There are nights when Udayakumar Manjula wakes to find her house flooded. Heavy rains bring water seeping under her door to where she and her family lie sleeping. While they wait for it to subside, she props her children up on plastic chairs. “Sometimes they go to sleep sitting up,” says Manjula.
The family is hoping they will soon be allocated funding from the State to build a house, but in the meantime it is hard going. Manjula’s husband, 42-year-old Selvarasa Udayakumar works as a porter in the local market, carrying goods for traders. For this he is paid Rs. 800 a day. The family of seven – which includes Manjula’s mother, 70-year-old Devendram Natkunadevi – must manage.
Manjula says it feels like her family has been struggling for a long time. Natkunadevi in particular, has struggled. It fell to her to raise Manjula, Dharshika and their brother by herself, after their father remarried.
Little things to remember
Then came the war, and with it multiple displacements. Trapped in the fighting, Manjula recalls how her then 21-year-old sister was killed by a shell. She has only one picture of Dharshika. It is from her sister’s coming of age ceremony – in it, the young girl, dressed in a pink saree and adorned with flowers, looks seriously at the camera. The family has little else to remember her.
“We carried nothing with us – we ran to save our lives, we couldn’t stop to save our possessions,” says Manjula. Even as she struggles to cope, Natkunadevi says she is still filled with grief – “After the death of my daughter, my world is dark.”
Rebuilding their lives
At the end of the war in 2009, the family found themselves in Menik Farm, a camp for the internally displaced. From there, they came to this plot of land near Jaffna, which Manjula’s uncle gifted them. Now, they are painstakingly trying to rebuild their lives.
The first piece of good news came when the family was chosen for livelihood assistance. Under the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Resettlement in Newly Released Areas (RNRA) scheme, a rapid assessment was carried out to identify families in sectors such as Fisheries, Agriculture and Livestock who could benefit from support and training. The project emphasised helping these vulnerable households engage in sustainable local economic development initiatives, in collaboration with government entities.
Relief for Manjula
When they were chosen, Manjula felt relief. She was provided everything she needed, including payment for workers to erect the shed, materials to build it, feed to last the cattle the first few months, and of course the cows themselves. The pair of cows have now produced calves for her, and her little stable is growing.
Their history, current context and interest in the project were all taken into consideration when the family were chosen to be beneficiaries of the RNRA scheme, says Sinnathamby Inparuban, a programme manager at the Centre for Child Development (CFCD).
Working closely with the local divisional secretary, CFCD identified vulnerable families, who then received training, business development support, business planning and initial seed capital. “We had to prepare them, and we had to strengthen them,” says Sinnathamby.
A brighter future for the family
In the end, raising cattle was a good option for Manjula, one that allowed her to take care of children, and watch the home even as she generated some additional income. Her income is still modest, around Rs. 1,000 per day, but this is enough to pay the tuition fees for her boys, and still have something left over.
After all they have been through, Manjula hopes there are now good times ahead for her family. “We want the children to do well in school, so they will not have to struggle like we have,” she says.