‘There was a time when no one would give us even a hundred rupees (less than US$1). Today, any bank will be glad to loan us even a hundred thousand.’
Sharmali’s success story begins as a love story. She had fallen in love with a man who her parents didn’t approve of. They saw him only as a security guard who had no future and a small income. But Sharmali married him anyway, and her family cut her off from all assistance.
Sharmali is now a mother of three (Shehan, Yomel and Sayanee), and as she sits behind the counter of one of their many shops, she is happy to speak about everything she has achieved since.
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
‘I didn't even know how to cook then,’ she says, recalling how initially her hands could barely knead dough. She was three months pregnant when they moved into their first house - made out of planks of wood. ‘I started making sweets and selling them to shops.’ Soon Sharmali was earning more than her husband Upali, so he quit his job and joined her in making food.
Sharmali was one of the first in her little village in Sri Lanka to get together with a group of eight women and take a small loan from VisionFund. She borrowed US$200, and with her husband, they built a very small shop in front of their house. The roof and walls were made out of woven coconut leaves.
There were no shops selling ready-made clothes in the area at the time, and that’s what she first started selling. In front of her shop was a school and so with her second loan, she began buying and selling books and stationery. With every new loan, Sharmali did something new and the shop made out of woven coconut leaves turned into one of metal sheets and then brick.
THE NEXT GENERATION
On her eldest son Shehan’s sixteenth birthday Sharmali bought him a second-hand computer. He loved it. His mother helped him set up a computer repair shop - a service that was and is scarce in the area. Shehan now has five computers in his shop and it serves as an internet café as well so villagers can Skype with loved-ones living abroad.
It’s been nearly eight years since Sharmali first struggled to cook on her own in their little make-do house. Now she owns several shops and plans to build another floor to expand her, and her son’s businesses.
‘None of this has come easy,’ says Sharmali. ‘But I was determined to bring our family to the position that we are in today.’