Wednesday, February 23, 2011

SANASA: Making a Difference

It is 2:30 am and I’m awake because my mind is full of everything we have seen here in Sri Lanka. I am so impressed by what has been accomplished by CCA and their partners, the SANASA Federation and Development Bank. In the last two days we visited two SANASA primary societies (credit unions) and one District Union. We are currently staying at the SANASA College campus.

The societies greeted us with warmth and appreciation for the Canadian contribution to SANASA and their communities. We saw that loans provided by the societies make a real difference to the standard of living of the members. In addition to offering savings and loans, they obviously put their members first by providing insurance schemes to cover funeral costs, a loan interest-free for 10 months, and an annual get-together for members. They have a pre-school and have recently opened a library as well. They don’t just fund the needs of their members, but they fill the needs of members and their community.

We were late for our next appointment because there was a traffic jam caused by an elephant wandering down the road!

Photo: Elephant blocking the tour bus.
We were privileged to celebrate the opening of the new office of District Union (similar to the Credit Union Centrals back home in Canada). Because of the elephant, the members waited for us in their 3rd floor meeting room in 32 degree weather. The Minister of Labour and Mr. Kiriwandeniya (or Kiri to his friends) where in attendance and made impassioned speeches about the SANASA movement, pride in their accomplishments, community involvement, future plans and Canadian support through CCA. An invitation was extended to our Canadian delegation to take the podium. I was moved to share how impressed we are with SANASA, accomplishing so much with so little and truly making a difference in their communities. I also thanked them for their generous hospitality.

Photo: Dedication plaque.

Our next stop we met the first Chairman of the SANASA movement; a gentleman in his 80’s who is passionate and proud of their achievements. We met with the current Board of Directors and found out they have monthly meeting in which approximately 150 members attend with more coming out to their AGM. One SANASA bank with 762 members had just over 400 members out to their AGM! Can you imagine?

We signed their 30 year old guest book with signatures from people all over the world. We found several Canadians had been at the society before us, including Jim Barr, a strong CDF Champion.

At the entrance of SANASA College (hopefully to become SANASA University in 2012, the United Nations International Year of the Co-operative) we were greeted by seven pillars representing the seven co-operative principles. Here they believe in the co-operative principles and know first-hand how a co-operative can change the future. The college teaches agriculture and farming skills alongside banking and insurance. I noticed the course schedule included “The Role of the Audit Committee” and Human Resources Management. Classrooms included an IT building where we saw 25 IT students being trained in a new banking system, as the SANASA Federation will be undergoing a bank system conversion soon. Finding a learning facility on a mountain-top in the middle of the jungle where banking, farming and IT are just steps apart was amazing and inspirational! The Campus also includes a Women’s College funded by CCA and a pre-school opened in August 2010.

Time to get some sleep. Tomorrow we head back to Colombo for more meetings and a dinner with a visiting delegation of women from India.

By: Nancy Cooper

PS – We squeezed in some “fun” time in Kegalle. We saw a herd of elephants bathing in the river and I actually held a 6 foot long python. My daughter will be so impressed!!

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