27th Oct, 2016

Charity helping people learn new skills

Rob George 3rd Jul, 2015 Updated: 20th Oct, 2016

A CROPTHORNE charity is leading the efforts to help people in remote areas of Sri Lanka to earn a living and develop new skills.

Observer editor Rob George found out more.

BASED on an industrial estate outside Pershore, you wouldn’t imagine a charity could be making such a difference to people almost 5,000 miles away.

But that’s exactly what Action on Poverty is doing in the remote areas of the Eastern region of Sri Lanka through helping thousands of households gain a living through their own skills and enterprise.

Whether its helping individuals to build their own businesses, develop a skill or find employment, this small Vale charity is working hard to make a difference.

Action on Poverty’s size certainly belies its scope, ambition and lengthy history, for the past 30 years, this organisation has focused exclusively on helping the most vulnerable individuals in countries affected by civil war or natural disasters to help themselves.

It’s a straightforward template of working with local partners in those countries to develop income-generating skills as determined and needed by people in the community.

In Sri Lanka, Action on Poverty is working with a local organisation, Business Creations to implement its ‘Life After War’ (LAW) project, which encompasses three remote, rural areas in east Sri Lanka.

The eastern region suffered both from the 2004 tsunami and the civil war, which ended in 2009 after more than three decades.

Families found it impossible to maintain a livelihood as they were forced to flee homes when fighting occurred between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan army.

Moving regularly during war time they lost their property and assets.

Children were also particularly vulnerable and traumatised, some lost parents in the fighting, were kidnapped and forced to join the rebel army or trafficked.

Despite government rehabilitation programmes, when children were returned or sent to villages they were stigmatised.

But now, the range of businesses developed by people in the communities reflect their reality and needs within their areas, for example some develop incomes from firing bricks, sewing, growing and selling vegetables.

Anusha Ratnayake a director with Business Creations is currently on a speaker’s tour for Action on Poverty’s supporters in the Cotswolds and south England, bringing to life the accomplishments of the LAW project and transformative stories of how the most vulnerable are now better equipped to gain an income and thereby create a better life for their families.

Ms Ratnayake said: “The reason we selected those areas were based on the most neediest, the highest level of poverty level and the level of the impact of the war.

“There were also fewer development projects in the east of the country.”

“A big challenge was tackling the dependency on aid. When we go into some of the areas and people realise we’re not giving something away but offering skills training, we lose a few.

“We also had to change the mindset of government officials as well. But now the community is working with 35 self-reliant community-based organisations that are not only providing training with access to credit and markets but also raising awareness about health and hygiene and HIV/AIDS and building a foundation of child protection.”

LAW also recognises that rebuilding a community means providing support to children and young people.

Programmes are put in place to overcome barriers through increasing children’s awareness of their rights, transitioning them out of hazardous work and towards school and teaching them life skills which will aid decision making.

Ms Ratnayake has made her way those more than 8,000km to share the success story of Action on Poverty’s work in Sri Lanka.

Call Action for Poverty on 01386 861294 for more information about the charity