Selyn launches the ne ‘New30’
Q: What are the current challenges faced by the handloom industry?
Sri Lankan handloom has a long and venerable history of over 2500 years and has been a sustainable industry since its inception: energy consumption in production is low, and the industry has created thousands of jobs for rural artisans and communities across the country. However, despite various efforts, the industry finds itself in a state of deterioration owing to different factors, more recently the negative impact of degrowth of the tourism sector in Sri Lanka.
Unfortunately, handloom is no longer widely seen as an item of intrinsic value that speaks of our history and culture, and embodies the skills of talented artisans. Our artisans are no longer venerated for their skills, and are too often seen through a charity lens. It is crucial that Sri Lankan handlooms are pitched to premium or even luxury markets, which value quality over mass quantity and speed.
In addition and perhaps more innovatively, increasing the transparency of our production methods with the integration of blockchain technology into our supply chains will be a crucial step to allow us to better tell the Sri Lankan handloom story, addressing the ‘green-washing’ debate, and providing consumers with verifiable data to inform the purchase of a higher value textile. Global emerging trends support this hypothesis, as these premium markets and more conscious customers are now craving the stories of heritage and responsibility that fair trade and ethical brands can tell. This is an opportunity, for not just the handloom industry but in my opinion, for many Sri Lankan brands.
Q: How is Selyn integrating Blockchain into their production system?
We envision a different future for the handloom sector. Having begun the process of integrating blockchain into our supply chain, we believe we can truly walk the talk and present to the world a truly authentic and responsible craft brand. Drawing on our fair-trade foundations and using our social enterprise credentials and with COVID19 accelerating our work, Selyn is repositioning its work in the handloom sector to address emerging market opportunities.
Q: What do you hope to achieve through this novel technology?
Our aim is to leverage a commitment to ethical and sustainable practices combined with greater transparency, and ultimately carve out a unique niche for handloom as an important part of Sri Lanka’s intangible cultural heritage. And, we are working hard to bring the industry along with us. We believe that the concept of blockchain in the handloom sector is an innovative step towards positioning Sri Lanka as an industry and global leader that combines technology and tradition to conquer sustainability.
Q: How can blockchain benefit Sri Lanka?
For those companies in control of their supply chains, especially those committed to fair trade and ethical
trading practices, blockchain is the perfect tool to validate authenticity and for story-telling. With blockchain integrated from the point of sourcing to point of purchase – from fiber to fashion – with the swipe of a QR code, a consumer can now be fully aware of what goes into their product, and how it is made. Blockchain technology ensures that each point in the production process is recorded so that consumers can access independently verified, real-time, detailed metadata of what they want to know. And that’s not all. Consumers can input their own information to the QR code, thereafter if it is given to a friend or resold; it enables the needed circularity for the product.
For us in the handloom industry and even for the larger apparel sector, this means openly sharing information about how, where, and by whom a product was made. This becomes more than a story-telling exercise, especially since this technology demands that we pay attention to people at all stages of the supply chain: who works for the brand, in what factories, under what conditions, are they safe, are they paid a living wage, how many hours do they work, do they have workers’ rights? It also demands that we be conscious of the waste we reject into the environment – into our forests and our seas and brings our attention to how we may be more carbon neutral as we maximise profit. It allows us to humanize our supply chains and spread the premiums gained fairly among all those involved in the process of taking a product to market.
Q: Why is Blockchain essential to the future?
We see the overuse of these words; “sustainable”, “empowerment” “circular” and are led to
believe it addresses and solves the bigger problems at hand. None of which mean anything or truly give impact, if we aren’t transparent about how we achieve these outcomes. In other words, the practice of openly sharing information about how, where, and by whom products are made is critical. We can’t achieve sustainability without being truly transparent, which is why blockchain has gained its well-earned prominence. About Selyna Peiris (Attorney-at- Law): Being the Director-Business Development at Selyn, Selyna is also Co-Founder and Partner at Positive Impact Consultancy, an advisory service assisting stakeholders in various sectors to make purpose led transformation to create a positive impact. She was previously the Deputy Director – Programmes at
the Office for National Unity & Reconciliation (ONUR), Government of Sri Lanka and has consulted for the UN and other international and non-governmental organizations. As a youth activist, she has spear-headed and
worked along many movements working towards a racism free Sri Lanka and continues to be a strong
advocate for equitable development especially for the women of SriLanka.
It all began in the late 19th Century…
During the time of British Imperialism when the Sinhalese were on the verge of losing their innate Sinhala Buddhist identity, and with the growth and expansion of the Christian missionary education in Ceylon, the need arose to educate them by combining the English language as a medium of education.
Amid religious restlessness, Sinhala Buddhist elites, some of who were heavily influenced by the Theosophical Society, stepped forward and became the life-blood of the Sinhala -Buddhist revival movement. Realizing the need and the necessity to empower young Buddhist girls on par with the missionary education, Mr. William de Abrew, a philanthropist and an affluent member of the Theosophical Society, followed by his son Mr. Peter de Abrew took the initiative to form a new structured educational institute in Cinnamon Gardens. They recognized the talents and administrative skills of the German born Educationalist, Mrs. Marie Musaeus Higgins who was also a part of the Theosophical society to commission the school, which they named, Musaeus Buddhist Girls’ School.
In 1891, Musaeus College was born in a simple mud hut with a thatched roof, with 12 girls. With time, it evolved into a grand edifice formed on a firm foundation laid by our Founders, Mrs. Marie Musaeus Higgins, Mr. Peter de Abrew, Col. Henry Steel Olcott and Ms. Annie Besant. At present, Musaeus College houses over 6,500 students and an academic faculty of 362. Both the National and British Curricula are followed by giving our students an opportunity to expand their horizons in this fast-paced competitive world.
Musaeus College amidst challenges and obstacles
The Easter Sunday attacks in April 2019, followed by the pandemic situation soon after, disrupted the smooth functioning of schools and created a standstill in all aspects of our lives. Being visionaries, the management of Musaeus College, had already implemented digitalization of teaching and learning of the school, by purchasing Smart Boards and offering teacher-training, unaware that this will be a blessing in disguise during this unforeseen time. Thirty Master- Teachers had already been given training in this field and were well- geared to this challenge of using online platforms for teaching, learning and testing, by the time Covid 19 afflicted our island. Since the teachers were well equipped with the tech- knowledge, within a short span of time Muasaus College launched Microsoft Teams as their digital platform as soon as lockdowns were imposed. With this, Musaeus College became a pioneer and a model school where a virtual, structured, and formal teaching plan was implemented from the Lower Nursery classes to the Advanced Level classes.
By this time the College was in the forefront in completing the academic curriculum and received much praise from the school community and the general public.
We went a step ahead by introducing an evaluation system for all grades, paying special attention to students who were preparing for National and International academic examinations such as GCE O/L, GCE A/L, Cambridge, and Pearson Edexcel examinations.
The constant lockdowns at different time periods restricted our functioning and this had a huge negative impact on our students whose carefree school life had come to an abrupt halt. The teachers, understanding their students’ plight, took the initiative to continue with the extra-curricular activities and sports training through virtual platforms. Presently the school has more than 25 clubs and societies and many of these organized virtual Intra-school and Inter-school events. The students participated in International Competitions and won World Prizes.
A virtual Vesak festival, Debating Competitions, most Inter-House Competitions, Young Inventors, Wild Life Conservation seminars, five-day virtual Guide Camp, motivational sessions, and student Power Hours etc. were continued uninterrupted. Further, many other activities such as text book distribution, admission interviews, plant distribution for the newly admitted Grade 1 students and even an all-night Pirith Ceremony in memory of our Founders were conducted virtually and Drive Thru modes. The highlight of this was the ‘Drive Thru Prize Giving’ where 742 students received their prizes.
As Musaeus College reaches another milestone in her long epic journey of 130 years, we pledge to continue to carry forward the vision and legacy of our Founders into the future.
Long live Musaeus College.
Musaeus College celebrates
130 years of excellence
By Principal, Mrs. Nelum Senadira
The Garden School
Musaeus College in the 1970s shrouded and static in time, when my mind voyages among the gossamer memories of girlhood, to scale those high and hefty walls of that stronghold of discipline – that kept the girls locked in, (and perhaps, any romantic notions locked out?)
Beyond the ice dome of the Shrine Room with its single Wathusuddha plant, through the emerald green Tunnel alongside the Courtyard of exotic orchids the Reception Counter with its black dial-up telephone to the right; always alert – to the Parlor and Principal’s Office beyond opposite the cream-tiled Dining Hall; now regaled by the cords of a piano from the Western Music Room
(with its elaborate white metalwork cage); fronting the five-storied new building – its top floor inviting surreptitious morning siestas with an eye open for raids by prefects and teachers.
by the aroma of deep-frying Chinese Rolls; to taste that distinctive Onion and Green Chili Fish Paste of the Tuck Shop Sandwich…
Then, in the distance, lecture theatres
and science laboratories outfitted with Bunsen Burners and a myriad of glass: beakers, droppers, test tubes, cylinders and syringes; overlooking the washing of white and navy blue cotton hung to dry.
Following the fawn grounds of the Tennis Courts to the left, across the walkway of a charming mosaic design to the Quadrangle of grass (lush at the beginning of term but somewhat threadbare towards the end – with the toll of dreaded PT, athletics, netball, and hockey); bordered by a pastel rainbow of classrooms, to halt – by that perimeter of flora and foliage
(a no-go, no-girls’ land for us).
Between the ornate wrought-iron palisade
(visited by a black Koha with a steadfast scarlet eye) and the simple white paling – a kaleidoscope of tropical tones and tinctures: riotous Bougainvillea and Hibiscus of every hue, the golden cascades of Ahala, swatches and strips of Barbertons, Ixora, Das Pethiya; faces and tongues of candy-red Anthuriums; fiery Heliconia hanging down; where once a Peacock was perched on the Takarang roof.
The spectacle too lurid to my liking at the time, but now recalled with the attachment of loss.
Passing by old Parakumba (or was it some unknown mysterious sage?) holding a sheaf of Ola leaves (which the girls chose to see as a slice of Papaya), shaped out of the gloomy-grey, phony-rock beside the pink lotus pond – was it to epitomize the education of men?
Even then, it occurred to me where were the role models of erudite women?
Then, the solid wooden doors of the Art Room en route to the lime-green radiance of the two-storied Library Chamber lined with books upon books upon books, with the central spiral staircase leading to more worlds of words, long before the universe of the world wide web and internet.
Turning left to the Nursery adorned with characters of rhymes across from the shrubberies and greenery surrounding the half-circle of the white lotus pond, to the line of classrooms in the Western Boundary and sometime later, to the abundant vegetable beds of tender Ladies’ Fingers, deep-coloured Egg Plants, red Chilis as well as Plantain Trees laden with ripening Bananas.
Turning right to the Main Hall, the wooden stage which had seen the performances of many fledgling singers, orators, actors, dramatists, debaters and dancers; flanked by the pure white marble busts of Marie Musaeus Higgins and Colonel Henry Steele Olcott (enclosed in glass cabinets); and a sepia photograph of Peter de Abrew, but not of Annie Beasant – surprisingly missing…
The Theosophists whose philosophical vision led to the realization of a school for girls in the year 1891 – an autonomous citadel with its own hostel, kitchens, laundry, sickroom, sewingroom, potteryroom, boutique and bakery.
With that – I leave you with a topography of Musaeus, that garden school – now effaced and even replaced …. but perennial – in my mind.
Lihini Fernando – being the change she wants to see
by Zanita Careem
Lihini Fernando does not come from a political family, neither does she have political wealth to sustain her. However, it did not deter her from pursuing her passion to be the change she yearned to see in Sri Lanka.
An attorney-at-law, Lihini believes in empowering women as an empowered woman is living statement. Meeting her offers an opportunity to be amazed at a person who has enormous energy and infectious enthusiasm.
She traces her interest in politics from her school days. “I have always been vocal about discrimination in society and the injustice caused to women and children. Heading her own legal firm- Velox Partners, with a few other lawyers, as well as being an achiever at the 2021 Women in Management Awards in which she was awarded the ‘Inspirational Woman of the Year’ award for the category; Emerging Woman Politician, she also works in the family business of advertising and furniture.
What is remarkable about her is her belief that women have the capability to ‘stretch themselves’ above and beyond the status quo.
Passion for politics
Lihini also spoke on what inspired her to become a politician. Today she is a Municipal Councilor from Moratuwa. “I took up politics because of my passion for it and the passion for change,” said Lihini, emphatically quoting Mahatma Gandhi’s words- ‘be the change you wish to see in this world.’
Working with people at the grass root level and advocating social causes is indeed rewarding says Lihini. “Only honest, committed educated and capable people can change the political landscape of women in politics,” says Lihini calling for more women to take the centre stage in politics.
Specifically in Sri Lanka’s 2019 post-COVID context, the brunt of the ethnic war is borne by women who lost their loved ones across the ethnic divide, suffering debilitating loss whether psychological or economic. The real challenge for Lihini is the need to build up women for political leadership in order to foster and inculcate a capable and emphatic government. She strongly believes that women are the live wire, the decision maker, the strength of every family and hence they have the potential to be a decisive factor in decision making be in politics or the corporate sector.
Lihini is confident that Sri Lanka can address gender related issues. Women make up more than half of the population and in terms of eligible voters they lead men at 56% and outnumber males at Universities at 54%. Despite these impressive statistics, the representation of women in the active labour force is just 35%, reflecting the disappointing scale of gender inequality and discrimination against women, laments the young social and political advocate.
“There is very little done to address the wide discrimination against women or to provide them protection and empower them to be equal partners in the country’s growth and progress,” reflected Lihini emphasizing that women can support any decision-making role in the country and can even change dynamics of politics as well if given a chance.
As to why female representation in the economy and even politics is low, she responded: “the main reasons for that is the conventional stereo typical roles assigned and imposed on women as wives and mothers. We take pride in having the first woman Prime Minister in the world but our society still assigns separate roles for women and men and hence place severe constraints. We need to be encouraging and supporting, so women do not feel intimidated by politics perpetuated by the ruling class. There is nothing better than to see more women representation in Parliament. Sri Lanka still has hope. People can and must eradicate corrupt officials and hold leaders to account. Your right is not limited to a vote,” remarked Lihini in conclusion.
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