Guest post by Alan Elliott
San Francisco Bay Area native Alan Elliott is taking time out from his master’s degree studies at the University of California San Diego School of International Relations and Pacific Studies to pursue a 10-week internship in ChildFund’s Sri Lanka office. He is regularly blogging about his experiences.
Batticaloa, on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, was my first visit to an area damaged by the 30-year Sri Lankan conflict that ended in 2009. Aside from the destruction of war, Batti has a chronic water shortage. In this desolate area, many mothers are without adequate income or food for their families. When new children are born, they often become malnourished.
In 2010, Mrs. M. Pumarandai and Mr. S. Murukaya welcomed baby Nivethika into the world. But they soon discovered a serious problem. Nivethika was constantly crying, and even fainted at times. “I was very frightened,” Pumarandai explains, “I was unsure of what I should do.”
So they contacted ChildFund’s local Child Well-Being Committee (CWBC). There, community volunteers advised that the family visit the clinic, where it was soon discovered that little Nivethika had a heart problem. The nerves surrounding her heart were twisted and the only choice was to operate. However, Pumarandai and Murukaya did not have nearly enough income to pay for the operation or send Nivethika across the country to Colombo, where the procedure would be done.
In Batticaloa, ChildFund has just finished its KOHA project, sponsored by ChildFund New Zealand, which offers low-interest loans to families interested in starting new businesses. ChildFund has also trained the CWBCs to monitor and evaluate loans and to carry on the work of KOHA. The overall goal is to not only provide families with a new source of reliable income but also to use this income to support the education of community children. Part of the income gained from interest on the loans is used to provide additional community support services.
Especially important for Pumarandai and family were the community funds gained from the service charges on these loans. In March 2010, the CWBC provided 5,000 rupees (US$50) to pay for the operation and the cost of transporting the baby to Colombo. Now, 18-month-old Nivethika is perfectly healthy and safely back home. She no longer has heart problems and soon will be having the residual lump on her chest removed.
Pumarandai and her husband even applied for a KOHA loan themselves. The first loan, received in 2010, provided them with 20,000 rupees (US$200) to begin a home garden. The lack of water in the area made such a project quite expensive, as it was necessary to install irrigation equipment. “But now our home garden is beautiful, providing plentiful and nutritious food for our family,” Pumarandai says.
The family now has extra food to sell in local markets, earning enough income to provide their other two, school-aged children with study materials and also ensure that Nivethika receives all the check-ups and treatments she needs.
As of 2011, they have repaid their first loan and are applying for a second, 30,000 rupee loan to expand their home garden business.