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Yesterday, Edmund Jayaraja Nimal Raj went out to sea and returned with a 15kg fish.

He caught the enormous creature, not with a net, but with a line and a hook. Standing in his boat alone, it took all his skill and strength to reel the fish in without breaking the line. When he got back to shore, he was able to sell it for Rs.5,800 - nearly twice his usual daily income. The extraordinary catch has cemented his reputation as one of the best fisherman in his village. 

Edmund almost did not become a fisherman. Born differently-abled, he has trouble speaking and walks with difficulty. Aware of the ways in which he is different from his peers, he is self-conscious about the way he looks.

As long as his father was alive, Edmund was not allowed to work. His family were convinced he would not survive out at sea. Then his father was diagnosed with cancer. Edmund’s mother, Jayarasa Maria Creta remembers the moment when she realised she would have to let her sheltered son go. “He was the only one who could look after us, now. If he did not begin earning, we could not survive,” she says. 

Through the United Nations Development Programme’s Resettlement in Newly Released Areas (RNRA) project, families like Edmund’s received support from UNDP and the relevant government agencies to build up their livelihoods.

RNRA is operational in most of the released and resettled areas which were formally demarcated as Palali High Security Zone. Enabled through funding worth over $3 million from the Government of Norway, it is context specific and anchored in multi-stakeholder participation. Periodical project reviews with key stakeholders, and in-process monitoring are an integral part of the project.


As a beneficiary, Edmund was given an outboard engine, and fishing nets to help him increase his income. “He is the only breadwinner for our family,” says Maria Creta.

The family lives in a model resettlement village in Tellipalai, some thirty minutes away from Jaffna. The land, most of which is state-owned, was released by the government. Housing construction funds amounting to Rs. 850,000 (approx. $5,400) for each unit were awarded to 134 families based on an “owner-driven” model.  


Edmund and his mother are relatively recent returnees. “We have lived in more than 26 houses,” she says describing how they experienced multiple displacements. “Now we feel so privileged and proud to have a house of our own.”

Standing on the shore Sabadesu Yesudasan, another fisherman, says the facilities in the village have helped them begin anew. There are over 138 families who have returned to live in this modern resettlement village, a majority of whom rely on fishing to earn a living. Many are part of the Fisherman Cooperative Society, which was registered in 1994.

Some 60 families had boats of their own but, like Edmund, the majority needed help to purchase outboard engines. 123 families were given fishing gear as well as GPS devices. For the fishermen though, the most critical aspect has been the creation of two access ways into the ocean, which were designed and built with through the support of UNDP. 

The routes cut through thick beds rock, to give them a clear passage to the ocean beyond. The rocks that remains has created a small, protected harbour for their boats. 

“Our outboard motors are very expensive,” says Yesudasan, explaining that a little damage could cost as much Rs.35,000 in repairs. Before the new passages were opened, they could not even enter the sea between January and April, when the ocean tended to be particularly rough. “Now we can go in year-around,” adds Yesudasan, who appreciates the thoughtful design. 




There are even stairs going up the steep incline of the beach, so that the fisherman can haul up heavy catches without tearing their nets. In addition to these, UNDP also supported the establishment of an auction centre for the fisherman and a ‘repose’ room where they can rest in between expeditions. Taken together, these measures have ensured that after years of struggling to survive, fishing families can now count on their livelihoods.

For her part, Maria Creta is now more relaxed when Edmund goes out to sea. “I still pray every time my son goes out to sea,” she says, “but I trust now that God meant him to look after our family.”

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