Empowered by embroidery: a success story

In Eastern Sri Lanka, Oxfam and local partner Sarvodaya established 60 village livelihood groups to help hundreds of women start profitable activities. It was through one of these groups that Jeevagolin received training that led her to establish a sucessful sari embroidery business.


Jeevagolini is from the Ampara district in Eastern Sri Lanka. Her father had passed away and her family was poor. The situation worsened after a tsunami hit in 2004, destroying many communities. But Jeevagolini’s story doesn’t end there. By age 24, she became a successful entrepreneur, and her sari embroidery business brought positive change to her family and her community.

Her fortunes began to shift after she joined the ‘Madonna Self-Help Group’ formed by Oxfam and local partner Sarvodaya. It was one of 60 village livelihood groups established to help hundreds of women start profitable activities through the 2007-2010 Ampara Integrated Rehabilitation and Development Program.

Jeevagolini attended several training sessions over six months and received a loan of $120 to launch her own small enterprise. “I started a business in block printed saris."

It wasn’t long before she realized demand was too low. Jeevagolini began to do embroidery work instead -- a very smart business move. “People come to my house to buy my attractive party-wear saris,” she said proudly. “It’s easy to sell them.”

After repaying the loan, Jeevagolini got a second one and increased her income – a move that she says allowed her to find her life partner. As a poor young woman without a father, her marriage prospects appeared low. The income from her trade replaced the need for a dowry.  “It also gave me a chance to showcase my skills and artistic talent in embroidery.”

Even before the tsunami, Amapara residents faced limited access to farmland and markets, few jobs and weak government services. Women were affected by inequality and isolation. The Ampara Integrated Rehabilitation and Development Program strengthened communities in the district by improving farming techniques and helping women start their own small businesses. Local organizations were strengthened and formed self-help groups to help participants with loans, skills development, and emotional support.

By empowering them with new knowledge and confidence, the program helped women like Jeevagolini bring positive change to their lives and homes, and become leaders in their communities.

“I save my income in the bank and use the income received from my husband’s farming activities for our household expenses,” Jeevagolini said. “Before, our relatives never visited us but they are visiting now.” With a big smile, she added: “My future plan is to open up a shop using my income and employ other women to do sari embroidery work."

Thanks to Jeevagolini for telling the story of how her life improved as a result of support from Oxfam Canada, the Canadian International Development Agency and Sri Lankan partner Sarvodaya during the 2007-2010  Ampara Integrated Rehabilitation and Development Program.


To support more programs like this, please donate to Oxfam Canada.