On Dec 24th 2014, Christmas Eve, I went into the reception room of Hotel Namgay Heritage in Thimphu, Bhutan to look for some students to interview for my story on the 11th South Asia Economic Students Meet (SAESM). To my surprise, I saw five sofas filled with students, as if they were waiting for me. The cruel reality was, the students from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan were singing without even noticing my entrance into the room.
They were playing an Indian parlor game (later explained to me by an Indian student) called Antakshari, where each team grouped by the sofa sings the first verse of a Bollywood movie song that begins with the consonant on which the previous team's song selection ended. Though Bollywood movies and songs are often in Hindi; somehow the Afghans who speak Pashto and Dari, Pakistanis who speak Urdu, Bangladeshis speaking Bengali and the Nepali speaking Nepalese were all able to understand each other and sing along.
My mother Manel Kirtisinghe encapsulated what the loss of a loved one in the tsunami meant, when she wrote in her diary “What you deeply in your heart possess, you cannot lose by death." On 26 Dec. 2004, Prasanna went away leaving behind for me a lasting vacuum and a silent aching grief.”
Prasanna was my brother and this year when we observe religious rituals in memory of him, my mother will not be there with us. She left us earlier this year. Prasanna was our bulwark and the trauma of his death was so intensely felt that it took us seven years to rebuild and return to our beloved house. My mother was happy to be back in the house she had come to as a bride in 1944, but she stubbornly refused to go to the back verandah or to walk on the beach - a ritual she did twice a day before the tsunami.
As my mother did, we all had our coping mechanisms to handle the pain. The grief is still with me hastily boxed and lodged inside me but about this time of the year the lid flies open and the horror spills out. The images gradually become more vivid, intense, horrifying. Like a slow moving movie, they appear…and the nightmares return.
Back in the 1930s, Sri Lanka thought it would be a good idea to give everyone free access to health care. More than 75 years later, as the global health community bangs the drum for universal health coverage (UHC), Sri Lankans can be forgiven for letting out a yawn and wondering what all the fuss is about. But as shown by a workshop organized in Colombo last week to mark the first World UHC Day, the concept of universal health coverage (“all people receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship”) does still have relevance here.
Start with the history. By 1960 Sri Lanka’s health indicators were already well above the curve for its income level, and it was close to having the best health outcomes in developing Asia. It started the MDG era in 1990 with a level of child mortality that was lower than where most Asian countries – including Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, and its South Asian neighbors India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – will finish it in 2015. Vaccination rates are above 99%. And all this was achieved without results-based financing, conditional cash transfers, or today’s other proposed silver bullet solutions for improving health.
I am often asked how “we” – development professionals and practitioners at large - can make a difference to social exclusion. It is an opportune day to reflect on this by thinking about a diverse group of historically excluded people. The focus of today’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities is appropriately on “Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology.” Because the power of technology in rehabilitation and hence, for inclusion, is uncontested. Let me quickly add that technology is a necessary, but by no means a sufficient condition for enhancing the functional ability of persons with disabilities.
Technology attenuates many barriers that disability raises. It has changed the way persons with disabilities live, work and study. The seminal World Report on Disability emphasizes the role of technology for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in markets, in services and in physical, political and social spaces. It points out for instance, that assistive devices can substitute or supplement support services, possibly even reduce care costs. The National Long-Term Care Survey in the United States found that higher use of technology was associated with lower reported disability among older people. The fascinating Digital Accessible Information SYstem (DAISY) consortium of talking-book libraries aims to make all published information accessible to people with print-reading disabilities. And the examples could go on.
- International Day of Persons with Disabilities
- Social Development
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Middle East and North Africa
- Latin America & Caribbean
- Europe and Central Asia
- East Asia and Pacific
- South Asia
- The World Region
- Sri Lanka
- Urban Development
- Social Development
- Private Sector Development
- Labor and Social Protection
- Global Economy
- Climate Change
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- East Asia and Pacific
- South Asia
- Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan youth is a mass of untapped potential. With 12.7% of the country’s labour force comprised of youth, the importance of skilled and educated youth is definitely a resource for the island’s development. Having a labour force participation rate of a mere 35.2% among the youth, unlocking the potential in the rest would mean opening doors to around 2 million young, energetic, enthusiastic and innovative individuals to enter the job market.
I was privileged to attend a leading school in Sri Lanka with high quality education and adequate infrastructure. This however is not the common school in Sri Lanka. The majority of the youth receive less than adequate education, which I believe is crucial for one’s development.
Needless to say, it is this population that blooms into the world not fully equipped to take it over. With the lack of perspectives and exposure to the “real world,” due to narrow minded parents, peer pressure, family responsibilities, fear and poverty, the most youth restrict themselves to the ‘Doctor, Engineer or Lawyer’ mentality as I would like to call it, since they are believed to be the only professions that would extricate a Sri Lankan from poverty. And, mind you, it is not due to the demands in the labour market in Sri Lanka. These is a perception resulting in a bias for white collar jobs vs. ‘blue collar’ jobs which are in market demand but heavily stereotyped as low class jobs even when the pay is high. Most youth opt to work abroad than in Sri Lanka engaged in jobs labelled as ‘blue collar’ work.