Business Of Survival
Fighting For Their Stolen Land, Panama Women Take A Determined Stand
Villagers in Sri Lanka’s Panama area say the military took their land. They want it back. But until then they are determined to do the best business possible.
Their lands, say the villagers of Panampattuwa, have been stolen. “But nobody can steal our determination. Until we get our lands back we will carry on living like this,” says one of the local women here.
The lands they are talking about are located at the southernmost edge of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province. The area is beautiful, fertile and with great coastline that attracts many tourists. But much of the land on which locals lived before was taken from them by the Sri Lankan military shortly after the end of the civil war. Since then they have continued trying to get it back, saying it was confiscated illegally. The villagers say they have been harassed by assailants, who have driven them away when they try to reclaim the land, by setting fire to buildings and chasing them out with threats. The military has fenced off much of the land too.
Still, the locals from five affected villages – an estimated 350 families’ land was taken – are determined to carry on living here. Around 36 families who used to live in Raigam Wala village are resident in temporary housing, with ropes to mark out their neighbourly boundaries. The crops in this area are a demonstration of the determination of the local women, who grow peanuts, maize, chillies, and other vegetables to sell.
“We received a good income from these crops, last year,” says local woman, E. Thilakawathie, 53, happily.
“We didn’t get our land back though,” complains Sudunilame Peresan Kumari, 61. “If we had it, well, you should see our harvest then,” she boasts.
Other locals have started working in the tourism industry, one of Sri Lanka’s main economic sectors.
“We can do this job while we are staying at home,” says G. N. Priyadarshika, who runs the two-room homestay, Panama Green House, which she plans to expand this year. “Guests come and stay, and they should be satisfied and trust us. They should want to return again, which facilitates good word of mouth about the lodgings,” she says, savvy to the business.
Several organisations have helped train the local women, letting them know how best to deal with tourists and what kinds of services foreigners expect when they come to stay in Panama.
“We don’t have permanent jobs and what we do, doesn’t make us a big income. So, we decided that because we have some small rooms in our house we could start this,” adds Iresha Ayeshani, who has been running a homestay here for about two years now.
All the Panama women here have high hopes for the future. They want tourists to enjoy the beauty of their homeland and one day, they really hope to return to their own lands and show their guests even more of that beauty.