Crouching outside his bicycle repair shop, Janaka (40) silently assesses a customer’s motorcycle which had just been brought in. After a few minutes of deep concentration, he stands up, dusts himself and smiles unexpectedly. His customer points at the motorcycle questioningly and Janaka replies with a thumbs up; the damage isn’t serious.
Janaka is partially deaf and mute. However his condition hasn’t affected his reputation as one of the best mechanics in the village. “He can fix anything! An absolute genius,” his customer exclaims as Janaka wheels the motorcycle into the shed.
The young mechanic and his wife live in the Thiyagoda Division (Matara District); an area which was badly affected by the monsoonal rains in May, 2017. According to reports issed by the Disaster Management Center (DMC) over 700,000 people were affected by the monsoonal rains with 214 deaths and 76 missing persons reported as a result of the natural disaster. Janaka's repair shop was also destroyed by the flood water.
“Because he is hard of hearing and can’t talk, it isn’t easy for him to find a job,” his wife admits. “He is talented at repairing bicycles so we tried everything we could to reopen the shop again. But it wasn’t easy – we lost most of our belongings in the flood and didn’t have enough money to replace the equipment we needed to start repairs again.”
oxfam supported communities affected by the floods and landslide. Along with immeadite response to areas affect by the flood Oxfam also focused on helping to restart livelihoods of vulnerable families to ensure food security and minimum income generation. Janaka and his family were one of fifty others in the Matara district who benefitted from the programme with a total of 150 families from three districts receiving support. The selection criteria took into consideration low-income families and families with disabled persons, as well as women-headed households, etc.
Janaka received a sum of Rs. 30,000 to help reopen his bicycle shop. Today, business is booming and he receives a steady flow of customers. “With the money we received, we painted the shop, bought new bicycle parts and all the equipment he needs. Some of the money was used for food and for my daughter’s school supplies,” Janaka’s wife explains. She points towards the stack of bicycles waiting to be collected by their owners. “Life has gone back to normal, in some ways, better than before,” she adds happily.
Janaka smiles quietly and nods in agreement. He hadn’t said a word, yet his bright smile spoke volumes.
Janaka standing inside his newly refurbished shop. "We have at least three to four people stopping by every day," his wife says. "Although he can't communicate as we would, he has a way with people."
Janaka lost more than a few motorcycles and bicycles that night. His toolkit had sunk, along with spare tires, bolts and other equipment needed for repairs. In the aftermath of the flood, the family stayed with their relatives and as the sole breadwinner of the family, Janaka found himself struggling to meet ends meet.
Janaka communicates through sign language with his customers and the help of his wife. When asked about how well his business was progressing, he replied with a firm thumbs up.
“When the river began to overflow, we were asleep,” his wife (36) explains, “Once we were awake, we only had time to escape the rising water levels. Our shop was located a few minutes away from our home and we couldn’t reach it on time. When the water levels came down and it was safe to walk outside, we discovered that the shop was completely flooded and all the bicycles had been washed away.”