ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday April 13, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 46

Beeralu shirts give life to dying skill

By Tahnee Hopman

The tragedy of December 26, 2004, did not just take away lives. It washed away the livelihoods of scores of people, taking with it all their hopes and dreams. There was much to be done, for all those victimized by the killer waves.

A small community at Mirissa struggled to keep a fast dying art and industry alive- the art of beeralu. Said to have been introduced to Sri Lanka in the 1500’s beeralu has come close to being an obsolete art form. Until now, that is.

The South Asia Partnership-Sri Lanka (SAPSRI), in collaboration with HSBC, has been working tirelessly since the time of the tsunami, towards empowering the Mirissa community and reviving the dying trade. Last week saw the efforts of the Mirissa community take shape in a new brand of men’s Beeralu shirts.

“The thinking behind Beyond Paramparaven was that the potential that the industry had in the market had to be widened,” explained Shiroma Jayawickrama of HSBC. Proving to these women that they could do far more with their creations by including new colours and designs had initially been a daunting task as the women had been averse to the idea of stepping out of the box where their products were concerned.

They had been convinced, however, when an exhibition had been held, showcasing the new and improved products, for which feedback was excellent.“The exhibition was what it took to convince them that, given the required support, their work had a market, and a good one,” added Ms. Jayawickrama. “ It really encouraged them to see that beeralu could be used not only in certain kinds of women’s clothing and in household items, but in men’s wear as well.”

And three years down the line since their work began, 200 families of the Mirissa community have been able to successfully start anew and improve the prospects of their trade.“Our work started as a means of helping these people take their minds off the devastation of the tsunami, as well as change their mindset, encouraging them to try something new,” recalled Ms. Prema Ratnayake, Executive Director of SAPSRI. “We see great potential for the beeralu industry in the future,” enthused Ms. Jayawickrama.

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