Supporting Sri Lanka’s sesath artisan industry

Lisa Ritchie
May 30, 2022

Australia’s Direct Aid Program in Sri Lanka is a small grants facility that works with local communities to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development outcomes.

The Direct Aid Program works across a number of sectors, including education, health, water and sanitation, environmental protection, women's empowerment and gender equality, supporting people with disabilities, economic livelihoods, food security and human rights.

Chrysalis is a Sri Lankan NGO that has supported local communities for over 60 years and became a new partner of the Direct AidProgram in 2019. It is focused on empowering women and youth to drive social change and participation, and to provide them with the opportunities and skills needed to participate in Sri Lanka’s development and growth. These objectives of more inclusive societies and inclusive economic growth align closely withAustralia’s development program.

Chrysalis worked with the Unaweruwa community in Matale District, Central Province, to identify how to improve the livelihoods of artisans who produce the traditional sesath. Unaweruwa was the only remaining village in Sri Lanka where sesath-making in its traditional form continued.

Strengthening the sesath industry in Unaweruwa village has included professional marketing, such as this sign.

Chrysalis identified an opportunity to strengthen the sesath industry and, by doing so, build opportunities for the economic participation of those involved – inclusive of women, youth and older generations.

A total of 193 families (including approximately348 women), or roughly 75 per cent of the Unaweruwa community, were reliant on sesath-making as the primary source of household income. This reliance on an industry in apparent decline placed these households in a vulnerable economic position.

Chrysalis set about strengthening the business opportunities for sesath-makers through initiatives such as improving market connections, revamping designs and introducing technology, and building leadership and business-related skills. They also looked to increase youth engagement in the industry – a necessary strategy to ensure the craft could be passed on by the older generations, but also to provide needed and sought-after economic opportunities for the younger generation. 

Eighteen-year-old Ayesh Jayakody was involved in the creation of the new Ceylon Sesath website, which was developed as part of Chrysalis’ initiative in the Unaweruwa community.

The Ceylon Sesath website ( is a professional site with information on the sesath-making tradition and an online shop.

Ayesh was initially not interested in following in the footsteps of his mother, a sesath-maker, or his father who supports his mother with sesath production and sales. His intention was to leave Unaweruwa once he had completed his education.

“Chrysalis held several discussions with the youth in the village and I was impressed to see how they diversified the sesath product line. I was selected to be on the website team and I began to see the value in these sesath which my mother makes,” Ayesh said.

Ayesh and other youth were underwent training in website management and photography, providing them with the opportunity to build their skills as they stepped into the practical roles.

“We were recognised as young people within the village which made us feel a sense of ownership of the industry that our elder generations are engaged in. I hope to continue my work and make our products popular within the country and even outside the country. I want to safeguard this industry that has been carried out through generations by finding more opportunities to sell our products within the market,” Ayesh said.

Ayesh has developed his professional skills and is actively involved in producing content for the Ceylon Sesath website.

Amarakoon Manike married into a sesath-making family in Unaveruwa and is now producing and selling her own products. She participated in leadership training through the Chrysalis initiative and became increasingly involved in the local village groups. Amarakoon soon held several leadership roles – a significant achievement for a woman, particularly a woman not originally from the village.

“The leadership training provided me with some of my most important skills. These skills will allow me to continue to build on my leadership roles within the community, and to be an example for other women.Importantly, they will ensure I can continue to support my family financially and the future of sesath-making in Sri Lanka,” Mrs Manike said.

The strengthened sesath industry in Unaweruwa, coupled with the increased participation across the Unaweruwa community, is an example of more inclusive economic development. And, as the Unaweruwa continue to put their sesath industry on the map and connect their traditional craft to different markets, the opportunities will continue through tourism and improved production.