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Eu tive que concordar com o preço que ele deu, não tive escolha

1 Dezembro 2017

Ele foi aprisionado ao trabalho escravo no setor de pesca do Sri Lanka, mas Weyanathabaln agora está livre, graças a um projeto da OIT.

©lisakristine.com

Kristin Weyanathabaln has another day of struggle ahead on her fishing boat off the northern coast of Sri Lanka. But, he smiles as he recounts how he managed to free himself from the fetters of slave labor.

“Now I’m free of debt,” says the 48-year-old fisherman.

Weyanathabaln only started fishing in 2010, a year after the end of Sri Lanka’s nearly 26-year civil war that cost countless lives and livelihoods. He had high hopes, but he had no money. So he had to borrow 100,000 rupees ($ 650) from a loan sharks to buy a fishing net. The interest rate charged was astonishing 300 percent.

Like many other fishermen in the Kilinochchi district, he quickly fell into the trap of debt bondage. He was forced to sell all his produce to the same moneylender as a form of payment. As the fishing is seasonal he had to borrow even more money for the same person during the low season. “I had to agree on the price he set. I know it was lower than the market price, but I had no choice,” says Weyanathabaln. With what he earned, he could barely keep his wife and five children.

Weyanathabaln with his wife and one of his sons

His life changed after the International Labor Organization (ILO), actively involved in postwar rehabilitation, intervened through the Local Empowerment Through Economic Development (LEED) project.

The project provided funding and support to fishing cooperatives, which now help fishermen repay their loans, open bank accounts and manage household finances. Cooperatives also buy and market members’ fish production. With the end of the middleman, fishermen are now getting almost double what they used to earn. Each fisherman must put a portion of the income into a savings account, while a portion of the money is reinvested to fund community activities.

Weyanathabaln finally managed to free himself from slavery.

Weyanathabaln is now on loan.

“I have my own boat, I bought with the profit I got from fishing, and I started saving, which I had never done before,” says Weyanathabaln.

The project also provided training and guidance to the Poonakary Fishermen Cooperative Societies’ Union (FCSU) in the Kilinochchi district, which now conducts training and provides guidance services to cooperatives in other districts. The FCSU represents some 2,000 fishermen organized in 14 cooperatives.

Launched in 2011, with the support of the Australian Government, LEED aims to help rebuild the livelihoods destroyed by the civil war.