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From Silence to Supported – the journey of a hearing-impaired entrepreneur

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A chance encounter with a stranger during a doctor’s appointment when he was three years old changed the course of Isuru Lakhshan Weerasooriya’s life for the better. Isuru was diagnosed with a hearing impairment after his mother, Pathma Kumari, noticed anomalies in his behaviour. Isuru was spotted by a staff member of Women’s Development Centre (WDC) who knew he needed a different kind of support, which WDC could provide.

WDC empowers women, children, youth, persons with disabilities and other marginalised groups and offers therapy, formal sign language classes and other personalized treatment through its Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) programme. This includes home-based therapeutic intervention offered through 11 centres in the Kandy District. Under this programme, Isuru, a fast learner, was ready to be integrated into a special school for the hearing impaired by the age of five.

“I joined WDC when I was very young, and I learned sign language. I made new friends. It was a chance for me to develop my social skills,” Isuru says.

His mother added, “WDC supported us and helped us enrol Isuru in a special school where he studied until O/L. He then attended a state owned special vocational training school, where he trained in crafting leather products.”

Isuru began making and selling leather products such as drums, key tags and his mother enrolled them both in a shoe-making workshop. They took part in a shoe-making workshop led by Mr. M.K.G. Saman Leelarathne, a leather product consultant from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. The training focused on designing and creating shoes without using moulds, which is a method used by only a few shoe manufacturers in Sri Lanka and was held at one of WDC’s rehabilitation centres.

The workshop was one of many initiatives funded by RYTHM Foundation, the social impact arm of the Hong Kong headquartered QI Group of Companies, in collaboration with WDC as a capacity building programme for the community trainers, teachers, parents and people with disabilities. The Foundation aims to empower lives and transform communities around the world through strategic partnerships and human development programmes that equip communities to build sustainable livelihoods.

Six months after taking part in the shoe making workshop, Isuru produced and sold several pairs of shoes and sandals. Isuru and his mother are grateful for the opportunity that helps them earn a livelihood.

RYTHM Foundation has been working closely with WDC on creating awareness for disability rights, prevention, early intervention, and rehabilitation for persons with disabilities to ensure them opportunities to lead fulfilled lives.

“I believe my son can live a life with dignity because of WDC and we truly appreciate their contribution to my son’s development” said Pathma.



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Tea industry targets USD 1.2 bn export turnover in 2023

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Sri Lanka will earn around USD 1.2 billion from tea exports for 2023 exporting around 260 million Kg, said Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Board, (SLTB) Niraj de Mel, last week.

SLTB is forecasting a modest growth for 2023 in comparison to the current year estimating an increased production of 290 million Kgs with export revenues expected to increase to USD 1.4 billion. Due to the depreciation of the rupee against the dollar, during the first half of the year and a shortage of tea, sales caught up and auction prices increased sharply from March 2022. Despite fuel shortages and logistic issues, the Regional Plantation Companies and smallholders have been able to continue the harvesting of green leaf throughout the year. When compared to 2020 and 2021 volumes, the Green Leaf price to smallholders has increased exponentially from July 2022 onwards.

“The tea smallholder who used to get around Rs. 90 per kg three years ago is now getting around Rs. 250 per kg and some estates have paid nearly Rs. 1,000 per kg. He said that though the glyphosate fertiliser ban is lifted planters should not use it heavily as a ‘global ban of glyphosate’ is imminent for the tea industry. Some countries like Taiwan already reject tea grown with the use of glyphosate.” He recalled that tea production reached an all time high with a record of 340 million Kgs in 2013. “After short increases during the period 2017 to 2019, tea production recorded a decrease in 2020, mainly due to the fallout from the pandemic and now we are taking several steps to increase production.”

The Tea board is offering a host of financial grants and loans to the tea growers, factories as well as for exporters. “These include subsidies for replanting, fertiliser for growers, special grants and loans for factories to upgrade their machinery and soft loans for exporters for packaging. These facilities exceed Rs. 4 billion per year.”

Tea Commissioner E. Edirisinghe said that they would also provide Rs. I million for tea factory expansion which comes as a grant. “In addition, we pay 3% of the capital when factories install solar,” he said.

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UTECH Technologies recognised at Sahasak Nimavum Innovation Awards

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UTECH Technologies (Pvt) Limited, Sri Lanka’s leading Industry 4.0 transformation solutions provider won the most prestigious innovation award, the DASIS award at the Sahasak Nimavum National Innovation Awards held recently. The DASIS Award is judged across all competing categories and only awarded to the innovation that shows novelty in technology and has been commercialized successfully. This award is judged by a learned panel of national and international judges including academia and industry experts. UTECH also won overall gold for best commercialized ICT innovation. UTECH has won many national and international awards, including the overall gold for “IoT technology of the year” at the Asia Pacific ICT Awards (APICTA) in 2021.

UTECH’s Managing Director, Riyad Ismail said, “Having many Sri Lankan industrial conglomerates as our clients, we have started exporting our hardware and software solutions to world markets.”

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David Pieris Group imparts three-wheeler mechanic skills to 20 women in Jaffna

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Producing skilled female labour and encouraging active participation of women in the economy of the Nation, the David Pieris Group successfully concluded another mechanical training programme in Jaffna recently.

The women who completed the programme titled ‘Empowering Women Through Technical Training’ received a NVQ (National Vocational Qualifications) Level 01 certificate and comprehensive 02 tool kits at the awards ceremony held at the North Gate Hotel, Jaffna on the 09th November 2022. 20 women from the Northern Province including the Jaffna, Mannar, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya Districts participated in this programme.

This programme, was initiated by the David Pieris Group in association with the Sri Lanka Women’s Bureau under the Ministry of Women, Child Affairs and Social Empowerment in 2017 and is the first and only mechanic based technical Programme exclusively targeting women.

Speaking at the ceremony Samantha Silva, Chief Marketing Officer, David Pieris Motor Company (Pvt.) Ltd said; “This initiative will provide the technical training required to attend to any type of repair related to three-wheelers with the ultimate goal of creating trained, certified women mechanics, especially in the Northern Province which has an increased percentage of women led families and communities post three decades of civil war.”

The candidates for the programme were selected in collaboration with the DPMC Dealer network in the Northern Province. Upon completing the theory segment of the technical training, the candidates had the opportunity of attending to practical repair work at DPMC service dealers in their respective areas in order to gain necessary and valuable hands- on experience. At the conclusion of the programme subject to a final assessment, they were certified as mechanics.

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