In the words of Tharsan Vaksala: “I decided to start a business and stand on my own two feet”


Photo: UN Women Sri Lanka/Ruvin De Silva
Tharsan Vaksala, a soap manufacturer and entrepreneur in her hometown in Kanakarayankulam, Northern Province of Sri Lanka in November 2023. Photo: UN Women Sri Lanka/Ruvin De Silva

Tharsan Vaksala (32) is a soap manufacturer and entrepreneur in Kanakarayankulam, in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. UN Women’s project ‘Empowering Women in Crisis’ (February 2023 – January 2024) funded by the Government of Japan provides humanitarian assistance for women most affected by Sri Lanka’s socioeconomic crisis. Through the project, Vaksala and 600 other women-led micro enterprises from the Districts of Ampara, Colombo, Moneragala, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya have received support to strengthen their business resilience and livelihoods.


I decided to start a business and stand on my own two feet when my husband left me, and my two sons now aged 12 and 8. This was 7 years ago. At first, I considered getting a job and working for someone else, but I knew this would prevent me from caring for my family. I wanted to be there for my children in their younger, formative years. So, I started a venture to sell soap — one that, in hindsight, was a good call, considering the import restrictions on basic supplies like this in Sri Lanka due to the economic crisis.

Running my business generally fulfills our financial needs. I can take care of my father and provide for my children. But it is not always smooth sailing. During the rainy season, my business suffers setbacks as the humidity makes it difficult for the soap to settle and harden. This means the quality of my product suffers, and I am not able to operate my business during this time because I don’t have the required resources.

Taking part in UN Women’s training opened a world of possibilities for me. I learned about social media platforms and their potential for online business operations. With the help of my children, I now manage my own social media page, leveraging platforms like Facebook and YouTube to showcase my products. This solved the issue of dwindling demand as I reached a lot more customers in a shorter time, without having to run large overhead costs. I also received advice on packaging and now, I am focusing on effectively packaging my products to make sure their quality is not compromised.

I am extremely lucky that my children are interested and willing to help me in this venture. They dedicate two hours after school to help me with the packaging. I believe this will go a long way for them, because they can learn from this experience for whatever they decide to do in the future.

I also received ration packs from UN Women, which was a lifeline during this period, especially at a time when the rains have been incessant, and we were not able to make an income.

Over the years, I have learnt that it is important to make the most of our capabilities to uplift ourselves and navigate through difficult times. It is a long road to survival, and I truly believe in the transformative power of education and wisdom; the UN Women training is a testament to that. I have recently completed a nursing course and I am hoping to pursue that while I run this business to manage my family’s expenses.

When my husband left, I endured seven years of hardship alone and had no choice but to be self-reliant and ensure a stable future for my children. What I have learnt along the way is that one is not truly alone. I have been blessed by external help and support from family, peers, and organisations such as UN Women. To others facing similar situations, I advocate against drastic decisions when it looks like ‘giving up’ is the easy way out. I am proud to stand as proof that challenges can be overcome. I'm committed to fighting for myself, my children, and others in similar situations. I won't rest until I have achieved my goals and have provided my family a life of happiness, fulfilment, and dignity.”

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“I decided to start a business and stand on my own two feet” - Tharsan Vaksala