Sri Lanka: How a cow can lift hundreds of people's lives

In Sri Lanka, Oxfam support to communities recovering from decades of civil war is helping women make a living from dairy farming, and spurring a revival in the local economy that is set to lift the lives of hundreds of families for good.

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Abir Abdullah/ Oxfam

Sukitha's story

For 30 years, Sukitha's village was on the border of a conflict zone between rebel and government forces. The fighting eventually drove them to seek shelter in a refugee camp. When the conflict ended, they returned home to find farms, houses and roads destroyed, crops ruined and fields overgrown.

Because many men died in the fighting, women have found themselves as the head of almost a quarter of all households. But traditional attitudes to women make it hard for them to borrow money to buy the things they need to start earning a living. So for Sukitha, her mum and four older sisters, getting back on their feet seemed a real uphill struggle - until Oxfam supporters gave them the lift they needed.

One good thing leads to another

Oxfam has helped to set up a number of dairy co-operatives in the area to give local people, particularly women, the chance to make a living by dairy farming. It works like this: a family receives an Oxfam cow. They get training in how to look after it so that it produces lots of milk. The milk provides extra nutrition for their children. And any surplus is sold back to the co-operative. Some of the money they earn goes towards paying back the cost of their cow, and the remainder can help give the family a little lift. And once they've paid for their cow, they're free to take out another small loan to grow their business.This chain reaction has spurred a revival in the local economy and lifted the lives of many families for good.

Along with her sisters, Sukitha works at her local dairy co-op. During the four years she has been there it has grown to over 300 members. Milk from members is pooled and sold on to nearby businesses and schools or used to make a range of dairy products such as ghee, toffee and ice lollies. Profits are reinvested to buy more cows or put into savings schemes to finance future loans.

Sukitha says: "People come to our co-op every day and ask if they can join. People have realised that there are many advantages of being a member.

Investing in women, investing in the future

By encouraging people to combine resources and developing farmers' business skills, the project has enabled women to earn a decent living. This means that they can buy food for their families, send their children to school and improve their social standing in the community - real investments in the future.

Sukitha is ambitious to build on this success and grow the business further: "We want a separate building for making and selling our products. If we can increase the production of milk-based items we can increase the income of the co-op and it can grow. I would like it to have 500 members."

That's a lot of lives lifted.

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