Mary Matline Smiles Again!

The northern province of Sri Lanka has gone through some tough times. Between 1980 to 2009, a civil war left over 60,000 people dead, 20,000 missing and 300,000 without homes. The province suffered another setback in 2004 when the Indian ocean struck and displaced over 5000 families.

While hundreds and thousands struggled to recover from the tsunami disaster, it was only after the war ended in 2009 that communities could really reorganise their lives and regain a sense of normaility.

Mary Matline, a mother of three, was one of the survivors. During the war, she was displaced from her village and had to take refuge in Vavuniya town with her family. During a cease-fire, she travelled to Manalkadu, a coastal village situated in resource rich Jaffna district, where she lives today.

The majority of Manalkadu residents are involved in fisheries, crop cultivation and livestock farming. Due to water shortages and limited household income, these livelihood activities cannot be carried out on a large scale. Unregulated and uncontrolled activities such as sand mining, cutting of casuarina and mangrove forests, and illegal fishing are also symptoms of insufficient and unstable income generation options.

Through an MFF funded project, local NGO Aruthal Sri Lanka introduced alternate livelihood options to 71 selected families, targeting the most disadvantaged families with irregular incomes.

Mary (second from the left) sitting with other community members at a session that aims to raise awareness about climate change

In 2015, Mary’shusband, the main breadwinner of the family, fell ill after an accident and could no longer work.To contribute to the household income, Mary prepared food for fishermen in the area. Initially, Mary sold madevadai and vaipan (types of banana bread), but the income this generated was not enough to cover household needs. Even though Mary was determined to expand her business, she had no one to support her. This changed when she was selected to participate in the project.

With the assistance of MFF, Mary was able to prepare meals for villagers at a larger scale. At first, Mary’s husband and son were not supportive of her new business, but she was able to convince her family about the benefits of having a steady source of income. Today, Mary’s husband is actively engaged in helping her prepare the food, clean, and do other domestic chores at home. Depending on the amount of orders, they prepare and sell their food at different times of the day.

Mary is now the owner of a successful and thriving business. "I am so lucky. MFF gave me this opportunity, so I will not give up this business at any cost," said Mary proudly.

Mary being interviewed by the MFF MLE team

With a regular income of over US $100 per month, which is US $60 more than what she used to make before the project, and with the support of her family, Mary can now afford medicines for her husband and tutoring for her youngest child.

With money saved from the business and land received from the government housing scheme to build a new house, Mary and her family feel empowered to expand and sustain the business into the future. She says, “My husband and I are not depending on anyone, this business makes us hopeful about our futures.”

This story was contributed by Damith Chandrasekara, MFF National Coordinator for Sri Lanka. Damith drafted the piece following the IUCN Asia Strategic Communications for Conservation Workshop in Bangkok, Thailand, which took place in July.

Mangroves for the Future (MFF) is a partnership-based regional initiative which promotes investment in coastal ecosystem conservation for sustainable development. MFF focuses on the role that healthy, well-managed coastal ecosystems play in building the resilience of ecosystem-dependent coastal communities in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam. The initiative uses mangroves as a flagship ecosystem, but MFF is inclusive of all types of coastal ecosystem, such as coral reefs, estuaries, lagoons, sandy beaches, sea grasses and wetlands. MFF is co-chaired by IUCN and UNDP, and is funded by Danida, Norad, and Sida and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Thailand.

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