The need to wean war victims away from depending on charity

A Concept Note

Since the end of the war in Sri Lanka assistance to the victims of the war in the North have continued in many forms. Yet the degree to which they have succeeded in the objectives of providing such help, is yet to be measured by competent persons. It is the general opinion that most of the war victims in the North and East of Sri Lanka continue to be destitute. It is felt that many of the war victims have now been afflicted by the dependency syndrome and continue to expect more and more from the diaspora.

When the Northern Provincial Council elections took place recently many of them hoped that the Provincial Council would be able to something meaningful for their betterment. Unfortunately the activities of that Council remain stymied. The legitimate powers of the Provincial Council to get involved in community development could not be used by them for lack of resources.

However, no amount of funds or plans of extraneous bodies or authorities can improve the living conditions of the war victims unless they themselves are made to participate in planning process for their own development. Most of what the funds of the diaspora or their plans do, is what social scientists call the ‘top down process’. This has to be reversed and made into a ‘bottom up process’ . For that to become a reality, there is a need to build up the capacity of the war victims to get involved in the process.

The war has resulted in the dearth of men in the community. Many women have now become heads of households. That is a role that they had not played before. So there is a need to build their capacity to deal with the new problems they have to face. That includes the traditional baby-sitting, house-keeping and the nontraditional task of earning for a living. Capacity building cannot be done when those who need it are scattered. They need to be brought together into convenient groups to do so. That would be a laborious task.

That task would be made easier, if one could get them into groups. Such groups could be found among the community based co-operatives that exist among them. According to statistics available in a website of the Governor of the Northern 2 Province, there are nearly 1350 registered Thrift and Credit Co-operative Societies in their midst. These are societies that had existed before the conflict escalated and displaced the population in the North. Most of them have spontaneously began to function with the re-settlement of the displaced. An informal survey done by the Co-operative Society of Netherlands for Humanitarian Activities has found that there are 30,000 members in these societies, many of whom are women. A considerable number of them are war widows. It was found that these formal groups of war victims can form a good target group to commence capacity building and provide assistance for livelihood activities.

Building up their capacity could be done through training programs for these groups by interested organizations. They could also consider providing financial assistance for the group as a whole by providing funds not to the individuals in the groups but to their societies to be used by their members on the basis of a revolving fund for income generation activities. Soft loans from the revolving funds would help them in a big way to start such activities. Using this method of funding enables many to benefit from the monies received instead of only one individual benefiting from it. This is no occasion to discuss the details of the operation of this system. But what has to be remembered is training of members is one of the principles of the co-operative system that has not received adequate attention. For the success of an assistance given, the beneficiary of a co-operative society and even the society itself has to be sufficiently equipped to make the best use of the funds received. It is for this reason that more and more projects to build up the capacity of the members of these societies through training programmes should be conducted. In the circumstances, charitable organisations should consider stopping grants directly to victims of the war and provide assistance to organized groups such as cooperatives among the war victims for well-considered income generation projects through the revolving funds of such societies. It is only then that we could wean them away from the dependency syndrome. As the saying goes – making someone depend on you is not charity.

Prepared by: Rajani Iqbal