• IOM Sri Lanka Communications

Colombo – It was a Monday morning, and Pathmaseli had just sent her 17-year-old son to school and finished up her household chores, ready to leave for work, when it suddenly hit her how far she had come in the past 3 years.

Like anywhere else, the Sri Lankan economy was greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by the economic crisis in 2022, which saw a significant number of migrant workers overseas returning home. At that time, however, the reason for Pathmaseli to come back after 6 years of working in Lebanon was different - she wanted to take care of her 81-year-old mother and teenage son.

As a single mother grappling with family responsibilities, she was on a constant lookout for ways to make an income and, at the same time, be at home. That’s when she heard about the project “Supporting the Socio-economic Reintegration of Repatriated Sri Lankan Migrant Workers in 2022” by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Funded by the Government of Japan and conducted in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Foreign Employment, the initiative was aimed to address unique challenges faced by returnee migrant workers and contribute to the successful reintegration into their communities by providing them with skill development along with various business support.

With the support from the project, Pathmaseli embarked on the journey to establish herself and empower other women. In Niraliyadda, Kurunegala District, a town renowned for coconut husk chips in Sri Lanka, she aspired to establish herself in the traditionally male-dominated industry. Gathering 9 other women who were also former housemaids from the same area, she met with the divisional secretariat and proposed her idea to start their own coconut husk chips production line.

IOM 2024

Today, these women run the “Suhada Ten Care” group together, a full-fledged coconut husk chips centre. Additionally, the project has contributed to the improved capacity of their operations by offering these women necessary equipment and machinery, training on infrastructure development, government linkages and market accessibility, amongst others.

“When a load full of our product is taken, it gives us immense satisfaction. Sometimes, we run behind the lorry because we are so happy,” shared Pathmaseli, who is now the community leader of the Coconut Husk Chips Processing Centre.

The centre processes around 400 kilos of coconut husks daily and earns LKR 96,000 (USD 312) from each batch, with a weekly payment of LKR 6,000 (USD 20) to the returnee migrants themselves. The remainder is saved for business maintenance and growth, as well as future expansion, marking the Coconut Husk Chips Processing Centre as a beacon of empowerment for female migrant returnees in the district.

“When I was in Lebanon, my monthly salary was LKR 35,000 (USD 115). Thanks to IOM, ILO and the Government partners, I get to earn the same amount while being close to my mother and son,” she added with a grateful heart.

IOM 2024

As active agents of social change, women entrepreneurs can play a significant role in economic development, contributing to job creation and innovation. It is, therefore, imperative to support the economic empowerment of women by supporting Small and Medium Enterprises such as  Suhada Ten Care to reduce unemployment, increase the proportion of women in business and eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in the labour market, promoting a balanced gender representation in business.

The story was written by IOM Sri Lanka Communications



SDG 5 - Gender Equality
SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities