David Holly, High Commissioners of Australia to Sri Lanka and Erika Seymor, First Secretary of the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), met with the Virutsam Mushroom Producer Group in Kiran yesterday during their visit to Batticaloa (East Sri Lanka).
Virutsam Producer Group was supported by the Gender and Disability Inclusive Economic Development Project, also known as iLIVE (inclusive livelihoods), implemented by World Vision Lanka and funded by the DFAT. iLIVE project focused on economic empowerment of the most vulnerable individuals – people with disabilities, women-headed households and those living in extreme poverty. The five-year project provided training and access to income-generating activities in targeted value chains that included mushrooms, groundnuts and manioc. These economic opportunities were paired with community attitude change interventions, savings groups and financial literacy training.
“I can see how the communities have now started utilising mushrooms for their regular consumption, and the mushroom producers are enjoying a sustainable business,” Holly said as he listened to the experiences of the producer group members and learnt about their process of making different mushroom products.
“I’m really happy with all your determination to complete this project successfully,” Holly said, congratulating the World Vision staff, “The interventions you have developed are excellent. I know that the World Vision staff are committed and work to preserve the integrity of the communities. It is amazing to see how sustainable these communities are even during this pandemic situation”.
Virutsam’ is a term used for trees that live long, providing benefits to many. Virutsam Producer Group consists of 23 members that include persons with disability, women-headed households and families living in extreme poverty. The group produces the mushroom powder used for the immunity-boosting mushroom drink as well as other mushroom products. They also work together as a savings group.
“I’m observing here, attitude and behaviour changes among the persons with disabilities and women-headed households. They have stepped out of social barriers and come together to build a sustainable economy. This visit is an awesome experience for me,” Seymor said, interacting with the group.
“We have grown so much in our business, and our team works together throughout every situation, understanding each other,” shared Jesumalar, President of the group, “Your continuous support keeps us motivated to do more as a team. iLIVE Project is completed, but we will continue our work.”
The iLIVE Project was completed last year, reaching a total of 8,195 individuals in Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts (East) and Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu (North). The poorest households experienced an 80% increase in their annual total household income through the project. In addition, 91% of community members now feel comfortable working with people with disabilities, compared to only 26% at the start of the project.