE’s partnership with the H&M Foundation.

Subitha is now the proud owner of a small business, producing a wide variety of products ranging from specialist handmade artificial flower arrangements for weddings to home-ware and baby products.  She employs four young women, giving them the guidance to one day start their own businesses.   

“Once I get involved in a job, I feel no thirst or hunger. I only have the determination to achieve my goal.”

Subitha creates her products with painstaking care and attention, constantly seeking to create innovative products to attract new customers.  She often works late into the night to perfect a new product line and puts her success down to sheer determination, adding:  “Once I get involved in a job, I feel no thirst or hunger.  I only have the determination to achieve my goal.”

Such has been her success that Subitha has been chosen by the Department for Industries to train other women in several districts across Sri Lanka to develop their skills. One of the most important lessons that she teaches her students is to persevere and keep trying until they achieve their goal. Being able to share her skills and own experiences with others makes her particularly proud. 

Subitha concludes: “My children should not undergo the difficulties that I have suffered in my life.  So I regularly save money for them.  My wish is to ensure that my knowledge and this business lives on beyond me, so I am training one of my team to run the enterprise in my absence. I envision this training will take a further two years, and I am adamant to live until I have completed it.”