The surprising thing helping war-affected Sri Lankans out of poverty

As a humanitarian photographer, I travel to some of the hardest places on earth—crushed by decades of poverty and ravaged by war. I’ve seen a lot doing my job over the years, but there was one place so impactful I couldn’t speak about it for three months.

Eight years ago, I travelled to Sri Lanka. I was in the north of the country where the long-running civil war had come to its bloody end in 2009. I was there to see the start of a new project by aid and development organisation, Tearfund.

As we drove past bombed-out buildings, met people with war injuries, and heard first-hand stories of the devastation, it was all I could do to pick up my camera and notepad and document it.

During that visit, I met Praveendran and his wife Chithradevi. They were living in a makeshift shelter made of grass and scraps of tin. They had two little girls and were recovering from a war that had devastated their livelihoods and destroyed their land. Their vulnerability and kindness touched me.

At the time, Tearfund’s partner was supporting them and their community through smallholder dairy farmer training, women’s savings groups and a children’s club. When I learnt I was returning to Sri Lanka in 2020, I was so excited to visit them again!

For many families living in the north of Sri Lanka, dairying was a way of life and a chance to earn a little extra money. But what if we could help farmers get back on their feet post-war by giving them a cow, training them up with some of the best dairy farming methods, and creating milk collection points for them to sell their milk on a larger scale?

Eight years ago, we started with just eight farmers. Today, we have over 4500 farmers, 7,500 children and 1,500 women in our programme!

When I saw Praveendran again eight years later, he told me, “We were very poor when you met us. With two children, life was very difficult. We were given some cows for milking and selling as well as some cattle breeding and feeding training. That was very significant for us. From the training, we learned how to increase our income. Now, we have eight calves and five cows.”

Today, the couple has a home made of concrete (a sign of economic wellbeing), their girls are grown up and in school, and they are doing better. They still have challenges and life is far from perfect, but it’s way better than it was before.

Are you looking for a unique and impactful gift idea for someone this Christmas? Tearfund’s feel-good Gift for Life catalogue is chock-full of gift ideas that make a big difference. For families like Praveendran’s in Sri Lanka, the gift of a cow for NZ$75 not only provides daily nourishment but it can create a sustainable source of income for those living in poverty. You can browse all gifts available in the catalogue at giftforlife.org.nz.

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