I am Rajitha, manager of the Mulliyavalai weaving group and this is our story. With the end of the war, the people in our village started looking at returning to a normalcy we had not experienced for the last 30 years. Our lives and our way of life had changed, but many were keen to look at new ways of life and moving forward. In our case, although we chose a way that was new to some of us younger women, it really was a return to the past.
Handloom weaving had been an industry that our region was famed for in Sri Lanka, many years back and long before the troubles started. My grandmother was an expert weaver, and my mother too remembers weaving in her youth. With the expanding opportunities and changes in fashion trend, I suppose, many had moved away from weaving and when the war started, the industry collapsed. After the end of the war, amongst the initiatives by the government, was the return to handloom weaving. A group of about 15 of us from the village received a basic training from the Department of Industries and at the end of 6 months, a gift of a loom and some yarn to start our weaving business.
Sadly, many of us did not know anything of running a business; of producing for a specific market or even of selling our products once they were completed. Many did not even have the space in their homes to take the looms back, so they remained in a corner of the training centre. We heard of women who went to the Department’s production centres and wove for a salary, but our village was far from these. Then a few people from CARE came to talk to us and explained about changing the training centre in our village in to a production centre for us to weave and then run as a small business. We were very excited and all of us who had the basic training joined up.
With this new step, we received some advance training to help us understand modern methods of weaving and the necessary tools and equipment, which allow for maximum efficiency in weaving. We also received some training we had never experienced before: trainings to help us understand the role of women in society and how we can change the ways we are not happy with and improve our lives as women in society, how to work with others and overcome conflicts – there was some initial reluctance by older women to adapt to the new methods and also some arguments between different groups of women from different parts of the village, and now some of us are even going for classes in using computers to keep accounts and advertise our products. We also had some women who have their own businesses come and talk to us about how they started and what we need to do to make ours a success. It’s all very exciting and inspiring.
After 6 more months of training and learning, we were weaving sarees that we were selling to local women and even in Colombo. In my case, in spite of my fears about not being able to weave well, I am so proud of what I have been able to achieve and it has given me the confidence to aim for running my own weaving workshop in the future. We were earning a steady income and the profit was divided equally. For all of us it is a great achievement to be able to do something we love and take care of our families. Before we made money doing different jobs from day to day, or we stayed at home and did nothing. Now, we can provide money to educate our children – in my case, my younger sister, and feed our families and buy medicine for our parents. Our families also support us. My father is so pleased that I am doing a job and was even made the manager because the rest of the women trusted me to lead them. My neighbour, Nakularani, her husband has returned from an internment camp where he was after the war because he was forced to join with the rebels, and he helps us by using his carpentry skills to make adjustments to the equipment. People in the community also begin to look at us as contributing to the village’s improvement.