Starting again on her own land – Chandrakala’s story
As she waits for her son to return from school, Chandrakala (33) is busy in her little shop. Colourful sachets of washing powder, shampoo and snacks hang from the beams of the roof. The little window in front displays sweets.
The shop is also Chandrakala’s home, being the temporary shelter she and her son live in since returning to their own land in Mutthur in the East of Sri Lanka.
A few years ago however, it was not business as usual for the little family. In 2006, Chandrakala’s home along with many others, became part of the high security zones established by the military.
Fleeing to safety multiple times with a little child in her arms was hard, but was even more difficult when she lost her husband during that period. Ten years later, Chandrakala is back on her land, now released by the government.
When she and others in her village returned, they found there was no trace of their old homes. “There was not even a tree standing. I didn’t know how I could start life again,” she says.
Chandrakala received a temporary shelter through UNHCR under a project funded by the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF), which aims to assist more than 2500 returning families to settle back in their lands. With a funding base of $1.47 million, the project is providing assistance to facilitate the safe and immediate resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons to land released by the Government from former High Security Zones. The PBF is also supporting peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts of the current government, which was elected to office in January 2015.
Through the PBF, temporary shelters, latrines and water supply are being provided to returning families by UNHCR and UNICEF, while other UN and government agencies along with humanitarian organizations are also working in close coordination to enhance their support towards resettlement.
“Now that I am back home, my only hope is for my son’s future – to protect and educate him,” explains Chandrakala.
While sanitation is still an issue, Chandrakala and other families will soon receive latrines and water supply for their homes through UNICEF. Once she has the water connection, her plan is to start cultivating a small home garden.
Before being displaced, her mother also ran a little grocery shop in which Chandrakala helped. “So I know something about business,” she says. With a small grant received from another development agency, she was able to buy some goods to set up a little shop in her temporary home. “I was the first to open a shop among the returning families here,” she proudly says.
Business is quite good, but Chandrakala would like to increase and diversify her stock. “I have enough courage, just not enough capital,” she says, smiling a little. “Most of the profit goes into buying and transporting goods from the town every two weeks.”
There is also recent competition, with another shop being opened a few doors away by another family, but Chandrakala is not worried. “That shop is also run by a widow just like me, and we don’t compete. All of us should be able to develop; we are all trying hard despite so many difficulties.”
The next step for the families is permanent housing which would be provided by the government together with international donor countries and agencies.
“The UN family helped us so much from the time we were displaced, and now that we are back home, that help is continuing,” says Chandrakala.
Having to start from nothing is hard, but being back where she belongs has given Chandrakala strength and hope. “My dream is to have a thriving store that has a big board with my son’s name on it. Everything I do is for him and his future.”