Combating Slavery & Unemployment with an Ancient Tradition

By Josie George

‘Amma’ means mama or mother in Tamil and Sinhalese- the two languages spoken in Sri Lanka. Warren, my husband, and I (Josie) are soon to be calling the country home. Amma is also the name of the social enterprise we are starting in partnership with local charity, Child Action Lanka.

Our aim is to tackle the high unemployment levels amongst mothers in rural villages. We have found that many mothers are leaving their children with family or neighbors in search for work in the city or Middle East. This is not only putting themselves at risk but leaves the child vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. The community that we will be working with live amongst the tea plantations in a town called Nuwara Eliya, where this situation is very common.

Pay is low as a tea picker or farmer and work is very unreliable due to frequent downpours. It is impossible for families to overcome the trap of poverty, living in overcrowded tiny houses and reliant on sparse communal toilets and no running water.

Child Action Lanka are changing the lives of the young people that attend their centres and are influential amongst the whole family unit, but we believe by empowering, training and investing into the mothers this will bring even greater transformation to family life.

Sri Lanka has a rich heritage in textile and garment production and it was witnessing this during my first visit in 2010, along with a trip to West Africa to visit ‘Sahel’ design, that inspired me to pursue a degree in textiles. There is something about working with your hands that transcends cultural differences. Sewing, weaving & dyeing are a language of their own, and to develop the ‘Amma’ style in collaboration with our Sri Lankan mothers is a great honour.

The focus I wish to bring is my desire for great, ethical and sustainable design. We have plenty in this world and to produce more means it has to be worthy of its place. It will take us months of training and workshops but I believe for this to succeed it needs to last. With this in mind my interest has turned to the abundance of plants that can be harnessed for dyeing across Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan textile industry relies heavily on expensive imported synthetic dyes that produce harm to both people and the environment. By exploring the ancient art of natural dyeing I hope that what we produce will be beneficial to health and kind to the planet.

Warren and I are returning to Sri Lanka in October, we are hoping a website will be up and running in the coming months – but if you wish to keep up to date with how AMMA unfolds we can add you to our monthly newsletter.

Email: josiebethgeorge@gmail.com

Or you can follow our progress on Instagram @amma_srilanka

Josie and Warren George are from Wales, and spent the last few years in London before moving to Sri Lanka.  Josie studied weaving and textile design at Central Saint Martins, London and Warren has a background in music and youth work.