Lankan post-tsunami resilience showcased in London
UNITED KINGDOM: Small to medium-scale entrepreneurs affected by the
Boxing-Day tsunami have been telling a story of great resilience at the
'Serendib' trade exhibition being held at London's New Connaught Rooms
from June 21 and 23.
Six businesses showcasing products ranging from silks to paintings
and ceramics to fashion jewellery were at the exhibition, which aims at
showcasing the multiplicity of Sri Lankan products available for export.
"I lost everything, my workshop, my sales center when the tsunami
came. The women who have been working for me lost everything too. But it
was nothing compared to the human loss we suffered," said M.B. Priyani,
proprietor of Thilini Lace, who has been able to rebuild her business
with the help of a number of organisations including the Federation of
Chambers of Commerce in Sri Lanka (FCCSL) and its partnering chambers.
The FCCSL has been helping those affected by the tsunami to rebuild
micro, small and medium scale enterprises through a private sector
initiative called Back-to-Business.
The Back-to-Business project is responsible for sponsoring a number
of tsunami-affected stalls at the 'Serendib' trade fair, which aims to
promote Sri Lanka as a reliable and dependable trade partner.
Priyani's lace-making business was completely destroyed by the
tidal-waves that killed over 30,000 people in Sri Lanka. But within a
year she was able to rebuild her business and start exports to Denmark
"This is not a journey I came alone. I took families from my village
and other villages on this journey," said Priyani, who has worked for
over 20 years in the trade to preserve a dying industry by encouraging
housewives from Matara, Mirissa and Weligama to produce these
traditional lace products.
Beeralu or lace-making, a cottage industry found in the
Southern-coast of Sri Lanka, is a craft introduced by the Portuguese.
Although the industry rose to legend proportions in the early 1900s, it
is now being practised only by a handful of traditional lace makers.
The mother-of-five started the venture when she found herself
unemployed on finishing her schooling.
"It seemed natural to give a trade-value to a craft that has been in
the family for generations," said Ms Priyani, whose business was built
on loans taken by her government-servant husband over the years and on
the strength of her own designs.
Most of her products - table mats, table covers, lace frills for
sleeves and necklines, lace belts, wristbands, shirts, ladies dresses,
bed covers and cushion covers - contain designs created by her over the
The recipient of many trade awards, including the Best Woman
Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Ms Priyani is training young women in
her district in the art of beeralu-weaving with the help of Hong Kong &
Shanghai Banking Company (HSBC).
"There are 18 women who directly work under me and I send work to
housewives who are trained in the craft. I am also training new people
every three months," said Ms Priyani, who recently won the Rising from
Disaster Entrepreneur Provincial and National awards in addition to a
gold medal as Woman Entrepreneur of the Year at the Tsunami Business
Turnaround awards ceremony.
A timer at an international export exhibition, Ms Priyani hopes to
attract a few foreign orders to supplement the income she generates by
supplying products to local buyers like Barefoot, Lanka Hands, Tamarind
Tree House and Craft Link.
"The traditional designs and weaving is attractive to foreigners. It
has a good international market. But we haven't been able to penetrate
it yet. I am hoping that doors will open following this event," said the
Ms Priyani presented Stephen Timms, UK's Chief Secretary to the
Treasury, who visited her stall with a lace tablecloth.