Making dreams come true in Kandy

In 2017, Planeterra reached out to the Women’s Development Centre (WDC) in Kandy, Sri Lanka. WDC has been working to empower women in Sri Lanka since 1986, and Planeterra’s aim was to partner with the centre in order to further develop the project and create a tourism experience that would give back to women in the community. The centre runs a number of programs that combat violence against women and empower them as equal members of society, and one such project is Sthree, a handicraft shop for female entrepreneurs.

Sashi, the Director/CEO of WDC, was apprehensive when Planeterra’s Program Manager, Rhea Simms, first contacted the centre. Many times, Sashi had been approached for partnerships and very few had actually come to fruition, but this time things were different. Upon hearing Sashi’s story about the dream cafe they hoped to build in a back room of their handicraft shop, Planeterra was compelled to help deliver that dream.

So, Rhea headed to Kandy to meet Sashi and to take a look at the vacant space where Sthree was housed, part of which hadn’t been used in 15 years due to lack of funds for renovation. “This is all I have to offer,” explained Sashi, “What can you do?”

With a $30,000 grant from Planeterra and just a few months of renovations, Sthree Craft Shop and Cafe was transformed to include a full kitchen space, dining area and handicraft store. Best of all, in a few short months, daily customers started to stop by. Sthree Craft Shop and Cafe provides a space where female entrepreneurs can show off their skills and gain economic empowerment, in a city where women lack such avenues. The newly renovated premises also allow Sthree to harness the power of the travel industry by offering visitors an authentic Sri Lankan dining experience, helping to further the empowerment of women in Kandy.

“The challenge that women here face is the lack of opportunity,” explains Sashi, “They are very talented women and Sthree gives them the platform to exhibit their skills.” When women are given the opportunity to earn their own income, they are able to make their own decisions and invest in education and business. Thanks to Sthree, more than 80 active artisans are now able to earn an income and take control of their own destiny.

Not only that, but within the first year, Sthree was able to employ 13 people in the cafe and craft shop, including women and mothers of children with special needs. Before their partnership with Planeterra, Sthree’s craft shop would make $25 US dollars on a good day, and most days they made no sales at all. Now, after just one year of being open, their income per day has reached more than $400 US dollars, and Sashi marvelled at their progress.

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