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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Well behaved women seldom make history..

From our earliest of days we are taught about a certain pattern to life in which we should subscribe to and that the urgency of achieving this gets more and more apparent as we age. For boys society tends to focus on exhibiting strength and perseverance through gritted teeth while building an empire in which the boundaries are non existent. The same however cannot be said for what we tend to indoctrinate girls with in a parallel line of messaging. While we may focus on education, the true point of success lies thereabouts in how well we can exude potential wife mode.

Growing up my immigrant parents toed the line between ‘make sure you educate yourself’ and ‘don’t become so educated that you alienate potential husbands’. When I was younger I held this close and thus in my teenage years veiled my intelligence and fell back on the “I’m just a girl” façade. Of course back then I didn’t really understand what the connotation of that statement and my behaviour meant. I didn’t even attempt to question why a teenage girl had to be conscious of demonstrating greater intelligence and wit than her potential suitor. Why, because it’s emasculating…? Go figure.

In considering this element further it makes no sense to me how a woman’s intellect or acumen could be a distancing force which repels the opposite sex. We have to ask ourselves why is it that society has engrained into us that smart women can be so in the workplace, but in the household they need to dumb themselves down and project servitude over intellect.

My Mum, bless her entirely, often says to me after a date… you didn’t lead with the feminist spiel did you?! She then follows that question up with a look of complete horror when I tell her that yes indeed I did. She tends to balk even more when I explain that first dates for me often are built upon the platform of discussions on activism, feminism and the development agenda. What’s crazy to me though isn’t that my first generation, conservative South Asian mother holds these views, I mean of course she does, that’s the world she grew up in. What terrifies me more than this is that little nagging voice in the back of my own head which quietly whispers… ‘don’t show him all your intellect up front.. make yourself vulnerable, twirl your hair a bit… laugh at his jokes’.

Where was it down the line that strength and wilfulness were disassociated with accepted forms of womanhood? And why is it that the notion of strength is only considered with elements in which we automatically link with masculinity? Is projecting my intellect, my knowledge and my wit really something that automatically emasculates a potential mate? I mean the same could not be said vice versa.. when was the last time you heard a woman walk away from a date and say ‘nah he was ultimately too much. Way too smart and funny for my liking. It made me feel insecure and question the very notion of myself as a result’… Yeah I’d say a confident: hardly ever!

In thinking about all of this I wonder where does someone fit within this whole set up who doesn’t conform to these ideals. Will I, in fact, be alone forever because I alienate every man I meet? I mean maybe that is the case (although I do not have that little faith in the opposite sex to believe that this is true in every prospective love interest); but if true, to be honest I couldn’t care less about. If I am indeed scaring away a man who is threatened by all the things that make me an empowered, educated, woke bae well then good riddance. Someone who could so easily bring into question their entire being as a result of someone else’s surety or success is not the type of man I would ever want in my life in the first place.

So for all of those who doubt it, and the haters who would rather I tone myself down to fit into a mould of so called accepted womanhood, I have two statements for you:

  1. Well behaved women seldom make history (&)
  2. I am and always will be a goddamn Boss, Bitch.

So never forget it.

End.

HOD

*Haus of Dizzy shout out. The epitome of hustle! Order her stuff at: https://hausofdizzy.com/

*also noting that I have a serious problem with the notion of what we determine to be ‘well-behaved’ and that we don’t measure men against these standards ever… but that is a rant for another day. Peace!

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

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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.

Sx


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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.

Sx

*Images © CBM Australia, taken by Sabene Gomes