Tsunami - hit women running a gauntlet of new challenges
They were paddy cultivators, string hopper makers or vegetable
sellers before the tsunami struck exactly one-year ago. The killer waves
wrecked their lives. The pain remains to this day, and some of the
losses are permanent. But even so, many have sprung to life and picked
up the lost threads, though some have been idling, depending on relief
and grants. A few have taken to begging too.
Tsunami - hit women in the South
Maheshwari from Thirukkovil in Ampara district wants to build her
life and provide a better future for her children. Still living in her
transitional house, she dreams of continuing her paddy farming which she
did with her husband prior to the tsunami. Her husband perished in the
deadly tidal waves.
Today, she anxiously waits the monsoons which are to begin in the
next few days or weeks. The rain, she believes, will water her rice crop
and bring new hope to her family.
“I want to build a house and find partners for my unmarried
children,” says Maheshwari, who speaks Tamil and communicated with the
Daily News through a translator. Maheshwari is small in stature and worn
down by the hard life in the village. At 56 she looks more like 80. She
is the mother of 10 children, eight daughters and two sons, who died
during the region’s two-decade conflict.
Five of her eight daughters are married. For months she has been
living in a transitional house made of planks in a tiny, temporary
village especially set up for the tsunami survivors. Even after one-year
she continues to live in the same settlement.
However, she has the courage to lead a gainful life. Thanks to a
grant scheme initiated by an international NGO, Maheshwari could plough
her paddy fields for the second time. “I have courage now,” she says. “I
know I’ll have to be strong and do everything alone to be successful,”
Amid all obstacles, hundreds of women such as Maheshwari are showing
remarkable determination to move themselves and their families from the
temporary shelters to better places.
Often, the crucial boost comes from various government and non
governmental organisations. But this is not the complete story.
According to a study done by Sumika Perera of the Women and Media
Collective many women survivors are still languishing and the hardships
that they were exposed to over the last year were immense.
Perera says that she visited many tsunami-affected areas through the
Coalition for Assisting Tsunami Affected Women-CATAW and observed that
many women survivors are faced with issues such as lack of proper
houses, toilets, health facilities (specially for pregnant and lactating
mothers), livelihoods and education facilities for their children.
Perera is of the view that there are many important points to
consider when resettling the tsunami-affected people, as many women want
to live in an area where there is sufficient security for their children
and where they can restart livelihoods without much hassle.
Perera says that a group of women she met in Galle lamented that they
would not be able to continue to be involved in the coir industry in the
future because the housing units they are getting are far away from the
coir industry locations.
In certain villages, women also complained that the cash their
families received in building self-help housing units were not spent 100
percent for that purpose, because, the money was received by their
husbands. And they spent the money on their own. There were women who
found fault with their husbands because the men sold certain relief
items they received to buy liquor.
However, the situation with regard to the affected women in the North
and the East is more vulnerable. Many Muslim women who continue to live
in camps and in the temporary shelter do not have sufficient freedom.
Their movements are restricted as they have to live among strangers in
the temporary settlements.
Therefore, Perera calls upon the authorities concerned to provide
decent living facilities and opportunities for earning money.
What is most disturbing about the tsunami survivors in the South is
that many have got into the ‘dependency syndrome’. Around the three
damaged railway carriages in Peraliya is a growing begging culture. The
moment a vehicle carrying foreigners or locals stops near the railway
track in Peraliya - just to have a glimpse of the train, a group of
women and children runs to the scene and asks for help - money. The
women encourage their children to beg.
These women are supposed to be those who lived within the 100-metere
zone before the tsunami. Their houses are being constructed elsewhere at
present, although they still occupy the temporary wooden houses built
within the 100-metre zone.
When the Daily News queried why they behaved in this manner, they
said that they were in the coir industry before and were now jobless.
And up to now, they haven’t got any support.
We asked the children whether they went to school, to which they
answered happily ‘Yes’. They’ve got their books and everything as well.
One thing never stops in Sri Lanka - school education. Come war or
the tsunami, kids in white uniforms and dark ties trudge to school. And
this is true both in the Sinhala speaking South and the Tamil speaking