Life After the Tsunami:
Credit Unions Rebuild and Celebrate
Credit union members celebrate the opening of their primary society (credit union) in Sri Lanka.
Madison, WI—After months of hardship it was a
time of celebration in the southern district of
Galle, one of the tsunami-affected districts in
Sri Lanka. After months of organizing, 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. 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
Present at each opening was Martha Ninichuk,
WOCCU technical officer and tsunami relief
project coordinator; Bill Merrick from Credit
Union Magazine; Dr. Kiriwendinya, Chairman of Sri
Lanka's Federation of Thrift & Credit Cooperative
Societies Ltd. (SANASA); Mr. Mangalagama,
national coordinator for tsunami credit union
reconstruction; Cassie Rademaekers, WOCCU program
specialist, and a number of district
Credit union and individual donations made to WOCCU's Worldwide Foundation helped to rebuild this Galle district credit union.
Ninichuk noted, "The recovery of this credit
union system would not have been possible without
the generosity of individuals, credit unions,
leagues and other national credit union systems
around the world." She continued, "In turn these
credit unions are helping members to rebuild
their lives. They provide hope to both members
and the communities they serve."
Most communities had not begun the clearing
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. 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.
Ninichuk noted, "During the opening ceremonies
members made their first deposits since the
tsunami. 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." This first cluster of primary
societies to be rebuilt was selected by criteria
including 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. More than anything these five new
primary societies represent hope and the ability
to move forward.
Hundreds of credit union primary societies all
over Sri Lanka were completely destroyed or
damaged by the tsunami that washed over major
parts of Sri Lanka on December 26th, 2004. 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.
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
credit union movement within their district. 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.
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 56,000 credit unions in 101 countries serve 200 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.