I blog for Change…

As I attempt to orient the windy and often treacherous roads that encapsulate life, here are some of my thoughts on the successes, failures and ultimately the hope and positivity in which I strive for a better world. I also hope that I can use this blog as a platform to elevate the social justice issues that are somewhat forgotten in the modern discourse of staying silent on issues that challenge. Sx

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For the love of Wanderlust – Off the beaten path in Jaffna.



This trip, like most others had started with a robust tugging of my heartstrings. For me this time around, it had been at Bangalore airport when I lined up to check in for my flight across the Palk Strait. I fleetingly looked up to the signage and saw my flight number over the top of my destination ‘Colombo’ spelled out in large letters. My eyes instinctively filled with tears threatening to spill over and run down my face. In that moment I had to quietly laugh at myself, I mean crying over simply seeing these letters in any other circumstance would seem utterly absurd. But for me, in this context it seemed oh so justifiable.

Colombo as a city remains an old and familiar friend. One in which I don’t speak to every day, but when we do come face to face it feels like no time has passed and we’ve never left each other’s lives. Seeing my friends and family is always such an emotion fuelled experience as for an instant, I get to live out an existence, a realm of life in which my parents and I never left the country all those years ago. I am perennially filled with utter joy during my time in such a gutsy and exciting city and this trip was no different. But what was driving me the most at the time was my child like anticipation of experiencing a city which had always been just a touch out of my reach; that of Jaffna.

Driving on the A9 Freeway itself was something of an unfamiliar commodity to me as I recalled that up until recently, this stretch of road was not one which people embarked on with ease. Post 2009, once the conflict had ended the entire area was first swept for and cleared of landmines before being deemed safe for access by the public.

As we pulled up to Elephant Pass I began to understand the strategic importance of this point and the many battles which were fought over it came into clarity. Surrounded by water this tiny strip represents the only land access point to the Jaffna Peninsula and is thus aptly referred to as the ‘Gateway to Jaffna’.

Entering the city I admitted to not knowing very much about its identity or infrastructure, however the one story that I had heard was about the symbolic significance of the Jaffna Public Library. The library itself was built during the time of the British in 1933. But that was not what it was most known for, instead it was the 1981 targeted burning of the building which it became synonymous with. What resulted was the loss on masse of volumes of historic Tamil language manuscripts and text. It has been reported that this single event was one of the most demoralising moments of the entire conflict due to the blow it inflicted to the concept of sustenance of Tamil culture.

Emotionally for me this visit was one of the most sombre. It seemed beyond justification or understanding how a structure representing the pursuit of knowledge and peace could be targeted in such a destructive way. The attack was not only a blow to Tamil culture but also dealt an equally sad and divisive hit to the purported identity of those who committed the act of vandalism. I felt a pronounced sense of shame that this act had been committed in the name of patriotism or whatever warped justification the arsonists wielded at the time.

In spite of these emotional scars that 30+ years of warfare had inflicted, I recalled feeling a constant sense of imbedded resilience and pride among the people of the city. I couldn’t imagine the horrors they had seen or how they had kept going with their lives under a period of such uncertainty. And yet here they were still toiling, still struggling away for a better future.

The most poignant imagery through all of this came during a visit to the Keerimalai hot springs; a sacred well known amongst locals for its healing properties. I spent a fair while walking around and simply taking in the sights of this place. After some time a fleeting glimpse of a sea of saffron caught my eye from just beyond my sight range. To my surprise, once I focused my gaze further I realised that what was in front of me was a group of young Buddhist monks. If you know anything about the conflict in Sri Lanka you would know that it was drawn on ethnic lines but that religion played a similarly divisive role. Jaffna and other previously LTTE controlled areas were predominantly Hindu, the main religion practiced amongst the Tamil population. Hence one would understand how the sight of an entire group of Buddhist monks respectfully paying homage to a Hindu holy site was something out of the ordinary.

I wanted to understand the motivation for this situation further and upon speaking to one of the adults in the group came to learn that these youngsters had been intentionally brought to the North, for the first time in their lives. They were visiting all religious sites in the area across both the Hindu and Buddhist spectrum in an attempt to be exposed to diversity.

As I quietly watched these monks I remember thinking that at the very least this step was a small but intentional one on the way to normalising the concept of multiplicity representing the different communities of my country. For so long we as Sri Lankans have fallen into the trap of focusing on our differences, the things that supposedly divide us in order to call ourselves patriots. But what my visit to Jaffna has taught me is that surely patriotism represents a commitment and safeguarding to be universally wielded to protect all of those who inhabit our lands.

So to Jaffna and it’s incredibly irrepressible and buoyant people.. you represent the fight, drive and sense of community in which Sri Lankan identity is built on. You are my brethren, my compatriots who made me feel at home even on soil in which my feet had never before touched.

Thank you for the spirit, hospitality and kindness you showed me and my family during our time with you.

With love, until next time.



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Life of a Development Worker – Holistic Change in Rayagada.

DSC_0153DSC_0143DSC_0127DSC_0124As we crossed the border from Andhra Pradesh into Orissa I began to notice the subtle changes in environment. All of a sudden dense forestry engulfed us and the splendour and colour of Adivasi dress became apparent. The Adivasi’s are India’s indigenous people and in Rayagada, the area we were visiting, the Khond tribe are the most predominant of these people. The most distinguishable thing I noticed about the women was their nose piercings in which a gold hoop in each nostril was on display plus a gold septum ring with a beautifully ornate bright pink stone in the middle. I was instantly fascinated and wanted to learn all I could about their way of life and the pre-conditions of their existence.

This particular visit I happened to be monitoring an inclusive eye health project and therefore was interested in the health seeking behaviour of the area’s inhabitants. Partner staff were quick to explain that awareness around avoidable blindness and prevention of curable eye conditions as such was quite low. In addition to this, community members tended to inhabit a deep seated fear about operational procedures such as those associated with cataract surgery. This became even more apparent as I saw an elderly tribal woman literally run away from Partner community workers when they identified that she required surgery.

In order to attempt to quell these instances consistently occurring into the future, the Partner invests in activities beyond just those which are hospital based; with particular emphasis on community awareness raising, screening and counselling to promote the uptake of services. For this reason community outreach work has become paramount towards achieving goals of eliminating avoidable blindness in the surrounding areas of the Partner’s treatment institute. So with all of this in mind, now enter the ‘Vision Guardians’ and Community Mobilisers of this region..

In such a rural environment in which low educational outcomes are synonymous with everyday life, community members rely on Partner staff to provide them with necessary information relating to their eye health. It is the therefore the responsibility of those aptly named as the ‘Vision Guardians’ to identify members of communities who require treatment, counsel them to take up what is available which in most instances is free services and treatments, and accompany them to the hospital for these procedures.

As you can imagine the role of these Vision Guardians is hugely important in quelling taboo and stigma around the uptake of services and supporting patients along their journey including following up with home visits crucial in the post operative care cycle.

I was of course very much impressed with the model of operation in which the Partner was yielding. However, what astounded me even more was how the project had imbedded inclusion standards and practices not only into its hospital operations but also within the mandate of how it sees out its vision and mission.

It was during a community eye screening camp that I began to understand just how deeply entrenched the message of inclusion is within the Partners work. The camp itself was held on the premises of the Gram Panchayat (local level government) in which the Partner had negotiated for eye screening to go hand in hand with assistance of persons with disabilities to obtain certificates allowing them access to disability pensions and schemes. In taking this one step further, the local Partner was assisting the lodging of the paperwork for disability certification through an online portal which most people in the area would not be able to access without their assistance.

In speaking to some members of the gathering, I met with those who told me that treatment for low vision or eye health conditions was just the first point of call in their journey within the project. After they had received treatment and been rehabilitated for their eye health conditions, the Partner had assisted in referring them to vocational training institutes and facilitated the application of small scale loans with local banks for business operations according to their skills. Others told me of how the Partner had identified them with multiple disabilities in addition to eye health conditions and thus been the link to referring them to other specialised services in the area, to address compounding impairments.

I remember standing there in the heat surrounded by village people and thinking that this project could actually claim with showcased evidence what others are unsuccessfully trying to achieve. This being inclusive, accessible services in which holistic development assistance is resulting in a better quality of life for all those involved.


*Images © CBM Australia, taken by Sabene Gomes

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My Heart may be heavy but…

Life never ceases to surprise me at just how cruel and yet at the same time uplifting it can be. One day you can be in love, lost in the sensation of warmth and comfort and the next you turn around and realise that you are nothing to that person. When something ends there is the inevitable and underlying fear that the moment you next see/hear or know of that person moving on that the world will crumble on top of you and bury you deep within its rubble. An act by which rendering you unable to carry on with life.

In spite of all of this personally I am always taken aback at my reaction in the face of that fear and any other which comes my way. I’ve noticed the power I unwittingly tend give to a situation is actually far more terrifying than the act of it coming into being. I likely spend hours upon hours stuck in a debilitating state of anticipation imagining the worst version of events. To then envision my body shutting down, my world ending and my life being over. I anticipate that the pain and the heartbreak will swallow me up entirely, devour my soul and leave me with a sense of hopeless nothingness.

In my mind I am inclined to go to the darkest places. I underestimate the element which is paramount to my existence but which goes missing in my consciousness at this time, that of enduring resilience. Because actually when that realisation does occur, when I find out that person has moved on, found love with another and forgotten about my sheer existence, my life doesn’t end. The being in which I reside does not falter and the world does not stop turning. Instead that day, like every other day, I wake up, put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

It isn’t even something that I have to try to do. It just happens, the natural progression of life meaning that as much as it may hurt, as painful and heavy as my heart may be, my body still carries me forward. Because in the grand scheme of things the loss of that person is just a blip on the radar. Fate, destiny and the existence of mere human life doesn’t cease to exist just because of my heartache.

I am amazed at the power of resilience within us human beings. What we are capable of is far more than the negative rhetoric that seems to take over our thoughts. We forget about our inherent strengths, our will to live and the progress and success that is destined for us.

Today my heart may be heavy. Tears may be brimming at my eye lids and as much as I try to hold them back, inevitably at some point they will still stream down my face. But in spite of all of this my soul beckons me forward. I continue to exist. My world having neither fallen from below me or my future snatched away from me. Instead its possibilities are endless and when I am ready to wipe those tears away and look up and forward, life with present itself with the opportunity to flourish once more.


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Happy V Day.. with love from a (not so sad, loveless and lonely) single (and fabulous) girl. <3

So here I am on yet another Valentine’s Day without a significant other. Actually, it’s worse than that… without even a potential love interest/friend with benefits or even booty call in sight.

Inevitably each time V Day rolls around I ruefully view the sight of happy couples with a level of barf worthy sentiment which let’s be honest, might actually be more laced in misplaced envy. Not envy in terms of actually wanting love in my life but envy over having nothing to do on this day and no one fawning over me… even if that very act is hollow within itself.

As I attempt to conduct my daily business (usually purchasing large volumes of my favourite companion, chocolate #justcoz..) I am interrupted with love hearts, and Hallmark cards encroaching every aspect of my vision and being.. usually subtly bemoaning and shaming me for not having ‘someone special’ to buy one of these outlandish cards for.

My usual knee jerk response is ‘oh for F*%$ sake’. I mean surely the ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, be my Valentine coz I love you’ bit represents a nauseating level of disingenuousness overkill. And one in which I am much better than… (or am I?!!)

On most occasions I tend to utter and reutter the internal chat tagline of ‘well who cares anyway’.. and ‘even if I was with someone, I swear I would never celebrate this ridiculous day anyway’.

In spite of all of this I simply cannot explain why I tend to question myself on this day. Should I be coupled up? Should I buy a card and chocolates and roses for myself and then anonymously send them to my office and pretend to fawn over the act just to show that I partake in this conformed madness?

Is it a reflection of my own character that I do not have a Valentine on this day? Am I less of a valuable human being because of this??

Umm FYI, if you haven’t gathered already, there is an obnoxious and underlying facetiousness to this entire piece. The answer is obvz no. Excuse me hallmark and Cupid, I hate to tell you but the person I choose to love and show affection to today is me. I can and will buy more own damn chocolates and send love letters to myself thank you very much.

Oh and also I embrace true love in my life every damn day through nurturing the relationships of those who love me unconditionally; as opposed to those who would send me insincere love notes on one day of the year.

So Happy bloody Valentines Day,

With love from a (not so sad, loveless and lonely) single (and fabulous) girl. J


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To Jaffna..


I’ve had this quintessential feeling of pride and deep emotion whenever I return to the land of my birth. Travelling back to Sri Lanka for me represents a wide array of sentiments and feelings that attest to a notion of finally coming home. Without a doubt I admit to shedding a quiet tear every time that plane touches down on Sri Lankan soil. The best way I can describe the emotion associated with this event is being engulfed in a warm, loving hug from a much loved family member.

This time round though returning to Sri Lanka will represent not only a trip in which I return to my beloved motherland, as I have done many times before. This particular trip will represent a first for me in which I will explore the North of my beautiful country; land in which I have never before set foot on in my close to 30 years of existence.

When the war ended in 2009 I remember having this feeling of strangeness take over me. For myself, and my entire generation, we had never known our homeland to be in anything but a state of warfare. Black July in 1983 saw the beginning of a full blown conflict in which my island nation changed forever. I was born in 1988 and entered the world into a country already feeling the effects of being ravaged by fighting for a full 5 years by that time.

After migrating out of the country in October 1990 my parents have been intentional in their once a year pursuit to return to Sri Lanka. The thinking being that by going back to my roots from a young age I would forever hold on to my Sri Lankan identity and thus never forget my homeland. So it would be easy to contend that this upcoming visit is yet another trip to call upon an old friend. Whilst this is true it also represents what I now see as being a sort of pilgrimage to a part of my nation, a part of my heart that I have always felt but am yet to explore.

I’ve so often thought about Jaffna and what this Northernmost city in my island nation encompasses. For too long this city and many of the areas which were controlled by the LTTE have been associated only with warfare, sadness and little else. After an extended period of this state of being one could easily fall into the trap of believing that these areas have little to offer outside of this. However, this element is one which couldn’t be further from the truth.

From what I have been told by those lucky enough to have visited Jaffna and its inhabitants both prior to and after the war, an underlying representation of resilience and dignity is first and foremost at its core. It’s people who endured so much remain as resolute and pride filled as they always have. A notion made all the more incredible given everything that they have lived through.

I often dream of the sights, the sounds and the smell of the cities of the North. Even now I can close my eyes, breath in its air and subconsciously feel the sea breeze of the coast blowing on my face. I envision the vivid colours of women draped in saris as they cross the road, wafts of tantalising rassam by the roadside and the bustle of worshippers as they make their early morning visits to temples dotted through the city.

So as I ready myself to embark on this adventure for the first time I look forward to the people I will encounter, the stories I will hear and the spirit of fight, of pride and dignity that will meet me.

To Jaffna, the city I have never physically encountered in this lifetime but which my heart and soul have known all too well within the realm of my dreams. I await you with love, patriotism and pride.


*Photos courtesy of:




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People with Disabilities do not need you to tell them what is right for their lives…

When I speak to people about my vocation and my involvement in the disability sector there seems to be an overwhelming reaction in which people invoke the ‘aawwwww’ or ‘how sad’ card in response. The truly sad fact is that connotations about disability and what it means to be a person with disability allude to the seemingly inevitable concept of sympathy. It’s a notion of thinking that we in the development sector know all too well which is deeply rooted in the welfare approach. This attitude purports that the so called beneficiaries of services are not thought of in terms of their inherent capabilities, but instead as passive recipients with nothing to say about their lives or anything to offer to better them.

What people often forget is that people with disabilities do not need us to decide what is right for them or to provide all of the means to live their lives for them either. Every human being has intrinsic agency and thus should be at the centre of their own development. One of the most powerful statements I have seen composed by a person with a disability states “I do not believe I need to be fixed, because I am not broken. The world may create barriers to my full participation sometimes, but I am a whole person”*. Basically stating that ‘like any other community, the disability community deserves the agency’ and voice to speak for themselves through their own lived experiences.

I suppose it’s within the context of discomfort in which assumptions around people with disabilities are mainly made. It seems unfathomable that I need to craft a piece on the need for inclusive consultation and not making decisions about someone else’s life without their input. However, for people with disabilities and especially women with disabilities, this is their everyday lived experience.

A common misconception associates women with disabilities and asexuality. This has led to some serious gaps in universal access to sex education and lack of distribution of contraception communities of women with disabilities. The medical approach towards people with disabilities reflects a blanket assumption that those with disabilities need to be fixed or cured prior to their full and active participation within their communities and broader spheres of influence. But FYI, one is not a precursor to the other and I cannot stress this enough.

I’ve often balked when I have heard stories of people with disabilities only being offered health related services and left out of livelihoods or education opportunities within mainstream development programs. I presume the thinking being that people with disabilities wouldn’t be interested in vocational training or income generation activities due to the sole nature of their disability. Yet another example of a person’s disability not actually being the biggest barrier to a better quality of life. But instead disabling elements of society around them lead to greater exclusion due to misconceptions associated with stigma, taboo and sheer ignorance.

The truth is people with disabilities are inherently capable of wielding autonomy towards decision making for their own lives. What we all need to keep in mind is that what is right for my own life does not universally apply to others. So in order to ensure holistic inclusion and mainstreaming of this into wider society we need to ditch the condescending ableist mindset that has been wielded up to this point. Agency is not just available to those who society deems are worthy based on whether or not they have a disability. It is universal.


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What if rejection didn’t exist?..

I’ve been thinking about the concept of rejection and the place it has in our lives. I look at my own existence and the seemingly endless fight towards any sort of progress to wonder if I would have been a different person if things had come easier to me? I have often joked that nothing is ever simple in my life and any kind of progress that I log tends to come along with a bloody hard slog and endless amounts of blood, sweat and tears. OH SO MANY TEARS!

So what if this wasn’t the case for my life. What if I never had to toil, struggle or scrap for any of my achievements. Would I still be the same person? Would I have the same preserving spirit and commitment to continue on? I wonder….

Imagine a scenario in which came right out of university and scored my dream job at the United Nations in New York. In this version of reality I would have eased right into things and become renowned as a diplomat, a development practitioner and some sort of whiz kid in the international relations sphere. This existence would have meant that everyone instantly respected me and all endeavours I came upon were instantly gratified in their success.

I would have a book deal and millions of dollars under my belt all before the age of 25 and let’s be honest with all of this newfound success and ease to which I came upon everything in my life, I’d probably have a tonne of yes men oozing off my being at all times. Most likely, I wouldn’t really value any of the relationships in my life because none of them would have any worth to me against my never ending success. None would have developed beyond anything more than the superficial because I never had to come across anything difficult in my life which made me turn to these people or value them at all. I also would not be able to be a good friend to them in reverse because I never developed empathy or understanding of what it was to struggle and thus could never relate.

I’d envision that the extent of my success would translate to all aspects of life and self growth (or lack thereof) meaning that I never developed the emotional intelligence and maturity associated with stable, functional and reciprocal relationships. Translated towards my love life that would mean that I most likely stumbled upon my one and only without any blight or sadness or heartbreak. An equation for which I ended up not valuing that person or their presence in my life and mistreating them or throwing them away like yesterday’s news.

I probably also would have no idea of my true potential and what I was inherently capable of because there would never have been a moment in my life where I had to dig deep and reaffirm what I was made of. My arrogance would be through the roof and I would have no concept of resilience because at no time would I have had to bounce back from anything or develop any form of coping mechanism to take another step in life.

To be honest this version of reality in which everything came easy represents more of a terrifying dystopia than anything else. More likely than not, I would become disillusioned with life very early on and with the concept of success itself would lose its appeal. I would have nothing to attain or look forward to because I never had to put any effort in. I would only ever expect things to go my way so if there was even one occasion when they didn’t, I would most probably have an existential crisis leading to a mental breakdown. On top of this, nothing would ever fulfil me because I never had to apply myself towards any of the things that I called my own and therefore they would lose their value over time.

What all of this truly represents is that rejection, difficulty and struggle are all very difficult things. But they are essential in our existence in order to teach us the lessons we need to value our achievements when they do come about. Life is not about the destination or the end product. It’s about the journey we take to get there and the fortification of the principles at play that make us decent human beings as a result. It’s about the relationships we make upon this path that are forged in our struggles, in our fight and in the love that motivates us to keep going.

So while rejection is hard and often times unbearable, it is what ultimately motivates us to be better, to try harder and to attain for more. It therefore teaches us that the value rests in the battle. Never forget this.