The story of Dayangani Rajapaksha
A mother of three in Sri Lanka describes how a new TeleFood project offers her family a way to stabilize its income and cope with medical expenses.
My name is Dayangani Rajapaksha. I'm 40 years old and live with my family near Dunumala Village in Central Province, where we raise betel. The price of betel goes up and down depending on the weather. And it is prone to disease. A few years ago we lost our entire crop. So I earn extra money sewing at night. Here I am with the old Singer sewing machine I inherited from my mother, which I will pass on to my own daughter. [All Photos:©Geert van Kesteren/Magnum Photos for FAO]
This is my family. My daughter Pabasara and my son Tharindu are standing next to me. Behind me is my husband, Nimal, with our youngest daughter, Minimythu in his arms.
We are standing in our banana grove. Behind us is where we grow betel. During the wet season we earn 200-250 rupees (US$2-4) for every thousand leaves we sell. During the dry season that can almost double. But if we lose our crop to disease, we make nothing.
Our TeleFood project
Here you see me going down to our new chicken coop, built with help from FAO's TeleFood programme.TeleFood and a Sri Lankan NGO, the National Campaign Against Hunger, bought the materials, but the people of our community built the coop. Actually, we built 12 of them, one for each member of the Wiswakantah Women's Society. We formed the society years ago as a way to help each other's families.One day we were talking with the National Campaign about ways to improve our incomes, and they suggested we talk to the FAO office in Colombo about getting help from TeleFood, so we did!
There are 100 chickens inside my coop, although it doesn't seem like it. They are still small. But in five months they will start laying eggs. I plan on producing 70 to 80 eggs a day. Some we will eat ourselves, but most we will sell to neighbours and food shops for six-and-a-half rupees (US$.06) an egg.
Our friends at the National Alliance have arranged for a veterinarian to teach us how to care for the chickens. My son Tharindu, watching me here, is learning too.
Cooking with my mother
My mother and father live with us. She is a big help around the house. Here we are preparing lunch. Normally I prepare lunch after getting up in the morning, at the same time that I cook the kids' breakfast, but today is a school holiday, so I got to sleep in a bit. Usually I get up at 4 a.m.
I gather wood for our stove in the morning. The stove and the house are very old. My grandfather built them 60 years ago. It is a good house, but it is old and parts of the walls are falling down and the roof is in bad shape. There are repairs that we have wanted to make for years. Now we are planning to use the extra money from selling eggs to do them.
Usually my children eat lunch at school, some rice and vegetables that I pack for them in the morning. But today the older kids have exams, and the younger ones have a day off.
A lot of this food was grown right here in our own garden. The rest we bought at the food boutique. I spend between 5 000 and 6 000 rupees (around US$50) a month at the boutique, more or less.
Several months ago my father fell down and hurt his back. Since then he hasn't been able to get out of bed much. Here my mother is helping him eat his lunch. His medicines are very expensive. My sisters and I all chip in to pay for them. The income from the eggs will be a big help with that.
Pabasara loves to dance traditional Sri Lankan dances and is very good at it. She has even performed in national level competitions! I want her to be able to continue her dancing. She's wearing a dress I made myself.
Pasabara says that when she grows up she wants to be a doctor.I am very proud of her.
Working for the future
Of course I am proud of all my children. Here I am working with Tharindu on his homework. His favourite subject is math.
Every night after dinner the kids do their schoolwork. They are good students. I hope to use some of the extra income from our TeleFood project to pay for extra tutoring for them, so they can further their education.I think their future looks very bright.
A community of friends
By working together through our Women's Society, my friends and I have helped bring people in our community together. We feel very united, and everybody in our neighbourhood is pulling for our TeleFood project to succeed. They say if we can do it, then they can do it too.