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Leaving no woman behind



As International Women’s Day falls tomorrow (March 8), we spoke to several trendsetting women whose physical disabilities have not dampened their spirits but spurred them to overcome their challenges. These courageous women urge all fellow Lankan women to join hands with them in a journey of empowerment.

by Randima Attygalle

“I gained knowledge with my ‘Head’, skills with my ‘Hands’ and developed good attitudes with my ‘Heart”, says Manique Gunaratne, Manager, Specialized Training and Disability Resource Centre of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC). The vision impaired internationally renowned advocate’s words echo poet Maya Angelou’s words of inspiration, ‘a wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.’ Manique who lost her vision in her late twenties to Retinitis Pigmentosa is today a committed leader improving the lives of persons with disabilities. A highly skilled ICT professional who trains people with disabilities to be IT- savvy, her efforts to enhance the quality of lives of such people have been recognized by various global platforms to be having a significant impact on inclusive economic development as well.

Driving the EFC’s Specialized Training and Disability Resource Centre which rests on the concept of ‘nothing about us without us,’ Manique translates it to all her efforts in empowering women and men with disabilities to be independent in society. “I’m really happy about who I am today. As a woman with a disability I was able to reach the top professionally. Today I’m committed to empower my fellow women, so that they can also enjoy a leadership role.”

Working strongly on the ‘5-Ds’ is her success, says Manique who urges all women to take a cue from her mantra to overcome challenges. “Dream- Desire- Determination-Dedication and Discipline’ can do wonders,” she reflects. Women without disability can play a huge role in joining hands with women with disability to become proactive partners of a journey together, she believes. “Always include women with disabilities in all your agendas because they are part of you.” She goes on to note that women with disabilities should also be included in all policy-making committees and task forces. “Even the National Committee for Women does not have a single woman with a disability. We need to change this trend,” she says.

Self pity is our worst enemy, and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world,

said Hellen Keller, the American author and disability rights activist. Inspired by these words, Vasantha Padmini from Ambalangoda has turned adversity into opportunity. Vision impaired from birth, Vasantha, 53, a mother of three, is a professional Hindi translator and a gifted musician. She has translated nearly 15 books of reputed Indian authors to Sinhala. A lover of Latha Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and Mohammed Rafi, Vasantha sings and plays the violin.

With bare minimum resources both as a schoolgirl and later as an undergraduate at the Kelaniya University where she read Hindi, Sinhala and Translation Methods, Vasantha lobbies for wider study material in Braille both at school and university. “Every vision impaired person should be able to access all his/her subjects of choice in Braille,” says Vasantha recounting her student days experience of learning with the help of her mother and friends who used to read the notes out to her. Her determination to master Hindi at the university with just a handful of Braille material offers inspiration to many who would easily abandon their dreams.

Vasantha who became a visiting lecturer of Hindi at the Kelaniya University was fortunate to see her younger daughter following her footsteps. “Although I could not become a full-time lecturer due to my disability, my daughter completed my dream for me by becoming a Hindi lecturer. My elder daughter is a teacher and my son runs his own business,” beams Vasantha.

A woman who believes that learning transcends age, she is now learning the ropes of the ‘virtual world’. She is constantly updating her knowledge with the help of the on-line Braille material. “Keeping one’s mind engaged helps to overcome physical disability,” says this gritty woman who is working on several translations. She met her future husband when she was teaching music at the Batapola Central College and has proven herself a successful wife and a mother. Her husband and three children, all blessed with vision, make her world complete. “However, not everyone with a disability is as fortunate as I,” reflects this multi-talented woman who is vocal about the rights of the less fortunate. “Life is unpredictable, anyone can become disabled at any time, hence women without disability should be more sensitive to the needs of the disabled. What is required is not sympathy but empowerment so that their sisters could become equal partners contributing to national development.”

Time has certainly made watch-mending Nisha Shariff from Kandy a resilient woman. A wheelchair user, Nisha runs her watch repair business in the Kandy town. Having learned the trade at the Ragama Rehabilitation Centre, Nisha strives to share her knowledge by mentoring others. “There is still no other vocational centre which trains people to repair watches despite this being an essential service. If any such centre is willing to use my skills, I’ll be more than happy to share because this is a skill which can easily be acquired by especially those with disability,” smiles Nisha. She has her own loyal customers whose first impressions of her is quite amusing. “First question they ask me is where my husband is, assuming I’m only an assistant. When I say I have no husband and I run the shop, they are quite impressed,” she chuckles.

Having set up We for Rights, an organization dedicated to the cause of those with disabilities, Nisha’s ultimate dream is to see it expanding across the island. Having learnt the alphabet only at 18, she reads and writes Sinhala well. She is also fluent in Tamil. A woman ever willing to challenge herself, Nisha is self-studying English with the help of online teaching material. Her latest challenge is teaching watch mending to a young boy with an intellectual disability. “He has progressed considerably,” beams Nisha.

An activist who labours to galvanize like-minded men and women to empower those with disabilities and help them to stand on their own feet, Nisha is critical about discrimination at every level. “Very often women with disabilities are treated only as exhibits; policies are made for us without our voices being heard. It is very sad that even on Women’s Day, there is hardly national level representation of women in our predicament. We are confined largely to Social Services which should not be the case because we are active partners in the economy and our expertise should be made use of at every level.”

An accident in Germany where she worked 17 years ago paralyzed Nelum Perera. Wheelchair bound, she sought refuge in art. “I’ve always been good at drawing but I never pursued it seriously. It was only after my accident, and when I was 50, that I started learning art professionally,” recollects Nelum who works with both acrylic on canvas and water colours. Lack of disable-friendly toilet facilities is one of the main bottlenecks which prevents her from exhibiting her work at leading art exhibitions in the country. “I’m often pushed to become only a spectator at these exhibitions as there is no suitable infrastructure for people like us to sell our work at open fairs,” says Nelum. She also finds it difficult to source her art material due to high prices. “I’d be grateful to anyone who can visit me and purchase my work or help find potential buyers,” adds the artist.



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Foreign News

Rupert Murdoch set to marry for fifth time at 92




Rupert Murdoch and Ann Lesley Smith (pic BBC)

BBC reported that media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has announced his engagement to his partner Ann Lesley Smith, a former police chaplain.

Murdoch, 92, and  Smith, 66, met in September at an event at his vineyard in California.

The Businessman told the New York Post,one of his own publications: “I dreaded falling in love – but I knew this would be my last. It better be. I’m happy.”

He split with fourth wife Jerry Hall last year.

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Life style

Children’s happiness with gardening



By Arjuna Hulugalle

On October 7th 2022, Homagama Subarathi Maha Vidyalaya in Godagama Homagama commenced their Home Garden Program, with the support of Nest, a Community based Mental Health organisation. The objective was to reduce the short fall of food in the diet of the children and to deal with malnutrition in the school population. Both the teachers dealing with Agriculture and Domestic Science have been involved in the initiative.

The outcome of the programme has many positive developments. Both the teaching staff and the children have shown great enthusiasm. Children’s happiness with gardening became evident. The students began to understand the importance of eating organic vegetables and the role of vitamins and minerals in their diet. Open air exercise which gardening brings with it has added to better health. The students have also realized that our country does not have to worry about hunger and malnourishment, if one uses available resources.

The first stage of the Subarathi Maha Vidyalaya program is to create a model garden in the school premises. Even classrooms are encouraged to be used for accommodating “grow bags” with various types of yams.The second stage of the programme is to make model gardens in the homes of 100 senior students with special interest in agriculture. The parents of the students are also drawn into this program.The third stage is for the 100 seniors to concentrate on the balance 2500 students and motivate them to set up model gardens in their homes.


The Model Home Garden in School

The School garden has a representative selection of vegetables but is concentrating on Dambala, Cabbage, Long beans of two varieties, Turnips, Occra and KankunA spice garden is being developed with three varieties of chillies, two varieties of kochchi, mint, celery and pepper.

Yams are being grown in “grow bags” inside cClass rooms. The varieties propagated are Kiri Ala and Bathala.Trees grown in the school premises are Delum, two varieties of Nelli and Murunga.

Model Home gardens of the selected 100 students

These are being trained for their tasks of developing their own model home gardens and also to motivate the other 2500 students of the school and set up Home Gardens in their own homes.Intensive training sessions have been conducted starting with Dr Lionel Weerkoon, a world renowned authority on home gardens and Dr Anuruddha Padeniya who spoke on the value of organic agriculture.

The students were given packets of seeds of bitter gourd, pumpkin, kankun, Occra, long beans, dambala, green chillies and beans. Those students who have space in their homes, were also given trees and plants to be planted in their own home gardens. The saplings included Murunga, Jack, Nelli, Del, Delum, Avocado, Orange and Divul.

The Role of the Parents and the past students

The Home Garden program is supported by the Parents and past students and soon will interact more with the community at large. Already, they have contributed towards a sprinkler system for the School Garden.In the long term the Home Garden program can grow into market gardening in the community.

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Life style

Dance Epicure first Dinner Dance Theatre



Dance Epicure Shangri-La Colombo & Shangri-La Hambantota Director of Communications Ramesha Samarasinghe, John Keells Holdings Vice President, Head of Sales and Marketing (Property Group) Nadeem Shums, With My Feet Co-Founder Trevor Rajaratnam, Standard Chartered Bank Head of Consumer, Private & Business Banking Aroshana Fernando & Maliban Biscuit Group Head of Corporate Affairs & Strategy Asoka Bandara

A captivating evening of dinner and dance – Dance Epicure by ‘With My Feet’ brings UK champion dancers and the best of Sri Lankan talent to the same stage Dance Epicure, Sri Lanka’s very first Dinner Dance Theatre concept produced by With My Feet is all set to entertain and delight on the 2nd of April at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. The vision and brainchild of the legendary Naomi Rajaratnam, the uniquely curated evening of dance and gastronomy produced by the Colombo Dance Theatre will feature a roster of extraordinary international and local dancers paired with a night of culinary delight.

The latest initiative by Naomi, the Colombo Dance Theatre comprises of a company of elite international and local dancers woven firmly together by masterful choreography and a great love for dance. Dance Epicure will not only be the Theatre’s inaugural performance, but also the first of its kind in Sri Lanka; where artfully choreographed dance segments will be performed between a four-course sit-down menu. The highly anticipated event will feature the likes of world-renowned dancers – namely five-time undefeated UK National Latin American Champions Gunnar Gunnarsson and Marika Doshoris, as well as the formidable Nauris Kalva and Manuja Hughes, Blackpool Open Smooth Champions – sharing the stage with the best Sri Lankan dancers from Naomi’s own dance company With My Feet.

Naomi’s desire to uplift dancers from far-flung rural areas in Sri Lanka by providing them with the opportunities and spotlight they deserve has always been encapsulated in her dance showcases. It is with this vision in mind that Dance Epicure will also feature a heart-warming performance by the children of the Warehouse Project; an urban community solution in partnership with the Sri Narada Foundation. Additionally, as with all of Naomi’s shows, part of the proceeds from the event’s ticket sales will go towards the Dev Siri Sevana Elders Home in Welisara.

Commenting on the upcoming event, Naomi Rajaratnam said, “I am so honoured that some of the UK’s leading dancers have chosen to collaborate with us, and I am equally thrilled to be able to showcase the best of our Sri Lankan talent on the same platform.”

“The concept of a Dinner Dance Theatre has been on my mind for the longest time and I couldn’t think of a better moment to finally turn this dream into a reality,” she added. “The calibre of these world-renowned dancers paired with the best of With My Feet dancers is the perfect opportunity to offer a something truly unique to our Sri Lankan audience.”

The principal partners of Dance Epicure are Standard Chartered Bank Priority, Maliban Biscuit Manufactories, John Keells Properties, Sri Lankan Airlines, Shangri-La Colombo, Wijeya Newspapers and Capital Maharaja Group.

Tickets for Dance Epicure go on sale on Saturday the 11 th of March 2023 and can be purchased online at With My Feet social media pages will soon be updated with where tickets can be purchased offline.

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