The Localist

Sari Connection – a post war love story of a different kind

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Women’s group in Mullativu with the Innovation Award

Thangaruby was in her mid twenties when she lost her husband and three siblings to the war. She was stranded in a camp and made her way back to her hometown of Kokkilai in 2010. A widow with a 12-year-old son, she had no means of generating an income and was heavily dependent on her elderly parents.

Women like Thangaruby in the once war stricken North and East of Sri Lanka are plenty. Some widowed from the war, others having lost their loved ones to the 2004 tsunami, another cohort merely abandoned by their husbands. All find themselves financially and psychologically crippled. Women-headed households are particularly susceptible to poverty and economic insecurity, due to a lack of assets and lack of income generating opportunities that’s driven by sociocultural constraints and a deeply embedded sense of powerlessness.

In 2012, PARCIC (PARC Interpeoples Cooperation), a Japanese NGO that has been working with numerous marginalized communities in Sri Lanka since 2004, orchestrated the ‘Recycle Sari Project’. The main aim of this campaign was to support women-headed families in Northern Sri Lanka by providing them the opportunity to ‘upcycle’ donated saris and thereby become self sufficient, self-confident individuals. Born from this project’s popularity was Sari Connection – a subsidiary under PARCIC that hosts a range of handcrafted products created from up-cycled saris by marginalized women.

The saris are primarily collected from donation drives held in the Southern parts of Sri Lanka and then sent to the North where women like Thangaruby utilize their newly acquired sewing skills and innate creativity to produce all kinds of fabrications. They are provided with periodic training in sewing skills, designing and quality control from Colombo and Tokyo professionals. The first donation of 50 sewing machines has helped these women to achieve a work life balance. Thangaruby, for instance, is able to work from the comfort of her own home and look after her son at the same time. This South to North transfer of raw materials and expertise, combined with the subsequent North to South provision of creative goods helps form a special bond between the women of the entire island; a positive step with regard to post-war reconciliation.

Abiding by its sustainable development ethos, Sari Connection keeps material costs and negative environmental impacts to a minimum by upcycling used saris. Currently Sari Connection has over 70 women on-board from Jaffna and Mullaitivu. Natasha Yatawara from Sari Connection, clad in a beautiful white and silver evening gown created by a woman like Thangaruby, reminisces about their very first product, a black and yellow cotton poncho. Natasha is proud of their progress to date and passionately introduces me to the range of products that the Sari Connection ladies produce. From stylish attire like dresses, blouses and pants to household items such as bedspreads, table runners, cushion covers and eco-friendly bags, the talent of these women is undeniable. Sari Connection’s latest range was an extensive array of beach cover-ups and beach shirts at the end of last year.

Looking back at 2015, Natasha is delighted that Sari Connection managed to wrap up the year in style by winning the Innovation Award 2015 at the Good Market Vendor Celebrations – a remarkable milestone that recognizes the hard work of all from Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Colombo and Tokyo’.

 Knee-length beach cover-up made using a chiffon sari.


Knee-length beach cover-up made using a chiffon sari.

Like the Gulabi Gang of neighbouring India that stands up for injustice clad in pink saris, the women of North and East Sri Lanka are finding a platform through Sari Connection, not only to showcase their talents but to empower themselves and stand up for their rights. For Thangaruby, who joined this project in May 2015 with hardly any stitching experience, the six-month training provided by PARCIC has given her the confidence to sew skirts and table runners. She aspires to be a confident seamstress in the future and has already succeeded in being able to afford private tuition classes for her son through her new found income. Many of her friends are also receiving an income via the Sari Project. Thangaruby has once again found a voice within her community. Her hope for a better future still prevails.

For more details and information on how to donate saris for the project contact: sariconnection@gmail.com / +94 71 191 8252

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MEET THE LOCAL: VIRANDI WETTEWA

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