She advocates womenís rights

Indrani Iriyagolla, is well known for her activities in rehabilitation, welfare and humanitarian work. The Nation met her to learn more into her personal life and to share her life long experiences she has gathered as one of Sri Lankaís pioneering female activists.

Following are the excerpts:-
By Lakna Paranamanna
Q: Can you tell us something about your childhood?
I was born In Badulla, and my father was a government servant. We came to Colombo after the second world war to do our studies. There were six siblings in my family; two boys and four girls. During that generation, education was the most important factor. So, for my primary studies, I entered Nalanda Vidyalaya. During the period of war, it was moved into Minuwangoda, we were very small then. Then, for higher examinations, I entered Musaeus College. The religious background in the school was something that my father gave preference, as much as the standards of education. I think that is why he sent me to Musaeus.

Q: Can you tell me something about your experiences after leaving school?
I entered University and I graduated with a General degree. It was during those times that, I got engaged to my husband. After my graduation, I was offered a job at the British High Commission as a translator. Since I couldnít adjust to the working hours, I didnít accept it. So, I applied for teaching. I was chosen and my first appointment was at a school in Kudabuthgamuwa. I taught Political Science, Sinhala and English for almost 20 years. I got married several years after that. After my marriage, I went abroad with my husband. During that period of time, I got the chance to do my post graduate studies at the Cambridge University. When I came back after my studies, I continued teaching, but I got tired of it after a while, since it became really monotonous. So, I retired and soon after my retirement, I wrote a book on the British Parliamentary System, as my students were requesting me to do so. I also got several invitations from many political parties to contest for elections, but I thought that, was not what I wanted to do. Later, I realised that I had been right.

Q: How did you get the chance to join rehabilitation, welfare and humanitarian activities?
Some friends came to visit me one day, and told me that, it was the proper time to start an organisation for women. They had wanted to create something substantial, to give our knowledge, and to make better use of our education and use it in a fruitful manner. I encouraged them about the idea, but I didnít accept the invitation they made to initiate a movement of that sort. Again, after another four months, they came back and invited me. This time, I accepted the invitation. The Sinhala Womenís Organisation started in 1985, was the result of the acceptance of that invitation. Our main motive was to look into the welfare and rehabilitation of the troops and the IDPs of the war affected areas, in the North and the East. Ever since 1986, we were providing our services to them till 2006. We were able to help the volunteer soldiers, the army troops and the IDPs and nurse them, with the support and the assistance of the donors. During President Premadasaís times, he recognised the service and did a lot to help these people. So, he appointed us for the NGO Coordinating Committee, for the North and the East and gave us a lot of patronage. I am so happy to say that, through our services, we were able to make the lives of the soldiers less stressful.

Q: What are the other ventures of your work in humanitarian and rehabilitation activities?
In 1994, we had to cease operating as the NGO Coordinating committee, due to changes of the government. But, we stretched out our helping hands to the war affected people in a different approach. They had no privacy, no education; they were above all, homeless. We carried out a project, to train young girls and made them teachers in the camps, so these girls could educate the younger children of the camps and help bring them up. We worked hard specially for the betterment of women. We were also able to organise a network, throughout the camp, to save young girls from indecent overtures, which was a common misfortune, the young girls in IDP camps had to face. We trained other women in carpentry and masonry and by the end of the training, we had built 10 houses. We also had a project for the widows, which enabled them to earn an income for their living, through selling poultry and harvesting. We also carried out several other projects to help the Tsunami affected women. We organised programmes to mend their minds and to train them in fields like small enterprise and leadership. Females of all religions and communities got together with us, in all these ventures and gave us their fullest support, to fulfil our motives.

Q: You have said that the representation of women in Sri Lankan politics is less. Why do you say this?
Sri Lanka is a country, which needs more participation of women in politics. I have been able to create a fair amount of awareness among the public, about this matter, but still, there is more, we need to do. There are women, who have working capabilities and I think it is now time, for them to be given a chance to try their abilities.

Q: With all this work going on in your life, you must have hardly had time for a personal life. How did you manage your role as a wife, a mother and now, as a grandmother?
To tell you the truth, it was really hectic at times. But as my children grew and my husband became more supportive, my work became much easier for me. It was mostly in the nights, that I had free time to spend with my family, but I somehow adjusted my time, so that I could be with my family. But after my husband fell ill, it was a very hard period for me. But after he became better, even he became much more understanding of my work. It was very tough at first, but we somehow, managed it.

Q: Among this multi facetted career of yours, as a teacher, a writer, a trainer and an activist, which one do you like most?
Writing! There is so much one can do through writing. But time is the only reason that prevents me from writing. I really enjoy doing it and I have six manuscripts which havenít been published yet. I think more women should write, so we can create more awareness, throughout the society about matters concerning women.

Q: How was the support that you got from your husband for your work?
My family and my husbandís family were friends, since we were small. My brother was a good friend of my husband. But, as I mentioned before, I only got to know him properly, after entering the university. We had so much in common. I used to share everything with him. I was very close to him and I miss him so much. He was very understanding and very supportive. Even though he didnít like me taking up this job first, after he realised and saw the service we provided, he became very supportive.

Q: What sort of activities are you hoping to organise in the future?
I am currently working in the UNDP, I have so much in mind. But, at present, I am working on a programme to upgrade the standard of housemaids and make it a more dignified job. We are hoping to start the training programme for them, by July.

Q: If you hadnít chosen this field, what would you have done with your life?
I would have definitely become a writer, or else I would have become a traveller. I think I crave for those two opportunities because, I am a person who likes to gather knowledge and absorb it, in spite of the source, I gather it from.