Thriving Despite Difficult Pasts: Hearts and Hands

“I was particularly interested in working with women. I deeply believed that women have much potential and gifts that are still to be discovered. Given the right training and encouragement, I could help some women at least, to discover their own abilities and creativity, with the goal of generating funds for themselves, through producing and selling beautiful handcrafted items, to help supplement the income of their spouses”.  


Boxing Day in 2004 saw thousands of families, local and international, flocking to the warm, sunny beaches of Sri Lanka, making the most out of the Christmas long weekend. 

Their happiness was short-lived. 

A 9.1- magnitude earthquake, one of the largest ever recorded rocked the Indian Ocean, triggering the deadliest tsunami in recorded history, taking with it thousands of lives, dreams and ambitions for the future. 

The survivors were left grieving their lost loved ones and picking up the pieces of their old lives. Many families had no means of income. The tsunami brought chaos with it and left hopelessness and devastation in its wake. 

Thus, Hearts and Hands was born, a project under “Homes of Peace and Shelter”, (HOPeS) a Trust set up in 2003, to help provide homes for the underprivileged. “Hearts and Hands” commenced post-tsunami in 2006, once HOPeS had completed building and furnishing 37 homes for some affected by the tsunami, in Payagala and Kalamulla. 

We spoke to Marianne Johnpillai, a Trustee of Hearts and Hands, who wanted to maintain the connection that she had developed with some of the families they had helped. 

“As I had got quite involved with the families when the building was being done, I felt I had to do something to keep that connection after the homes were handed over. I was keen to continue my association with at least some of the families we had helped. I was particularly interested in working with women,”  Marianne shared. 

Through the help of her friend Jayanthe Rayen, she was introduced to Sue Harrison, who was at that time volunteering at another NGO. Through her creative skills, which she was happy to share with the women, the team envisaged a more holistic approach, making the women aware of work ethics, setting high standards for themselves, time management skills, accountability and a desire to produce items that even they would like to purchase.  

Noticing that most of the families were young and in need of financial support, Marianne and the team focused on equipping them with new skills that would help generate income. 

“Rather than just giving them money, we thought it would be far more beneficial to them to learn new skills that would help generate income for themselves. We use one of the houses we built as the project centre, which means they do not have to incur travel costs, as they all live nearby,” she said. 

“We get them to start work at 10am each weekday, which gives them the opportunity to attend to their children, dropping them off at school, etc. prior to commencing work. We support them financially, in whatever way we could, when there is a medical or any other emergency. The proximity to their homes means that they are able to attend to any urgent matter that may arise in their homes, with ease. In teaching the women life skills in the process of training, we believe that there would be a ripple effect, as they in turn, teach them to their children”. 

However, the journey has not been ebay for Hearts and Hands. Even without regular funding, they have managed to successfully pay the women on time for the hours that they have worked. With a few helping hands along the way, Hearts and Hands has managed to survive over the years. 

“I wish to specially thank Brandix Limited for the donations of sewing machines, work tables, fabrics and other supplies, as well as the many relatives and friends and friends of friends who have given us orders for wedding cards, favours, quilts and bags. The women get truly excited when they get an order and I am ecstatic too, as then there is money coming in for their wages”. 

Marianne admits that changing the mindsets of the women was a challenge. “I soon learnt that I could not just impose my values and principles upon them but had to, very tactfully and patiently, show them the right way. The petty jealousies and silly quarrels and misunderstandings between the women, got in the way at times and valuable time had to be spent resolving it, with diplomacy! I am happy to say that the frequency of such events and drama are very few and far between now”. 

Unfortunately, like most other charities, Hearts and Hands has taken a hit, as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“COVID-19 has brought really challenging times for us at Hearts and Hands, as I am sure to many other charities as well. We are hopeful that this lull will not continue for long. We would love for the women at some point in the future, to take over the running of the project themselves, getting orders, pricing, sourcing resources, dealing with customers, delivery orders, managing funds, etc. They would still need support in obtaining orders though for a while, till customers become more familiar with them and would go to them directly. I do hope that this day does dawn in the near future”. 

Despite a rocky journey, Hearts and Hands remains hopeful and continue to thrive. If you wish to donate, contact [email protected] and 0777778200

The post Thriving Despite Difficult Pasts: Hearts and Hands appeared first on Pulse.

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Author: Anuki Seneviratne
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