While in Sri Lanka, quite by chance we came across a party of ex-pats calling themselves the ‘Discovery’ group. They meet once a month and go off to explore a hidden part of Sri Lanka. Hidden to tourists and even most Sri Lankans that is.
Today a convoy of 6 vehicles left Kandy for the south and we soon turned off the main road to an un-named village in the jungle.
Here we found a workshop where a man and his family manufactured leather goods: tool holsters, gun holsters for the police, woggles for the boy scouts, wallets, purses and belts.
He and his wife cut, fashioned, sewed, punched and dyed these and other leather objects for sale to any takers. Two of our number had favourite belts repaired. It was interesting to see that they whetted their knives on a piece of special wood.
Cutting edge entrepreneur
Next stop was a garden shed where a young man made kitchen knives for several of us. To get a knife to take and keep a sharp edge requires high carbon steel. He obtained this by taking old band-saw blades from the wood yard and cutting it up in the shape of a knife blade with a guillotine.
The wood for the handles was grown in the garden. The metal blank was sharpened up to a high and sharp finish on a grinding wheel. I estimate that he could produce about 8 knives/hour from the preformed metal.
He sold them to us for £1 each.
Food for thought
What’s to stop an enterprising young man in Chandler’s Ford from doing likewise? It does not take long to realise that the problems would be insurmountable. Is that a good thing?
First, the house deeds probably stipulate that the place may not be used for business. When does a hobby become a business?
Neighbours would be outraged by a man producing dangerous knives and selling them to anyone.
Health and Safety
Health and Safety – There is very effective health and safety here for lone workers.
They know that if they have an accident they lose their livelihood and become unable to support their family and they know that their safety is up to them alone.
The worker knows that he can stop when he is tired or when his tools need maintenance. He is free to regulate his own activities and does not have corporation target to meet. Nevertheless we still see horrifying breaches of safety.
There are other regulations, packaging, sale to minors etc. I can think of other obstacles, can you?
Are these people poor? They have poor quality houses with no running water but there is a well in the garden. There are bananas, mangos, avocados and other fruits freely available. Many keep a few chickens. At busy times, the family will help. In slack times he may help his neighbour tend his paddy.
A small family needs an income of about £5 per day and these guys exceed that. They have no commute to work and no boss breathing down their necks.
Sense of pride
They have a sense of pride in what they can do and create. They boasted to us about the quality of their work.
There is no drive to achieve more profit by using cheaper materials or cutting corners.
They have a national health service and education is free.
Literacy rates in Sri Lanka are higher than in some parts of UK.
Post Series: Dispatches from Sri Lanka, by Mike Sedgwick:
- Dispatches From Sri Lanka
- Kandy Lake vs Chandler’s Ford Lakes
- Self-Employment In Sri Lanka
- Sri Lankan Wedding
- Sri Lankan Food
- There’s Some Corner Of A Foreign Field
- The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka
- This Is the Record Of John
- Tuk-tuk: My Transport Of Delight
- Life On The Road
- Commonwealth Games In Kandy
- A Temple For A Tooth?
- Dawn Train Down The Mountain To Colombo
- Traditional And Modern Medicine in Sri Lanka
- Ancient Vedda Tribe Becoming Extinct