wow... i can't believe sometimes how fast time passes. i was just thinking today that i cannot believe how much has happened in this last year + that i'm just shy of a month away from turning 31. which leads me to at long last to posting the results of an idea that sprung up about a year ago... (for the full back story + low down on that post click here) here's the deal in a nutshell : i had this plan of taking off january from "work" + traveling to india + sri lanka for 30 days to photograph women that owned businesses funded by micro lending. i then asked for $30 from my blog readers + followers to help fund the idea, with the promise of delivering an 8x10 fine art print at the end to my "investors". the response was really amazing + i was completely blown away not just by how many people gave to the cause, but how many people were so excited + supportive of the idea. plans changed slightly as travel to third world countries always needs to stay flexible. i wasn't able to photograph 30 different women, or work with kiva.org, or even photography the ladies in india as i originally planned. instead it turned out that sri lanka had a lot more opportunities for finding good micro lending organizations to work with... i was able to connect with BRAC, a development organization dedicated to alleviating poverty by empowering the poor (specifically women) to bring about change in their own lives.
to qualify for a BRAC micro loan one's got to already have an enterprise in the works… one must be a women, aged 18-65 + must already be netting 15,000 RS/month ($136). the ladies are initially given one year loans, + these must be repaid in full within the year via weekly installments, before being approved for a 2nd or 3rd loans of greater value. they have a 96% successful repayment rate, + approve loans for different businesses such as weaving, farming, fishing, tailoring, brick making etc as long as they serve the community they live in.
my BRAC partners in sri lanka were so hospitable + helpful to my project... they came along side me to help me meet the ladies that use their micro financing for running their own businesses. they helped with translation + answered all my questions thoroughly. i came away with the following collection of images + stories to match them. a full gallery from the trip can be viewed here... but without further ado : here's some amazing + beautiful sinhalese women + just a small caption of their stories + the businesses they run to support their families + communities. (btw, huge thanks to my most amazing travel mate + dear friend chelsea, who visited all these ladies with me + took all the detailed notes!)
mina kairul owns a small samosa shop in Karompitiya town. she runs the business with her husband + has been in business for two years. her first year she got a loan for $182, which she paid back in full, before being approved her 2nd year for another loan of $227. + on a personal note, mina sent us away with a bunch of her samosa's + they were the best tasting ones we had on our whole journey.
fathuma hohora + her husband make woven baskets + bowls for eating rice from palm leaves. they've got 7 children, many of whom help with the weaving + have been in business for 12 years.
we were taken to Seetha Vithanage's home to visit her mushroom farm. i had no idea that what we'd in fact see wasn't "farmlike" as all, + instead was a cool, dark + damp back room in her house that she converted a year + a half ago into what would be her growing + harvesting room. she sells the mushrooms to local shops + restaurants.
fathuma nursa runs an auto body workshop… mostly performing car repairs on auto rickshas (locally known as tuk tuk's) + painting them. after spending 5 years in india looking for better work, she, her husband + 3 sons finally came back home to Thanipolgaha to set up their own business. the boys do a lot of the hands on work, while she handles the paperwork + book keeping.
one thing i knew next to nothing about prior to visiting sri lanka, was that it's one of the world's capitals of mining for semi precious stones. for 12 years now fathuma huisena has been in the jewelry business. she + her husband have a small workshop on the side of their house where they cut + polish raw stones + place them into settings creating beautiful + traditional Sri Lankan gemstone jewelry. their business was severely hurt by the tsunami of 2004, so they turned to BRAC for their first micro loan to help them get back on their feet. they've increased their business 50% every year for the past three.
this lovely lady was a little chicken about having her photo taken, but knows a thing or two about growing them. fathuma sareena has a chicken farm in her back yard + sells both chickens + eggs. she's had her business nearly a year + got her first loan of 20,000RS ($136), which she's currently repaying.
darmaseeli paranarithhna has taken out a loan per year for 5 years + has successfully paid back all of them in full. she's got a business hand sewing mosquito nets (which sell for 750-950 RS ea or $7-$9) + has been in business for 10 years total.
for over 20 years now bindi rifana has sold coconuts, veggies from her garden, + firewood. she's gotten 2 micro loans from BRAC + even helped her daughter set up a tailoring business + get a loan of her own.
nirosha kumuduni runs a fruit + veggie stand in the local market with her husband. of all the stands i saw, they had the nicest looking produce of anyone. the adorable girl pictured is one of nirosha's three children.
i'd lastly like to thank ruwani + subhaghini (both local BRAC branch officers, pictured below) for taking the time to bring us to these ladies, + translate their stories. none of this could have happened without them + their gracious hospitality.
spending time meeting these women was one of the highlights of my trip to Sri Lanka. as a business owner + brand new mom myself, i never fail to be amazed at how strong + graceful women can be balancing the responsibilities of both family life + entrepreneurship. giving to a microlending organization is such an easy way for us more fortunate to make a real difference in someone's life. you even get repaid for what you give! in just over a month I'm turning 31. if these stories or photographs have touched you in any way, I'd love to challenge you to give $31 to kiva or BRAC in order to help some woman across the sea, finance her small business. it's such a small amount for us, + can do so much for someone who has so much less. if you were one that contributed to my small project, you'll be receiving an email soon detailing how you can order your print. my most heartfelt thanks to all that contributed to this. i couldn't have done it alone.