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Fighting poverty in Munnakkaraya Community-based organisation in Negombo wins global award

30 November 2013 08:49 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The Mun­nak­kar­aya Co­op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety in Ne­gom­bo has been se­lec­ted to re­ceive this year’s Help for Self-Help glob­al award, be­com­ing the first Sri Lan­kan or­gan­i­sa­tion to win such rec­og­ni­tion.

The award is giv­en ev­ery year by the Strømme Foun­da­tion of Nor­way to in­di­vid­u­als or or­gan­i­sa­tions that show­case a proj­ect that suc­ceeds in fight­ing pov­er­ty.
It was pre­sen­ted in an awards cer­e­mo­ny in the town of Kris­tian­sand, Nor­way, on 28 No­vem­ber 2013. Two peo­ple from the fish­er com­mun­i­ty  rep­re­sen­ted the co­op­er­a­tive so­ci­ety at this awards cer­e­mo­ny.

In their award ci­ta­tion, the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee says: “Mun­nak­kar­aya Thrift and Cred­it Co­op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety re­ceiv­ing the award this year rec­og­ni­ses an ex­tra­or­di­na­ry civ­il so­ci­ety group that has em­pow­ered a com­mun­i­ty and lif­ted them out of pov­er­ty.”

The Mun­nak­kar­aya Co­op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety was star­ted in 1985 in Mun­nak­kar­­aya in Ne­gom­bo, a fish­ing vil­lage that is now home to around 8,500 peo­ple. Over the years, it has em­pow­ered and lif­ted them out of dire pov­er­ty. This proj­ect was in­i­ti­ated and fun­ded by Stromme Foun­da­tion and im­ple­men­ted with as­sis­tance from Mary’s Friends of Nor­way.

The in­ter­ven­tions done by proj­ect staff built aware­ness on var­i­ous de­vel­op­ment is­sues af­fect­ing the com­mun­i­ty. Con­tin­ued dis­cus­sions on is­sues built their con­fi­dence and gave them a new voice to ad­dress their is­sues with gov­ern­ment serv­ices and oth­er agen­cies. Above all the peo­ple of Mun­nak­kar­aya learnt how to save and in­vest their mon­ey for their own de­vel­op­ment.

Dur­ing its jour­ney of 27 years, the so­ci­ety has had just two de­fault­ers of loans. It has with­stood var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal changes and eco­nom­ic pres­sures to re­main un­af­fec­ted by cor­rup­tion and mal­prac­tice.

“The se­cret to our suc­cess is hav­ing a clear vi­sion and co­op­er­a­tive ef­fort, self­less con­tri­bu­tion from our com­mit­tee mem­bers and the sheer de­ter­mi­na­tion of our mem­bers to suc­ceed in what­ev­er they as­pire to do,” says Jude de Sil­va the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the co­op­er­a­tive so­ci­ety.

At the heart of the so­ci­ety’s vi­sion lie core val­ues such as hon­es­ty, serv­ant lead­er­ship and faith in re­ceiv­ing their needs. Many tes­ti­mo­nies re­late to uni­ty and sense of shar­ing found in this com­mun­i­ty.

The co­op­er­a­tive so­ci­ety has three branch­es serv­ic­ing the com­mun­i­ty. It is dif­fi­cult to get the men in­volved in bank­ing be­cause they are out fish­ing. So the wom­an head of the house banks with the so­ci­ety, which makes it a pri­or­i­ty to serve the par­tic­u­lar needs of wom­en. In fact, a large per­cent­age of those liv­ing in ex­treme pov­er­ty across South Asia are wom­en who are of­ten ex­clu­ded from ed­u­ca­tion, the work­place, prop­er­ty own­er­ship and equal par­tic­i­pa­tion in pol­i­tics.

The co­op­er­a­tive so­ci­ety says 95 per cent of all loans are made to wom­en. While they al­so ex­tend loans to men, the or­gan­i­sa­tion be­lieves that the great­est op­por­tu­ni­ty for in­ter­rupt­ing cy­cles of ex­treme pov­er­ty comes from mi­cro­fi­nance pro­grammes that tar­get wom­en en­tre­pre­neurs.

“When wom­en im­prove their cir­cum­stan­ces, they al­so im­prove the lives of their chil­dren and fam­i­lies. By in­vest­ing in nu­tri­tion and ed­u­ca­tion, they help to cre­ate a bet­ter fu­ture for their chil­dren and their com­mun­i­ties,” says Ran­ma­li Fer­nan­do Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee mem­ber of the so­ci­ety.





Hard times
The peo­ple of Mun­nak­kar­aya have come a long way in 27 years, with the co­op­er­a­tive so­ci­ety trans­form­ing their lives. “Their suc­cess teach­es us an im­por­tant les­son: if we place our trust in peo­ple and teach them how to over­come their dif­fi­cul­ties they will climb out of pov­er­ty” says Ni­mal Mar­ti­nus the found­er of this proj­ect and Strømme Foun­da­tion’s Re­gion­al Di­rec­tor for Asia.

Phys­i­cal­ly con­fined to two is­lets nes­tled on the west­ern coast­line and con­nec­ted by three bridges to the main­land, their vil­lage used to be seg­re­ga­ted from the rest of the com­mun­i­ty of Ne­gom­bo. The men en­gag­ed in deep sea fish­ing and la­goon fish­ing led hard lives. As the fish yields are sea­son­al, they were af­fec­ted by sea­son­al pov­er­ty.

They were not aware of thrift and sav­ing hab­its un­til the late 1980s. They en­joyed their spoils af­ter a hard day’s or week’s work and strug­gled through the rest of the month. They were al­so not serv­iced by any bank. They could not ob­tain any loans be­cause they had no as­sets for col­lat­er­al. They bor­rowed mon­ey from rich trad­ers who charg­ed ex­or­bi­tant rates of in­ter­est.








To­tal trans­for­ma­tion
All that has grad­u­al­ly changed, and so­ci­ety has been the cat­a­lyst. The cred­it co­op­er­a­tive so­ci­ety con­vinced the com­mun­i­ty that the on­ly way of break­ing the vi­cious cy­cle of pov­er­ty was to save reg­u­lar­ly. Over time, more mem­bers joined and their stand­ard of liv­ing im­proved.

Mun­nak­kar­aya now has sev­er­al pre-schools. These are well equip­ped and served by trained teach­ers. There are al­so two lo­cal schools, and the chil­dren can al­so at­tend any oth­er school in Ne­gom­bo. Mu­ham­med Na­seer, the proj­ect co­or­di­na­tor dur­ing its in­i­tial stages says: “The Mun­nak­kar­aya Co­op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety is the se­cret be­hind this dras­tic change in their vil­lage. Over the years, the strength of the co­op­er­a­tive so­ci­ety was brought in­to the fam­i­lies. By em­pow­er­ing their wom­en, as the change agents of fam­i­lies, they were able to ex­pe­ri­ence re­mark­a­ble changes in their lives.”

The Strømme Foun­da­tion pro­vi­ded the peo­ple with an ed­u­ca­tion­al train­ing that set their fam­i­ly de­vel­op­ment goals, equip­ping them with skills and know-how to save and in­vest wise­ly. The co­op­er­a­tive so­ci­ety gave small loans to start or ex­pand fish­ing. Soon they were able to bor­row up to LKR 1.3 mil­lion to buy larg­er fish­ing boats.
Soon, the wom­en star­ted oth­er busi­ness­es us­ing small loans tail­ored for their re­quire­ments. They en­gage in sell­ing home-made dos­ai, idlee, string hop­pers, sweet­meats, ground spices, cloth­ing items and exot­ic plants.

The Strømme Foun­da­tion be­lieves in pro­vid­ing peo­ple with knowl­edge and skills, es­pe­cial­ly the chance to save and ac­cess small loans. Ev­ery year, the char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion awards a de­serv­ing in­di­vid­u­al or or­gan­i­sa­tion the Help for Self Help Award to an out­stand­ing proj­ect or group in the de­vel­op­ing world.  Past win­ners of the Help for Self Help Award in­clude Dr Mu­ham­mad Yu­nus of Ban­gla­desh (who went on to win the No­bel Peace Prize in 2006), Dur­ga Ghi­mire of Nep­al, and Bish­op Par­ide Ta­ban of Su­dan.
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  Comments - 1

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  • Christine S Jesudian Monday, 02 December 2013 08:59 AM

    Thank you Strømme Foun­da­tion


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