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A woman entrepreneur's journey to make a difference in her community
“Empowering the Sri Lankan rural economy by promoting and exporting non-traditional plants, fruits, indigenous leaves, medicinal and aromatic plants” is the vision of local business Sehani Desheeya Oushada Pvt Limited. Nearly a decade since its inception it has changed the lives of low-income families in Buttala, Monaragala.
Uva Province is blessed with endemic medicinal plants that are seldom harvested. This is mostly because the villagers do not have a market to sell their yield.
Sehani Desheeya Oushada was born to collect the raw material needed to make 100 percent natural medicinal products and food supplements and sell at the local market. The idea seems ambitious but not far-fetched.
Today over a dozen of products, including moringa powder, gotu kola powder, lemon grass powder and guava leaves powder, are freshly packed at its factory in Buttala and exported or sold in the local market.
Forty-five year old W. M. Duleeka Sumangala who started the business together with her husband A. M. Attanayake said that her main objective was to create employment opportunities for the villagers. Ms. Sumangala and her husband struggled for years before they were able to penetrate into the business that is mostly dominated by key brands.
However, through the years Sehani Desheeya Oushada has gradually developed. At least 30 people are now employed at her factory who can earn a monthly salary between Rs. 30,000 and Rs. 50,000. Most of these employees are single mothers or bread-winners of their families.
Ten campus graduates work with the husband-and-wife duo on a part-time basis to sell their products at markets.
In addition, she purchases raw material from 3000 farmers who also earn over Rs. 30,000 a month. Nearly 80 per cent of them are women who are supporting their families.
“I select the employees and farmers very carefully and mostly these are women who have no other means of supporting their families,” Ms. Sumangala said adding that there is an avenue to create more jobs for the women and also men in her community.
This journey is not a walk in the park. Medium scale businesses such as Sehani Desheeya Oushada needs a helping hand to develop and thrive. With the aid of a European Union funded project Ms. Sumangala was able to get financial assistance to purchase much needed cutting machines, grinding machines, a dryer and several other equipment. Since then, their productivity has increased and also opened up new job opportunities.
Fifty-four years old R. M. Nanda Rathnayake who joined Sehani Desheeya Oushada about months ago said that she was grateful to be able to find work close to her home. Ms. Rathnayake has an ailing husband who cannot work. After finding work she is able to take care of her family without having to leave them to find employment in another province or abroad.
Fifty-one years old S. W. Ramyawathi is the longest working employee at the factory. She has seen how the work created at Sehani Desheeya Oushada has changed the lives of women in her community.
“This business has gone through ups and downs but managed to sustain. It is giving women like me an opportunity to get a decent income by staying close to home. We are very happy here,” she said.