“Stepping Stone to Safeguarding Sri Lanka’s Natural Environment” (SSEP) is a project implemented by Caritas Sri Lanka in all its 13 DCs from January 2022. It is a three-year project funded by Misereor with the goal of forming environmental sensitive empowered communities. The project will assist the selected communities who face the effects of environmental degradation, to address the environmental issues and to bring sustainable solutions while caring for our common home.  Several development activities are currently undertaken by Caritas Diocesan Centers in their relevant Diocese under SSEP.

For the protection of environment and natural resources, every DC was supposed to form 12 environmental groups in the selected area in their Diocese. Accordingly, an environmental adult group was formed in Keeri, a village located in Mannar District in February 2022 under the SSEP. Though the number of members of the group was low at the beginning of the project, various community based activities such as beach clean-up, tree plantation campaigns, training sessions on organic home gardening & compost making, have attracted a sizeable group or people to be members by the end of 2022.

Since Sri Lanka is currently going through the worst economic-crisis, most of the people lost their income in the country. Daily wages & the people who depend on monthly income are struggling to cope up with the food inflation since their income remains the same. Hence, the project team from National Center decided to help people who are severely facing the effects of the economic crisis situation of the country with a small grant project that can give some immediate income to the people. Caritas Mannar Valvuthayam in consultation with the communities and relevant stakeholders came-up with an idea of establishing a coconut oil production firm in Keeri village considering all the available resources, skills of the people, marketing opportunities in the village & sustainability of the project intervention. Once the project plan was introduced, the government officials highly appreciated the initiative and provided their common building as a production center to start the processing, production, marketing and storage facilities.

In order to plan the activity to hit the target, Caritas Valvuthayam requested the group members to prepare their own business plan and submit. Based on the details of their business plan, an agreement was signed between Caritas Valvuthayam and production group as an evidence of project approval & commitment. Cash deposit was done on an installment basis to their relevant accounts. Machinery and other equipment were fixed with the guidance and support of government officials.

Later an inauguration ceremony was organized by Caritas Valvuthayam under the leadership of the Director of Caritas Mannar Rev.Fr. Anton .This small firm was officially opened for people on 17th of January 2023.  Divisional Secretary of the area, GN, DO, SO, PHI, Samurthi officer, representatives of community members, people and environmental protection group members were also gathered for the gracious occasion. Government officials gathered for the event assured their continuous support and guidance for the successful operation of the firm.

Within one week of the opening, 22 individuals from the village supplied 358 coconuts for a reasonable price to the firm. On the other hand, village people and police in the village, brought their processed coconuts for oil crushing. The firm is currently getting Rs.70 for crushing 1kg of dried coconut. This income is deposited into their account.  To handle and manage the machinery a disabled active civilian from the village came forward and he is currently under training. This type of involvements of the local community in small intervention will ensure a sustainable income for the poor & vulnerable families in the village.

Hence, this Coconut Oil Production Center is considered as a blessing of God and a gift of God to the community at this point of economic crisis. The ultimate goal of the entire teamwork is to increase their production capacity and employment opportunities in this village. From the total income, at the end of each month, 25% of the income will be deposited for the maintenance and electricity bill settlements. The rest will be equally divided among the members based on their working hours.