By Visakha Tillekeratne –
You went too soon…………..
Shanthi, was the quintessential human being, multi-talented, multi-faceted and multi-tasking. A sparkling jewel, in looks and thought. A mother who had time to bring up 3 children who are sensitive and interested in the world around them. She had time for them, no matter where she was – while on the field or at home. Her husband, by her accounts of him, was her soul mate in his ideology and whole hearted immersion in social development.
An architect by profession, Shanthi turned her eye and training in creating and fashioning a better world for Sri Lankans and the world around her. She asked for no less and no more than an equitable Sri Lanka for all, irrespective of ethnicity, religion and gender.
Her training ground in development was a father, who was left oriented (she was listening all the time to issues of a serious nature, seated on his knee) and a mother who was a giver, generous to the core and wanting to feed any and everyone who visited their home. Her siblings were all of quick mind.
Shanthi was an indefatigable development worker during the height of the conflict, traveling the length and breadth of the East and then the North. Working for an international NGO, Shanthi visualized and formulated many a program for the empowerment of women affected by the conflict. After a tortuous circuit of learning and experience, engaging in different think tanks and being on the board of a number of organizations dealing with human rights and development, she gave birth to her fourth child, which was the Viluthu Centre for Human Resource Development.
Viluthu, meaning the roots of a banyan tree, which puts down roots in many places, so was the concept of Viluthu. Starting dialogues, seeding change, among the underserved in remote areas of Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Jaffna and then Pullalam, for self realization on one’s status of life, learning about what one is due –rights, and to go forth and demand. In a nutshell this is what Viluthu was about. The work was concentrated towards women. The study circle approach was pioneered through Viluthu, targeting mainly women. Shanthi was happy in her last years, where the communities quantified what they had gained and converted these results in terms of monetary value. It was a huge sum.
Forming a Widows network and obtaining resources of all types was her dream and she accomplished it with her team.
Another was the launch of a product brand, of food and food stuff and other ecofriendly products made by women, especially widows. Through a program supported by the World Bank small grants, this launch too was accomplished. Shanthi was never afraid to venture into new territory and the Sanjeevi program was all about food and nutrition. So from advocating for rights and increased political participation for women, she successfully turned Viluthu in the direction of food and nutrition security.
Never content to lie still even for a moment, Shanthi, through Viluthu was successful in starting activities on combating religious intolerance, going as far as writing successful proposals to educate young Buddhist monks.
Shanthi was actively involved in Citizens for a Secure Sri Lanka (CSSL), a loose network of concerned citizens, where her generosity drew the network into lots of activities on child safety, religious intolerance and many other interventions. She was generous enough to anchor CSSL and to host it within Viluthu. In fact this was Viluthu, a haven to meet and discuss, its shade given without reservation to civil society.
Her total interest, underpinning all the activities implemented, was politics. Her firm belief was, that for lasting change, politics and politicians, should be mature, clean and visionary and that one must enter politics in order to contribute to meaningful social change in a substantive manner.
This small account is but a dot in the landscape of change, envisioned by Shanthi.
The writer was in touch with her daily, on matters of work and sharing titbits and a friendship that blossomed in a short span of time, about 3 years. The friendship was the most important aspect in addition to a fruitful working relationship that dealt only with matters technical.
To end this brief appreciation with a quote, “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed, as in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over – Ray Bradbury”