Vendor at Tamil Fest in Scarborough can help women escape poverty
Made in Mullaitivu is a vendor selling saris this year at Tamil Fest 2022 on Scarborough’s Markham Road, but to owner Thushy R. Thurairatnam, it’s also a mission to lift fellow Tamils out of poverty.
“It’s our part to do. They’re our sisters and brothers and moms and dads,” he said in an interview this month.
Mullaitivu, a district in Sri Lanka’s northeast, is Thurairatnam’s native place and where he recently returned after spending half his life in Canada.
Mullaitivu is also, he said, where the world knows Sri Lanka’s long civil war against Tamil separatists ended in 2009.
“That was a bloody end. Ever since then, people are struggling to go back to a normal life.”
For many in Mullaitivu, said Thurairatnam, the war’s trauma and devastation, financial hardship and interference by the Sri Lankan government and army made normal life unattainable.
The area, Thurairatnam said, is full of families led by widows, some of whose husbands disappeared during the war and were never found.
He’s been involved with local relief projects but could see Mullaitivu’s female-led families need something more, the financial stability of full-time work at fair wages.
Thurairatnam saw an opportunity after non-governmental organizations provided hand looms to Mullaitivu women and trained them in making saris and other products.
This year, a small manufacturing centre near the town of Mullaitivu started turning raw cotton and rayon threads into unique, high-quality saris as well as pillowcases and bedsheets already in use in local hospitals.
As his public-private partnership with the women expands, Thurairatnam hopes Made in Mullaitivu, bringing at least 150 saris to the festival Aug. 27 and 28, can sell more products, including shirts and cloth for suits.
Thurairatnam arrived in Canada in 1996 — “My dad told me one thing: ‘You may be able to do better for your people if you flee the country,’” he recalled — and started a successful printing business in Scarborough.
But his dream after the war ended was to go back to Sri Lanka, live there and do social development work, he said. “My plan and my heart are already there.”