Recovery and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

Kamalawathi’s hands work deftly, making lace to embellish tablecloths and other household linens at her shop in Galle, Sri Lanka. Although she started off by herself in a small room, working on one piece at a time, she has expanded her capacity through a micro-loan from Episcopal Relief & Development’s partner organization, the Ecumenical Church Loan Fund (ECLOF). Now, she employs other women as part of her growing business.

ECLOF is a faith-based micro-finance institution that provides services to women’s self-help groups in areas affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. This support enables women to increase their independence through creating economic opportunities. Kamalawathi is one of a group of women who recently received micro-loans. Nirosha, a mother of two, established an embroidery business to make a living from the traditional skills passed down by generations of her family. Another woman, Anoma, used her micro-loan to increase her production of cakes and sweets to sell to local guest houses and restaurants.

For Kamalawathi and the other women in the program, the opportunity to receive micro-loans has led to a huge boost in their earning power – benefiting them, their families and their communities. With their extra income, these women are able to support their children’s education, take care of their families’ health and save for future needs. As wage-earners in their households and businesspeople in their communities, they are also becoming more involved in decision-making and taking on leadership roles.

“It’s been wonderful to witness the large impact of providing small loans to group members,” said Nagulan Nesiah, Program Officer for Episcopal Relief & Development. “By participating in this program, the women have truly transformed their own lives, and those of their families.”

Aside from partnering with ECLOF on this micro-loan project, Episcopal Relief & Development is also working with the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) and the Diocese of Colombo to help communities in other ways.

Through CEJ, Episcopal Relief & Development is aiding in the restoration of coastline devastated by the tsunami and subsequent tropical storms, and also helping families who lost homes and livelihoods to continue putting their lives back together. Rallying young adults in coastal communities, CEJ is organizing a massive mangrove replanting campaign, which to date has replanted 17,000 trees. Additionally, CEJ has been running legal aid clinics to help people re-establish property boundaries, rebuild houses and replace lost documentation.

The Diocese of Colombo is running two projects, with assistance from Episcopal Relief & Development, to address long-term needs across the region. In order to mitigate the effects of possible disasters in the future, the church is consulting with India-based Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action in creating a three-year plan for disaster preparedness. Part of this initiative involves developing a toolkit so that all churches in the diocese can learn from others’ successes and experiences.

The other diocese-run project is the Centre for Conflict Analysis and Reconciliation, which is housed in the renovated ruins of Christ Church in Colombo. Meeting there has special significance, since the building was severely damaged during the 25-year-long civil war, which ended in May 2009. At the center, staff provide psychosocial care to victims of the war, lead monthly workshops and offer mediation services to aid in reconciliation and community rehabilitation. Programs are mainly focused on serving women and young adults.

Helping Sri Lanka to lift itself up after suffering through civil war and natural disaster is a massive undertaking, but by partnering with local organizations who serve the communities of which they are part, Episcopal Relief & Development is making sure that appropriate assistance is getting to where it is most needed. Now women are becoming entrepreneurs and providing for their families. Ravaged coastlines are regaining their natural protection through young people planting trees. And families are getting their lives and communities back together, continuing in a long healing process that will hopefully grow easier with time.

Episcopal Relief & Development is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church of the United States and an independent 501(c)(3) organization. The agency takes its mandate from Jesus’ words found in Matthew 25. Its programs work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Together with the worldwide Church and ecumenical partners, Episcopal Relief & Development rebuilds after disasters and empowers people by offering lasting solutions that fight poverty, hunger and disease, including HIV/AIDS and malaria.

For more stories from Sri Lanka, visit Program Officer Nagulan Nesiah’s blog at