Building lives, brick by brick
Kannaki Kiramam is a village nestled in the Divisional Secretariat Division of Alayadivembu in the Ampara District. The war has left a mark on the people of this village who have struggled through years of conflict and suffering. Since the end of the war UNDP has been helping the villagers of Kannaki Kiramam to rebuild their lives. With financial support from the Government of Japan, UNDP Livelihood Development Programme (LDP) has helped the beneficiaries of this village to venture into the brick making business.
“We were united by the brick making project and for seven months now, we have been interacting with others and working together to make the bricks. There are 20 of us here. All men. Our wives have also been helping us. They are happy to see us earning a living by doing something that makes us happy,” says Tharmalingam the leader of the team.
This new business venture has helped the villagers of Kannaki Kiramam to come together and work as team. They have appointed a leader who provides them with technical guidance and manages the day to day activities. The workers organize themselves. Having understood the importance of the division of labour, they have divided themselves into four groups consisting of five people each, and have developed a systematic method of production. They even take turns watching over the center at night, making sure wild elephants don’t destroy their products.
The workers have now come to value team work. Having worked together for some time now, they have formed a society, linking them with others working in the same field. The “United Peoples Social Development society” is the name they have picked for their society. “Because of our president’s commitment and persistence on developing our village, we have all joined together to work towards a common interest” says one worker.
In addition to these social benefits, the workers enjoy economic benefits as well. Though they have faced many hurdles in competing with the well established brick makers both within and outside the district, the Kannaki Kiramam workers have been able to develop their business, and they now earn a considerable income through it. This in turn has helped raise the living standards of individual families and of the village as a whole. “We are happy that we were given help to develop brick making as our livelihood means. We have needed resources and substantial experience to develop this industry. I believe we made the correct decision at the initial meeting with UNDP, where we decided that brick making would be the right way to go. We are thankful to UNDP for respecting our traditional practice of brick making from the very beginning to this day,” says one worker, as the others nod in agreement.
In the past the villagers of Kannaki Kiramam carried out the brick making process on a small scale, earning just enough to fulfill their household needs. It was not an organized process and had not developed into a commercial industry. The UNDP project provided these villagers with the relevant resources and the initial capital to expand the industry. At the initial stages UNDP worked together with government institutions like the Environmental Authority to identify suitable land area for the production plant.
In terms of marketing, UNDP has helped the workers to find a place in the local market, while at the same time exploring the possibility of linking with larger marketing networks in the brick industry. The project, which has involved the participation of the beneficiaries at all stages, has increased the sense of ownership and self esteem of the workers. “We are glad because this is ours. We make collective decisions so we have no disagreements or grievances. We all know what is happening here and we are an active part of it,” says Tharmalingam adding, “We have earned some respect from our friends and families because of this.”