Ten Months After Tsunami, Some Sri Lankan CUs Begin To Open

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While attention in the U.S. is focused on the damage from Hurricane Katrina, credit unions in Sri Lanka have begun to re-open 10 months after the tsunami that struck Asia.

In the southern district of Galle, five credit union buildings have been rebuilt with tsunami credit union relief funds from the World Council of Credit Unions' Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions, Inc. (WF). In these villages the new credit union (primary society) buildings appear to be the only official buildings that have been rebuilt in the immediate area, WOCCU reported. Painted bright blue, and furnished with donated equipment, these newly constructed credit unions stood out against the backdrop of lingering debris and devastation that still affects members' lives.

WOCCU reported that present at each opening was Martha Ninichuk, WOCCU technical office and tsunami relief project coordinator; CUNA's Bill Merrick; Dr. Kiriwendinya, chairman of Sri Lanka's Federation of Thrift & Credit Cooperative Societies Ltd. (SANASA), and Cassie Rademaekers, WOCCU program specialist, and a number of district officials.

WOCCU said its team found that most communities had not begun the clearing of debris in earnest in April. Those destroyed primary societies that were located near the shore are prohibited from rebuilding in the same location due to a government decree prohibiting building within the 100 meters from the shore line. In some cases local communities or temples provided land for the new primary society. In other cases new land was purchased, WOCCU said. Credit unions that have now been reconstructed are undertaking the reconstruction of records, replacement of funds that were washed away and the re-initiation of operations.

Members Make First Deposits

"During the opening ceremonies members made their first deposits since the tsunami," Ninichuk said. "The members were unwilling to do so until they could see the new building completed. The new building instills trust and confidence for many members."

WOCCU said the first cluster of primary societies to be rebuilt was selected by criteria including a number of active members, activeness of the board, and strategic location. Each was built based on a pre-approved standard design. Additionally, each operational primary society in the tsunami-affected area received a safe, file cabinet, and teller desk and chairs; managers' salaries were supplemented for a six month period.

A plaque recognizing contributions made by the Worldwide Foundation and the international credit union community is proudly displayed at each site.

In the December 2004 tsunami, hundreds of credit unions all over Sri Lanka were completely destroyed. The goal of the WF-funded tsunami reconstruction plan is not only to rebuild the majority of these societies but to strengthen them as well.

Along this line, SANASA has developed a series of new training programs for managers and boards.

WOCCU said the reconstruction program encourages mergers/consolidation where previously two or three primary societies operated where one would have better scale to support operations and efficiency.

"In the Ampara District 18 primary societies have decided to merge to nine, creating greater sustainability and strengthening the movement within their district," WOCCU said. "The merger of the primary societies was a great accomplishment for both them and SANASA, the national association. The mergers represent the willingness of the community to work together in furthering tsunami recovery efforts."

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