Posted on July 13, 2010.
Rajini, 32, lives in a one room tin shack with her mother, younger sister and a mentally handicapped younger brother. Hailing from Jaffna, Sri Lanka`s northern peninsula that was the centre of the now ended thirty-year old ethnic war in the country, the young woman symbolizes both the suffering of innocent civilians during conflict as well as the other amazing side of destruction—enduring courage and determination to survive despite all odds.
I met Rajini in Trincomalee, a beautiful historical port city on the north east coast of Sri Lanka and home for all major ethnicities—the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil, and Muslim populations that comprise the island’s national mosaic. She appeared before me wearing a flared well-cut mid-calf pink skirt and a pressed white blouse. Her long hair ,a symbol of traditional feminine beauty, was combed back and enclosed in a long plait. Her sister, 22, a much larger woman who giggles easily, was with her. Both women had come to meet me not for a charitable hand out but to find out how they could earn an income that they desperately needed. Rajini, the eldest daughter, knew she was destined to be main breadwinner for her family that barely managed to find enough money to feed themselves three meals a day. All she had to offer was her sewing skills that she had learned when she attended workshops conducted by foreign funded local non-governmental organizations that provided relief programmes for civilians during the short breaks in the war. Rajini, who could not complete her education and apply for university, took the classes, a decision she says that kept her spirits up when her three homes that she and her mother acquired, were destroyed in the villages they had taken refuge when they were forced to flee from the fighting.
Standing under the burning hot sun that afternoon, Rajini clutched a file that contained her sewing samples. I opened the thick book. Inside were pages pasted with various types of splendidly embroidered fabric. The colours were brilliant and the stitching followed her sketches so tiny and minute that her final work appeared delicate and lovely like a bevy of gossamer dreams that beckoned the viewer enticingly to keep turning the pages. The inside spread on two pages took my breath away—almost two dozen blood-red roses spilling out of a canopy of rainbow hued ribbons floating upward on a white background. Yet another fabric that touched my heart was the embroidered group of plump ducklings waddling behind their mother, the grand dame standing on a bed of green weeds. Rajini had sewn the ducks on the bosom of a light blue baby frock. Perhaps she was thinking of her own little babies, a family that she still had not found because of poverty and war.
Now, showing off her skills and asking for a job, Rajini was ready to go ahead with her life. I knew that when I returned the book to her and looked into her eyes. She was asking for an opportunity and not charity. I did not hesitate a moment. Rajini would take the position of head teacher in the sewing class and shop that I had decided to open in Trincomalee along with a group of Japanese women who were my friends. We had collected the funds between us—our own personal donations as well as from our well-wishers. Joining hands with Rajini and her eight other counterparts, all of them struggling to rebuild their lives after they had survived the fighting, were women from Japan who were on the other side of the world and leading totally different lives—they were safe and secure in an industrialized world. But the two sides were embarking on a unique experience for they would start to work together. This was what we wanted and this is what Rajini and her friends in Trincomalee wanted. This month we celebrate together three years since we began to pursue this dream, and, needless to say, despite the ups and downs that have appeared and disappeared for there was never a question of giving-up, we are doing really well. A sign of the huge success this year is that products made by the women are ready to be sold in the international market. Bravo, Rajini.!