HRNW REPORT: In 2005, Sumangala Krishnapillai’s neighbour, was denied membership in a large Community Based Organization due to her low economic and social status. In late 2005, determined to stand up against injustice and advocate for equal opportunities, 27 year old Sumangala, together with her mother, took the lead in establishing the very first Women’s Rural Development Society (WRDS) in their village of Seelamunia, Periyapodai, Batticaloa which received a great deal of voluntary support from the community. Ten years later, in recognition of her leadership and management skills, Sumangala was appointed as the President of the government registered WRDS. The most significant ‘project’ she has overseen in the recent past is the Rs. 11 million valued, government sponsored flood mitigation mini project completed in her village. “I was not always like this, independent and self-confident. Quite the contrary; I was extremely shy and was content to mind my own affairs. But my mother and I made a conscious effort to advocate for equality in our society. Someone has to stand up!” says Sumangala.

Today, she is one of the students selected to participate in the Youth Leadership Development Programme (YLDP) offered by the Vavuniya Campus of the University of Jaffna. The project is an initiative of the European Union funded Support to District Development Programme (EU-SDDP) implemented by UNDP. The YLDP is a 180 hour course offering theory and practical knowledge covering the subject areas of Project Management, ENTREPRENEURSHIP and Finance Management, Leadership and Time Management and Gender and Disaster Risk Management. The course also included practical sessions such as hands-on training in conducting participatory rural appraisals in three villages, exposure visits to industries, factories and farms and sharing of experiences with youth from other districts engaged in social work.

Armed with this knowledge and practical experiences, Sumangala feels that she is now equipped to play a more active role in the community as change agents bringing social issues to the forefront and seeking solutions. She says,“Although I have been constantly involved in the Society in my village, I now feel I can contribute more. Being exposed to concepts such Leadership and Project Management, I am far more confident because I am now equipped with the theoretical knowledge too.”  Using this knowledge, Sumangala and her fellow students, under this programme have conducted several street dramas in and around schools to conduct an open dialogue and raise awareness on community issues determined to make a change.

Sadly, women are not given due recognition in communities even though they have great potential and the ability to shoulder multiple responsibilities. Study courses such as these, which have the backing of national universities is one of many ways in providing young women like us with not only technical know-how but also recognition and credibility to become visionary leaders in the society.”

Sumangala considers herself fortunate to have been given the opportunity to explore her abilities and share them with her community. As a young woman she has been given the right to change society and be a leader she aspires to be.


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