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Friday, January 30, 2009

Sri Lanka: In Peace or War, People Make Progress

It looks as though the interminable conflict between Sri Lanka’s government forces and the insurgent Tamil Tigers may be coming to a head. In recent weeks, the army has vanquished the Tigers in a series of engagements that have substantially shrunk the territory under the control of the latter.

Political history aside, any development that secures an end to the fighting that has claimed more than 70,000 lives in Sri Lanka is to be welcomed. It is safe to say that both sides have seriously abused the civilian population caught in their decades-long crossfire.

HOPE International Development Agency has worked in Sri Lanka steadily for decades, prior to 2004’s horrific tsunami and throughout these vacillations of war and peace. While at one level, Sri Lanka is a troubling national character, a bastion of bad news and gloomy outcomes, there is another Sri Lanka in which ordinary people live and work, and in this place, there is always reason to hope. No matter how chaotic their national condition seems to be, the poor continue to make the best of difficult situations whenever they are given the opportunity.

For example, stories like Gnanasiri Lokugallappatthi’s are not preempted by civil war. Before the tsumani destroyed the village market, 56 year-old Gnanasiri had the extremely strenuous and low-paying occupation of carrying bags of consumer goods on his head and shoulders to local vendors.

One year ago, HOPE loaned a little less than $100 to Gnanasiri to start his own business. He rented a stall at the rebuilt Devinuwara Public Market Complex and began selling rice. Before long, he earned a good name and reputation as a rice dealer. Nowadays, he makes a little over $100 profit each month, and has just about paid off his loan.

As with most families, the crown of success is education. Gnanasiri’s son is graduating from high school, and his daughter is being trained as a nurse. In very little time, this family has emerged from a situation of drudgery and tenuous survival, to one of prosperity and new choices.

Ordinary Sri Lankans keep striving to make their children’s lives happier and freer. Their efforts are fruitful regardless of what developments happen to be grabbing headlines. Let us just hope that many, many more stories like this can proceed unimpeded in a climate of greater peace.

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