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Skip to 0 minutes and 2 secondsMAN: FutureLearn. [THEME MUSIC] UNSW Australia.

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsAKASA case study, part 6.

Skip to 0 minutes and 13 secondsN.G.

Skip to 0 minutes and 13 secondsKAMALAWATHIE WITH INTERPRETER: I had started AKASA in 1995. From 1995 to 1998, I was in Colombo. In 1997, we carried out research in 10 divisional secretariats, and two of them were in Anuradhapura. And through this research, what I realised was that disability was increasing in the war-affected communities. I also noticed that there was minimal support for people with disability in these areas, both from the state and from non-governmental organisations. I realised that the most vulnerable communities of disabled people were left without any assistance. Based on this realisation, I decided that the needs of the rural community-- and in this context, the war-affected community-- were greater.

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 secondsSo initially for six months we established the project office in Anuradhapura and worked there, and then we moved to Anuradhapura permanently. And since 1998, we have been working with these communities. And actually working with the community while being in the community has been very important for us, because you are living alongside the vulnerable people that you are trying to provide for. The war is over now, but much more work remains to be done. And I think it's important to be with the people we are trying to work for. So that's why AKASA is based in rural Sri Lanka.

Skip to 1 minute and 38 secondsInitial research for AKASA was carried out through the Ministry of Social Services. The minister at the time was from Anuradhapura, and he was known to us. So he assisted us a lot in carrying out the research. The members of AKASA went into women's organisations in villages and voluntarily obtained data through the membership of those organisations. The minister of social services later went on to be the chief minister of the North Central province, and always supported our work. Subsequently of course, we developed project proposals, submitted them locally and internationally, and obtained funding for our different projects.

Skip to 2 minutes and 15 secondsDuring the war, because we were the only organisation working with women with disability, or disability in general, many international and local organisations collaborated with us, so we were able to attract funds. There are other projects that we would like to carry out, but we also need to raise funds for those projects. At present, because the war is over, most of the funding goes into the former conflict zone. And we were in fact told that if we moved our headquarters to the conflict zone, that it's likely we would attract more funding. But that's not something we are ready to do at the moment. So funding is at present a challenge that we need to face.

Skip to 2 minutes and 53 secondsDINESHA SAMARARATNE: So AKASA and AKASA under Kamala's leadership in that sense is actually extremely impressive, and I would even go so far as to saying subversive. Because here is this association for women with disabilities, which is fairly apolitical. And then in the absence of governmental interventions, this organisation, or the association, goes into different communities, goes into the homes of these women, and starts talking to them, bringing them out of their homes. And women have actually told me that prior to getting involved with our cause, that they never left their home. Especially the war-affected Tamil women, who were suspicious of everyone outside their community, responded very positively to AKASA and started working with Sinhali women for the first time.

Skip to 3 minutes and 47 secondsSo AKASA, as you said, has definitely demonstrated that other models are possible, and that model is one of being community based, being inclusive, and foregrounding disability, and uniting as women, irrespective of your ethnic differences or age differences. And I'm sure Kamala will also tell you that even when they came across men with disabilities who needed their assistance, they readily provided it whenever they could. So even gender was not something that restricted them. So by foregrounding disability, they were quietly able to forge links across ethnic communities where none existed before. And that I think is pretty phenomenal.

Expanding your interests: AKASA case study - Part 6

In this video, Dinesha and Kamala describe the formation and success of AKASA, an association of women with disabilities in Sri Lanka.

As a lesson for others who would like to start a local DPO, Kamala begins by describing how she engaged in the initial research for AKASA and got the initial funding. She explains that while it is currently difficult to find funding outside of the former conflict zone, AKASA is not prepared at this time to move its headquarters from the small rural town of Talawa. In part, this reluctance to move is due to the success AKASA has had in approaching disability advocacy differently — by basing themselves in a rural area and reaching out to surrounding communities to forge links between women of different ethnic groups.

As Dinesha explains, AKASA has demonstrated that “other models are possible” — in this case, an inclusive, rural, grassroots model of advocacy and activism, based on human rights frameworks and a contemporary understanding of disability as a valuable dimension of human diversity.

Talking points

  • Why does Dinesha believe that Kamala’s work has been “subversive”?
  • In what ways does the example of AKASA tie together some of the different themes from this week? From the course?
  • What are your reactions to the story of AKASA? Has it been a useful case study for working with disability?

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