N.G Kamalawathie was born, the second child in a family of six. Kamala’s first years were the same as any other child living in Nuwara Eliya. However at the age of five she contracted polio, leaving her disabled with permanent paralysis of her left leg.
Kamala was very fortunate to have an extremely supportive family, around her and grew up with little of the family prejudice others have to cope with. With this backing Kamala managed to attend a normal school with great success. Receiving education all the way up to A level standard, in the village school of Udattawa and Mayurapada central college.
School life was a happy one, with many good friends and the teachers were always ready to help. This obviously resulted in there being very few problems.
It was while at school that Kamala realized her love for sport, but due to her disability, she was never able to participate. As there were no facilities for the disabled. Therefore Kamala was resolved to sit on the sidelines, with mixed feelings of happiness and disappointment, as she watched her friends compete and win in different sporting events.
As the end of her schooling came closer, Kamala began to worry about what the future would hold for her. She had come from a very poor family, in which only her father worked as a driver. Kamala being the strong-minded lady that she wanted to make her own wage and pay for herself. However due to the situation in Sri Lanka being the way it is, at the time it was hard getting a job if you were a women, or disabled let alone both. There was a very hard road ahead but Kamala wasn’t ready to give up.
Vocational Training courses were the way Kamala decided to go. She completed training in Gem cutting and polishing, arts and crafts and dressmaking. These were all done in a two-year course at Seeduwa Vocational Training center.
These newly learnt skills enabled her to get a job at the Gem Corporation in Colombo. Kamala was extremely pleased at having found a work placement; the trouble was that there were no facilities for employees with disabilities. The office was on the third floor of the building, Kamala had also only managed to find a flat that was on the fourth floor of another building. This also was without a lift and the only means of access was via stairs. The whole journey too and from work everyday was exceptionally hard and tiring; with all of the stair climbing and 9 km public bus ride to do as well, twice a day. Even with these difficulties Kamala always managed to show up for work on time and took great pride in doing so.
During her three years at the Gem Corporation, repeatedly thoughts of disability discrimination and the lack of human and equal rights towards the disabled troubled Kamala.
“How can something be done to improve this situation?” Was the question that she frequently asked herself.
Kamala continued to work and changed jobs in 1987 to work at the Islamic Centre for the physically handicapped. In her time there she was able to improve her management and Organisational skills. Her dreams of achieving in sport she was also now able to follow.
This was due to a friend of her brother Sarathchandra called Sunil. For he had known of a Disabled sports meet being held in Colombo and told Sarathchandra. After receiving 15 days of training given by the Sarvodaya Organisation, Kamala triumphed by winning first place in the wheelchair race. This lead on to many other achievements.
- Won and secured the national championship for 400 M wheel chair racing from 1981—1991.
- Represented Sri Lanka in 21km wheel chair race in Maita in Japan in 1982.
- Won the gold medals for 400 m wheel chair in Pacific sports meet in Hong Kong.
- Won silver and bronze medals for 5000m and 15000m respectively in wheelchair events in the Pacific sports meet held in Indonesia in 1986.
- Won a certificate of merit in the Pacific sports meet held in COBE in Japan in 1989.
Her ideals had still not been forgotten, and in 1989 Association of women with disabilities (AKASA) was finally started. Although not completely active. With 6 disabled women joined to help run it, Kamala’s home became the main office. Year passed by and Kamala continued to work for ICPH and do her AKASA work in her spare time.
Then in 1995 a turning point came for the organisation. Kamala had attended the world women conference in China, Beijing. This had rebuilt her spirits and after discussing with disabled and non-disabled women and seeing what they had achieved. Kamala came back and redeveloped AKASA. This time the organisation became officially active and gained the donations of an Organisation called SHIA international.
From the years 1995 to 1998 10 Divisional Secretariats were visited and the problems of the disabled women in each were researched and discussed. Anuradhapura was discovered to be the worst affected area. Having exceedingly poor facilities and education.
In 1998 the chief minister, of the Anuradhapura district, donated government buildings. The Association of women with disabilities was finally settled into a new home and Kamala had succeeded in her vision, and could now go about doing something about the prejudice and begin to help.
The Association of women promotes:
Withstanding the injustices that the persons with disabilities suffer socially, economically, politically, educationally and culturally.
Building up an environment for them to develop their abilities talents and skills. Enabling them to enjoy basic rights and thus lead independent, stress free lives.
The mission and the objectives of the Association :
- To organize women with disabilities into one block.
- Changing the attitudes of women with disabilities, encouraging, rehabilitating, and taking steps to minimize disabilities in them.
- Developing abilities, skills and qualities of leadership in women with disabilities.
- Changing the attitudes of the society and the families of the disabled.
- Helping them to build up the environment through which they can lead independent lives with full enjoyment of fundamental human rights.
To support the disabled in Sri Lanka in order to project them from being discriminated economically, politically, culturally and socially and to encourage them to develop their skills, abilities and talents to obtain equal opportunities for full.
The association has now been a great success for 5 years now and it continues to participation and enjoyment of rights.
grow. Kamala faces new challenges everyday, yet she takes all in her stride. Other people have noticed the hard work which this women is doing and soon Kamala was asked to joint other organisations taking on different roles to give the best possible assistance.
- Vice President – P.W.D Organization Joint Front.
- Operational Committee Member – NGO’s National Action Front.
- Member – National council of P.W.D.
- Consultant – Rajarata Vanni Alliance.
So much has been achieved, but still there is no stopping this lady as she is constantly trying to raise awareness and help. Kamala is a very determined woman who I think we could all learn a lot from.
|Name :||Narayana Gedara Kamalawathie|
|Address :||President, Association of Women with Disabilities, Konegollewa, Thalawa, Sri Lanka.|
|Other Details :||
- Represented Women with Disabilities in the conference for women in Beijing (Peking) in China, 1995.
- Took part in Para-Olympic Congress in Atlanta in America Delivered a lecture for an hour and fifteen minutes. (1996)
- Leadership Training session held in Japan (September—October 1997)
- Received Training as a Trainer, in creating a no disability environment, and a training, in social Authentication. (2000.02.26—2000.03.16 in Thailand, Bangkok – organized by ESCAP)
- Represented Sri Lanka in the event, wheel chair Marathon (1982-Japan, Oyta)
- Won the Gold Medal for the event, 400 m wheel chair in the Passaic sports Festival. (1982 – Hong Kong)
- Won the Silver Medal for the event, 5000 m wheel chair in the Festival of fistic Games. ( 1986 – Indonesia )
- Won the Bronze Medal for the event, 1500 m wheel chair in the festival of pacific Games. ( 1986 – Indonesia )
- Won the award of Merit for the 4 th place in the event 100 m wheel chair (1989-Japan)
- Secured the 1 st place in the event 400-800 m wheel chair in National Games (1982-1992)
- Presidential award for the most outstanding Women with Disabilities (2000 – Sri Lanka)
- Millennium Awards for the greatest Personalities in the field of social development in the North Central Province. (2000, N.C.P – Sri Lanka)
- Expect ional honour Awards for the greatest Personalities in the field of social development in the North Central Province. (2003, N.C.P – Sri Lanka)
- Dirijaya Merit Awards for the distinguished Service to the disabled community (2004 – Sri Lanka )