Young Women’s Christian Association 135 years of service in Sri Lanka : world’s largest women’s movement | Sunday Observer

Young Women’s Christian Association 135 years of service in Sri Lanka : world’s largest women’s movement

The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) is the largest women’s movement in the world which has spread to over 20 countries and the Head Office is located in Geneva, Switzerland. The National General Secretary of the YWCA, Colombo, Shamalee Perera says, “this movement began with Emma Robarts and Emily Kinniard starting hostel facilities. They wanted to provide hostel facilities for women who were living outside the city area.

They started in UK and spread out to other countries. In Sri Lanka the YWCA was started by Mary Kinniard on her visit to Sri Lanka in 1882. From 1882 we started from Colombo and over the next 36 years we spread to various parts of the country. Initially, we had the YWCA Kandy and Galle and now it has spread to 22 cities. We started as serving women and children and attending to the victims of the war. There are a lot of war widows in Sri Lanka, a lot of children without fathers, and a lot of victims.”

“The Rotunda Hostel in Colombo is for young girls coming from outside Colombo and from other parts of the country to work and study. A lot of university students are here and quite a lot of students working in other institutes doing their diploma and higher education. In addition, there are some other women who are working and studying. We have board rooms and auditorium which are hired by institutes and companies.

Those who like to have a homely environment love to have their functions and events here. Those are the facilities available in the national head office. In addition, we have 22 local YWCAs in key parts of the country.

Thematic areas

Indraneela Fernando, Treasurer of the Colombo YWCA says, “Our pre-schools started as day care centres in Galle, Morotuwa, Bandarawela and Dalugama and the national office supports them. Currently, we work on two key thematic areas which are, democracy and economic equity. In the plantation area there were a lot of people who had no birth certificates and we have now obtained birth certificates for them. We have interfaith dialogues which are very important. That is conducted in our local YWCAs. We also train young women in leadership. We want to take them as Y peers who will train others. So we train a group of women as leaders and send them around the country to train other women. We have training sessions and camps from local YWCAs.

The Y Peers came about through a camp. But the training of the Y Peers was something that was unique to the YWCA of Sri Lanka. The UN designed the training modules and we trained them. We have helped certain groups by giving them raw material for their business. For example, in Polonnaruwa there was a group of vendors on the road.

They were out in the sun. They wanted shelter so we bought them tents. Then they had no weighing scales so we bought them weighing scales. We gave them the equipment. In Puttalam there was a group that wanted to do catering. So we bought them chafing dishes and a gas cooker and they are now doing marvelously.

But other groups, for example, in Kurunegala they make CFL bulbs and fairy lights which are very popular. So those young girls have been trained to make them and sell. The Savings and Investment Groups (SIG) enhances the economic status of rural women. We encourage them to do bee keeping, vegetable farming, shoe making and tailoring. We also encourage them to do organic farming. We provide them with the training and meet once a month and have monitoring sessions.”

Perera says, “We conduct sexual reproductive health programs. We go to the schools with the permission of the Education Department. This subject is not taught in schools because it is a taboo subject. Teenagers don’t know how to be careful or when to be careful. We have our training sessions and we educate them on these areas.”

Household items

Perera adds, “In addition to that we have environmental development programs where we do tree planting and shramadana. Recently, we had a flood donation exercise at Baddegama where many people had lost their household items such as furniture, cupboards and weighing scales. We worked with other countries and sister YWCAs.

So we managed to go and distribute household items so that they can re-start their lives.” Fernando says, “We have a very big program for children. As she said, we have pre-schools where we care for the children. We have a special program called the, Mother Lanka Child Upliftment Programme. At the moment we have 33 children who are sponsored by people living outside Sri Lanka and within Sri Lanka.

These children range from the age of three to 18. These children are from the local branches. There are quite a number of disabled kids among them.”

The Vice President of the YWCA, Mikelia Wickremasinghe says, “Another specialized area of the YWCA is family life. We encourage good relationship in a home and the home has to be good for a child to develop and experience that type of living.

It’s useless them studying all that in school or the teacher trying to inculcate these qualities in them. They have to come home and their home environment has to be good. So that’s another thing we have been doing.

Fernando adds, “We had a family life education centre in Moratumulla.

It was in the Methodist Church in Moratumulla. We had sewing, crocheting, cookery classes and a family planning unit also came in. We have a family life education week where we plan a program on a certain theme.”

Perera concludes by saying, “the 23rd Triennial Council meeting was held on November 10, where all the local YWCAs selected our new board of management. Our theme is Young Women as Catalysts of Change.

Pix: Thushara Fernando 

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