Revitalizing the handloom industry in her village

Rajitha's dreams

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Rajitha Kanasamuthalippillai, 31 Sri Lanka Storyline

Rajitha lives with her 53-year-old mother and 87-year-grandmother, in their ancestral home, once occupied by the Army in the civil war. Weaving had been their family business for generations, but when her grandmother was still young, things started to change. People took up other kinds of work because the handloom industry stopped being profitable. About seven years ago, when the ethnic conflict was intensely fought, with their hometown Mullaitivu as one of the main battlegrounds, the industry collapsed altogether.

Today, however, the war has ended and there is a burgeoning market for Sri Lankan handloom fabric and products. Rajitha wants to be in the forefront of revitalising the handloom industry in her village: "We can change things around. I want to see this group grow from 15 to 250. Now the Department of Industry has taken over the management of the weaving centre and is marketing the products in a shop in Jaffna and they pay us a salary, but many of us want to continue with the original plan and start our own business. Nakularani has some extra land and my house has some extra space. There are some tailors in our village who are interested to buy fabrics from us, so we can expand our clientele. With some help and the support of a few others who want to try this with us, we want to start our own business where we can be the ones going to Jaffna or Colombo and selling our sarees and scarves to people. It will be difficult, but we know difficulties well, and we know that the hard work now will mean a better life in the future.

We are not the only ones to be thinking of this, either. Towards the end of the advanced training, three women from a Muslim village joined the weaving group to learn. Some from our group were not so keen because they were people resettling in the area since the rebels had evicted them many years ago. Many thought there would be tensions, but in the end we realized that they are the same as us and we are all reaching for the same goal – to improve our lives and ourselves. We helped them to catch up on what they had missed and they became part of the group – one of them is even an expert in the warping technique now. But still, it is a bit far for them to come every day to Mulliyavalai, so they are also hoping to set up their own business in their village and get more people involved.

One of our group, Indradevi, had this to say about this whole experience, “Instead of working alone, we will work together. It is easier to succeed in what we do when we support each other. Not just that, we can talk, we can laugh and we can share our problems. Everyone benefits.”"


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