Sivarasa: From surviving to thriving

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. Read on for a story of resilience, will to thrive and new beginnings sparked by WBR’s first bicycle distributions.

Sivarasa is a 35-year-old husband, father, fisherman and wood seller in Sri Lanka. 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.

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 collect only what he could carry by foot to the main road and sell it there. The 7-kilometer trip to town was too long for him with such a heavy load.

Sivarasa’s salary plunged after the tsunami. He could make only R200 Sri Lankan rupees ($1.53 USD) per load of wood in a day, selling it along the roadside.

We went from surviving to thriving.

Sivarasa, 35

In 2005, in the wake of the tsunami, F.K. Day and Leah Missbach Day visited Sri Lanka – and World Bicycle Relief was born.

As a founder of SRAM Corporation and a leader in product development, F.K.’s role offered a unique opportunity to problem-solve with cycling industry leaders. As a documentary photographer, Leah’s gift for sharing stories helped bring the devastation of those affected by the tsunami to light. Together, with support from SRAM and other industry leaders, F.K. and Leah launched World Bicycle Relief to provide bicycles for those in need. In partnership with aid organizations in Sri Lanka, World Bicycle Relief distributed more than 24,000 bicycles to displaced survivors, providing access to education, healthcare, and livelihoods while reconnecting entire communities.

At the end of 2005, Sivarasa received the Buffalo Bicycle he is still riding today. Once again, he is selling wood in the town market 7 kilometers away. Now earning up to R800 per load, access to a high-quality bike 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.”

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