A COMMUNITY REAWAKENS, By Catherine Leech, Sarvodaya Community Tourism Initiative
Monday, 30 January 2006


On Saturday 28th October, at 10am, the Mirissa Women’s Handicrafts Market will open for business, offering visitors the chance to purchase hand-made bags, jewellery, lace, table linen, clothing, traditional Sri Lankan sweets and other authentic local handicrafts, all made by the women of Mirissa’s Sarvodaya Shramadana Society. It will operate every Saturday from 10am to 4pm up to the end of the peak season in April 2007. There is an entry charge of Rs.100/-, including a cultural performance at 11am.

With assistance from an American Masters student, Ms Nancy Tuller, and the Sarvodaya Community Tourism Initiative, the weekly market has been conceived by the Mirissa Sarvodaya Shramadana Society members in a series of community meetings. It is entirely staffed and managed by the members and their elected officers. Any surplus income will be used by the society to benefit its members in ways decided upon by the membership itself.

Just over 3,500 people (approximately 700 families) live in Mirissa. For many years, livelihoods have been dependent on fishing and tourism. The tsunami on 26th December 2004 claimed 9 lives in Mirissa and destroyed or damaged 38 homes. Compared to some villages, these losses may appear relatively low but over 70% of the local population lost their livelihoods – fishing boats and moorings were destroyed, equipment was washed away and tourism was decimated. With its stunning beach and friendly guesthouses and small hotels, Mirissa is especially popular amongst independent travellers from throughout Europe.

The Mirissa Sarvodaya Shramadana Society has over 100 members. It aims to help its members to help themselves in a variety of ways, supported by the resources of the Sarvodaya headquarters and district office. The Mirissa Women’s Handicrafts Market is one such initiative; special thanks are due to Mr Edwin Silva of Calm Rest Guesthouse & Restaurant who has kindly donated the use of the land to host the weekly market and to SarvodayaUSA for seed funding to get the project underway.