EIGHT WOMEN, MOTORCYCLE REPAIR, AND THE FUTURE OF SRI LANKA

 

EIGHT WOMEN, MOTORCYCLE REPAIR, AND THE FUTURE OF SRI LANKA

In Sri Lanka, the island nation to the south of India, war has been a near constant in the lives of youth under the age of twenty-five. Raised in perpetual fear and with limited opportunity many in Sri Lanka struggled to find moments of solace amidst the perpetual fear and violence. In May of 2009 the war that claimed the lives of so many was declared over.

As I traveled through the region I encountered unconscionable horrors, stories of unimaginable suffering from both sides of the conflict, and symbols of what was lost: the youth sacrificed over the course of two-generations of perpetual war. As I walked through bombed out houses I saw the red dress of a girl that could have been no more than 4, strewn amidst the rubble of a home struck by mortar fire.

As I walked further I also saw the resilience of the Sri Lankan people everywhere. Emerging from the rubble was a renewed sense of possibility. In a village which was once besieged by conflict I came upon the extraordinary, a group of young-women training in motorcycle repair.

Where women were once relegated to the home or spent their days preparing the daily catch in an economy still dominated by the timelessness of a coastal fishing village, eight women were embarking on a year-long course and a dream: to own their own motorcycle repair shop.

Equally startling was the fact that these women did not see or profess anything extraordinary about what they were doing; I did not get any altruistic sentiment, just the modesty and resilience so endemic to the culture. Yet having lived in the country for nearly two years I couldn't help but marvel at their endeavor. In all my time here, a motorcycle owner myself, I had never come across a single woman working in a repair shop let alone eight entrepreneurs with a collective vision.

While this is a country that elected the first female prime minister on the 20th of July 1960, nearly 50 years later women still have a far way to go to being equally represented in the private sector.

Perhaps most striking was the genius of their endeavor, aside from fishing and farming there is little economic opportunity in this region, especially for young women. Yet considering the exorbitant and perpetually fluctuating fuel costs, together with the fuel efficiency and price-point motorcycles afford, they are ubiquitous in this part of the world and as many bikes are second or third hand there is no shortage of demand for repair.

As I lived in Sri Lanka I grew accustomed to the traditional female attire, the saris and salwar kameez dominate this region. Which made it all the more startling to see witness the stark contrast of pigtailed teens in blue coveralls and yellow hard-hats wielding power tools and speaking of their dreams for their future. These were not professed revolutionaries, but rather humble young women dreaming of providing a life for their families far beyond what is possible through any other accessible means. I learned that a successful motorcycle repair salary can yield more than ten times the amount of money raised though farming.

Equally striking was the estimate for start-up costs. I was told a shop could be built from the ground up for about $10,000 U.S. dollars, a figure far beyond the reach of these young women, but one I felt confident could be raised by sharing their story.

Therein I found the meeting between their dream and mine. While these eight young-women simply wanted to provide a better life for their family, I yearned for the sense of purpose helping them achieve their goals would bring.

By no means do I presume that creating a micro-loan to enable these women to reach their goals will heal the wounds of generations of war, but in my year of traveling around the world I could think of few more worthy recipients of funding than these young woman.

Help them build a future for their families, and create a symbol for a generation that has known nothing but war.

If everyone in my network gave ten dollars, we could walk away knowing that the impact of our contribution enabled hard-working women to realize their dreams in a region with few opportunities, and in so doing would provide a hand up to hard-working and humble visionaries who have asked for nothing and worked against all odds to execute the extraordinary; a life of promise for their families beyond the shadows of war.

To see the impact investing in young women can bring visit: www.girleffect.org

Copyright 2008-2009 Michael Trainer