Olai is a business for palmyra products. They design and produce alternatives to replace our daily life things with palmyra products. We can purchase their products with good quality.
This is the story of a journey from an invisible young girl from Kilinochchi to an aspiring young entrepreneur. She is Yathusha, a young woman stepping out of her teenage life into a world full of potential possibilities. She is from Kilinochchi, a village that is located in the North of Sri Lanka.
As tourists visiting the north would say, the geographical location is notable for its palmyra trees. As part of an agrarian community, her family’s income depended on seasonal agriculture and selling products that were made from palmyra. In her language, Tamil, the palmyra tree is known as “katpagatharu” (meaning “TREE OF LIFE”) and has helped them in almost everything—from the crown of the tree to its roots. Its leaves were used as the roofs of their houses, the pulp from its fruit makes their sweets. Her childhood was stable, however, her life drastically changed in 2009 as the Sri Lankan Civil War reached peak intensity Continuous displacement, losing possessions and most importantly, survival, became the only goal as the war became more violent than ever before. However, palmyra trees came to their rescue wherever she was displaced. Her survival depended on the palmyra tree, its fruits and roots served as their source of sustenance, its trunks came in handy for building bunkers to shield from attacks. When the war ended and she was able to get back to her life, among the debris of war only old and new palmyra trees filled her sight.
Going back to “normal” with war trauma was not easy, but she had to move on and start fresh with whatever she had. She had left her village as a child and had returned as a teenager, who was about to sit for her GCE OLs and ALs. She developed an interest in business studies and IT and decided to take the relevant subjects for her OLs and ALs. Even as a kid, although she did not have a computer at her house, she used to see computers being used at her school and was curious about the machine she had less access. However, back then she and her brother used to go to a teacher’s house to use his computer that had video games and MS Paint [some basic things of the computer]. Her interest in using and learning more about computers and the future of technology arose then. However, she could not enter state university or afford to attend a private university after her ALs. Then she decided to learn programming and coding through online resources and developed an interest in learning UI/UX design from her brother, who was starting to work as a designer. It was around that time of uncertainty in her life that her brother suggested to join Uki Coding School, an initiative by Yarl IT Hub, a nonprofit organization that is working to make Jaffna the next Silicon Valley. It allowed her to develop an interest in IT and startup initiatives.
As a part of her final project at Uki, she was supposed to launch a startup idea. All she could think of were the palmyra trees that gave them a livelihood before their lives were thrown into chaos because of the war. Even after the war, the livelihoods of people depended on palmyra based products; however, their market size was limited since their products reached only the local customers. Then she decided to use what she learnt at Uki to connect these palmyra-based products producers to the global market that holds a new pool of customers.
She launched olai.shop in early 2019 as an online platform that connects the producers of palmyra-based products with potential customers. The local artisans behind the products, as displayed in the Olai site, are women whose expertise is on palmyra-based handicrafts and products. She works with around 20 palmyra-based products creators/suppliers, who are women from Kilinochchi, Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mullaitheevu and Mannar. These women’s hard work is the source of income to their families. Having lost the loved ones in the war, they had to find means to provide for their families that survived the war and its consequences.
Her goal is to make it possible to economically uplift the lives of her producers whose livelihood depends on what they produce. As she runs the online platform, learning more about the IT sector and its impact, and the engagement with these hard-working women, she understands the importance of her platform to connect her producers and their products with the global community that has yet to be exposed to palmyra-based products.