On a roadside overlooking the lagoon in Puttlam, northwestern Sri Lanka, is a glass-windowed shop full of brightly-coloured handicrafts; from teddy bears, bags and flowers to cane, bamboo and cloth products. This is a centre that facilitates the sale of products made by women.
A single-mother of three, Thakshila (36 years) was the only one from her VisionFund women’s group that was willing to take on the responsibility of managing the centre. During the day, you can find her working at her sewing machine. Her self-employed peers bring their products to the centre and Thakshila manages the sales, keeping a small commission for her efforts. “I feel blessed to be given this place to sell my products and also to work.” she says.
Thakshila was just 17 when she got married. Her husband worked at a hospital, and she took on food orders for small functions in the neighbourhood. To bring home some extra income, she learned how to make teddy bears, rugs and bags through vocational training provided in her town. Although she started small; making a few items which she would sell at the hospital, when her husband passed-away eight years ago, it became a necessity for her to make it a full-time business.
From the money she received from her village funeral committees and her husband’s pension fund, she bought a sewing machine and got to work. “I had little knowledge about how to even sell what I made,” she said, recalling how her products used to sit stacked up at home for weeks. For five years she sold her toys at church fairs and found some customers whom she later received bulk orders from shops.
Taking on bigger orders meant that she needed to have money to buy cloth and other materials. Thakshila heard about VisionFund from her cousin who had also taken a loan. Her first loan was for about $160 which she used to buy material.
As the business took off, she hired women from her neighbourhood to help her. A second loan helped purchase another sewing machine. To increase the variety of toys she could make, she purchased different soft toys, took them apart and made patterns to create her own versions from the base designs. In 2013, she did a course in management and accounts to learn how to run her business better, and in 2017 she was nominated for and subsequently awarded, the title of best female entrepreneur by the north-western provincial council.
She employs four women. “I want to be a manager,” she says. “I want to hire more staff to be able to take on bigger orders and sell my products to big stores.”
Thakshila also teaches other women who are interested in learning to sew in order to start their own businesses. She is proud to have trained over 300 young women to-date, and even provides short training videos via social media platforms.
“There have been countless challenges along the way, but I’ve learned not to let them affect me,” she says. Her income allows her to provide her sons Dilhara (18 years) and Randunu (14 years), and Samanali (meaning butterfly) her seven year old daughter with good food and to pay for their education to ensure that they have a bright future. -Her business is named after her daughter.
Her current loan of about $713 with VisionFund helped her purchase her fifth sewing machine and the supplies she needs to deliver a big order.
A little help is often all single-mothers like Thakshila need to build channels of income, provide for their children and even help other women along the way. Through the Women’s Empowerment Fund, you can be a part of paving their way.