Sivarasa: From Surviving to Thriving

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Originally Published: January 2015

In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami washed across the coastlines of 11 countries, from east Africa to Thailand, leaving devastation in its wake – along with the inspiration to launch World Bicycle Relief. Today, we’re revisiting the impact generated by WBR’s very first bicycle distributions. This is the first in a series of stories on resilience, the will to thrive, and new beginnings sparked by The Power of Bicycles.

Sivarasa is a 35-year old husband, father, fisherman and wood seller. He fishes in a traditional boat all night long, then at sunrise, he either sells his fish at the seaside market or travels by bicycle to the market in town to sell his catch there. Regardless of where he sells his daily catch, Sivarasa makes certain to be home in time to ride three of his six children to school every morning.

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Before the 2004 tsunami, Sivarasa also collected wood in the jungle and transported it by bicycle to sell in the town market. When the tsunami hit, his bicycle was damaged. For a year, instead of collecting and delivering wood to the market by bicycle, he could only collect what he could carry by foot to the main road and sell it there. The seven kilometer trip to town was too long for him with such a heavy load. Sivarasa’s salary plunged after the tsunami. He could only make R200 Sri Lankan rupees ($1.53 USD) per load of wood in a day, selling it along the roadside.

At the end of 2005, Sivarasa received the bicycle he is still riding today from World Bicycle Relief. Once again, he is selling wood in the town market seven kilometers away. Now earning up to R800 per load, access to a high-quality bike has created a four-fold increase in his daily earnings. Incredibly, with his increased profits, Sivarasa has been able to buy a second bicycle. As Sivarasa describes it, “We went from surviving to thriving.”

Photos: Leah Missbach Day, Mike Weyerhaeuser

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Written by Leah Missbach Day

Leah is Cofounder of World Bicycle Relief. Whenever she can, Leah spends extended time Africa documenting and sharing the voices of women and girls through her series of photos and stories on World Bicycle Relief’s blog, ‘Voices from the Field".

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