Breaking the mould

Tuesday, 13 September 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

BATTICALOA: When Yogarani Sivalingam graduated from the Government Technical Training College in Batticaloa as a qualified mason in 1987, her relatives constantly warned her against venturing into a “man’s job”.

But today, in addition to sharing her knowledge as a masonry instructor Yogarani is also a successful entrepreneur, producing cement blocks and other cement products at home.

“I have created jobs for young girls and many war-affected women in my village,” said Yogarani. “Most of them are the sole breadwinners for their young families. Masonry is a skill that they can quickly pick up and one which gives a good, steady income.”

Yogarani is part of the project ‘Peace Building through Vocational Training (PB-VT)’ implemented by the German Development Cooperation (GIZ), former GTZ in partnership with the Chamber of Construction Industry, Sri Lanka (CCISL). This initiative has paved the way for more women in the east to enter into the booming construction industry as skilled workers, along with their male counterparts.

The demand created by post-conflict reconstruction projects by the Government and NGOs ensures that the trainees from this programme can earn a higher income, while staying in their own communities, without falling into the hands of human traffickers, who promise jobs in the Middle East.

Indumathi and Indurani Kanapathipillai, twins from a large family with nine siblings are currently studying carpentry at the PB-VT Training Centre in Batticaloa.

“After our father, who worked as a day labourer, got ill, my sister and I started working at a textile shop in town, where we earned only Rs. 2,500 each per month, after working for 12 hours per day,” Indumathi Kanapathipillai said. “But when we participated in a career guidance programme, we heard about the carpentry course. Although it is an unconventional field, we were impressed and decided to try it.”

During her three month in-class training period Indumathi received a daily allowance of Rs. 100, so that her income was not disrupted. At present she is getting on-the-job training with a construction firm that pays a stipend of Rs. 6,000 each month.

“We have already repaired the furniture for one of our relatives,” beamed Indumathi. “A few neighbours have also asked us to repair their roofs for them,” she added.

The PB-VT- project funded by the German Government at a cost of Euro 2.8 million also integrates peace building skills into the technical training programme.

The Acting Ambassador for Germany in Sri Lanka, Marja-Sirkka Einig who visited the centre at Meeravodai on 9 September said that this unique approach to peace building by creating employment, empowering women and equipping the community with peace building skills paved the way for sustainable reconciliation.

The project has six training centres in the Eastern Province and will be accredited to provide the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) certificate issued by the Sri Lankan Government.

The programme offers courses in carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical work and aluminium fabrication. In several courses half of those enrolled are girls.

Both Indumathi and Indurani are confident that after having received their NVQ level 3 certificates, they can be self employed and earn over Rs. 20,000 per month.

“People no longer say that carpentry or masonry can only be done by men,” Indurani said. “Our villagers have slowly begun to accept that women can also be good at construction jobs, because we are very patient and diligent at our work,” she added.