Charities Thriving Despite Difficult Pasts: Shakti

Thriving Despite Difficult Pasts: Shakti

2020 Sep 3

“The name Shakti was given by my dear sister who said “I can imagine people carrying your bags and saying ‘This is a Shakti Bag!’ and that has been the brand name ever since. The term Shakti means power, specifically, feminine power  in Sanskrit and that really does describe the strong and hardworking women of Shakti” 

When Nimi Amarasuriya and her friend, Sawako, started their journey in patchwork and quilting, they had no idea that it would help uplift the lives of many women. 

While teaching a small group of her multi-ethnic friends sewing skills, focusing mainly on quality workmanship, they shared stories and ideas along the way that brought many rich and diverse dimensions to their projects. They then decided to take their skills abroad to help underprivileged women. 

And so Shakti was born. Meaning ‘Strength’ in Sinhala, the organisation stands true to its name, empowering women by teaching them sewing skills and helping them generate their own means of income. They make a variety of products such as bags, pouches, pencil cases, trays, brooches, cards and even wine bottle covers! 

“It came as no surprise to us when Sawako expressed that she wanted to travel and impart her skills to a group of women with the purpose of helping them to uplift their lives”, shared Nimi.

“I asked her to consider Sri Lanka and offered to join her in her venture. My husband kindly offered to provide all manner of ‘back-up’ and assistance. I felt that my Sri Lankan heritage, local language skills and my social work background combined with Sawako’s teaching skills should surely be beneficial. Thus began a journey of two friends to Sri Lanka, which eventually led to the beginnings of Shakti – as we know it today”. 

However, challenges arose when they were trying to identify a group of women to help. 

“Our out-of-Colombo search took us to Ahungalla where an extremely kind and supportive General Manager of a hotel helped source a group of interested ladies through the human resources department of the hotel, and also provided us with a hotel venue to hold our workshops”.

“Although ladies are interested, they may already have a rather satisfactory means of an income. So it was wiser to reach out to those who were currently unable to find employment. And even though we came across those who have lost their husbands and were the breadwinners of the family, they were not interested in what we had to offer”. 

Not having a permanent venue also proved to be a problem.

“It was not viable to carry all our sewing paraphernalia and set up camp like gypsies even in a hotel, with sewing machines in tow!” laughed Nimi. “It all worked out when my husband set up the SHA Foundation (Sepala Hemalatha Amarasuriya Foundation) soon after and we went on to rent the premises on Havelock Road for Shakti. The SHA foundation also supports certain health and education-related projects, one of which is the spearheading of teaching spoken English in Sri Lanka through an app called Say Hello”.

At their newly established premises, Nimi and Sawako took on different groups of ladies and taught them their skills. Seven years later, the Shakti ladies are still going strong. 

Three visits to Colombo later, the duo parted ways, when Sawako had to travel to Japan to visit her mother who was taken ill. 

“I had to make up my mind to carry on, without her. One very real challenge at Shakti is keeping the women motivated to stay long enough to reap benefits for themselves from Shakti. We have seen women come and go for various reasons and we do hope that we have helped them to some degree”.

“To keep them motivated, we pay for attendance for all classes, for their transport, and provide a good lunch. Besides this, truly listening to each lady’s stories, treating them as people with lives, families, problems, aspirations and dreams is all part of running Shakti and I try to adopt this type of culture as I believe this goes a long way to motivate the ladies by making them feel that they are cared for,  leading them to believe in themselves and their capabilities”. 

While Shakti offers a unique and diverse range of products, their sales have taken a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Purchasing gifts and masks from the organisation could help a hardworking, passionate individual keep their job. 

One such tale is that of Yasodha, who was paralysed after a lumbar puncture went wrong. With her determined spirit and the help of Shakti, she went on to build a thriving women’s wear brand Charade Teenwear, designing and selling trendy pieces for teenage girls. Unfortunate news knocked on Yasodha’s door once again when COVID-19 hit. But she is determined to make ends meet.

“A Shakti gift is also a unique gift because each item is produced in very limited quantities, where prints and colour combinations are concerned. A well-selected gift item represents a socially conscious, one of a kind gift, good enough to even be presented to friends and family overseas”. 

If you wish to make a purchase, contact:

Head Office: 0114607500

Outlet: 0117276592

11, Havelock Road, Colombo 05, Sri Lanka

To help Yashodha rebuild her business, visit her Instagram or Facebook page.