A story of companionship and shared purpose

Photos: Saman Abesiriwardana
By Dimithri Wijesinghe

The Sri Lanka Housewives Association (SLHA) is one of the largest women’s organisations in Sri Lanka. Having started in 1958 under the patronage of Lorna Wright, it is now a thriving self-funded entity with a membership of over 3,000 women in 17 branches around the island.

The association, being an NGO, is dedicated to promoting the economic, cultural, social, and educational standards of housewives islandwide, however, according to SLHA Acting President and First Vice President Deanna Rizvi, to be a part of the association being a housewife isn’t a necessity and you need not even be married. Any Lankan lady over the age of 18 is welcome to join.

The SLHA ladies believe in the betterment of women by women, living by the famous words of Mahathma Gandhi: “If we educate a man, you educate a person, but if we educate a woman you educate a family.” The ladies have made it their lives’ work to enrich the lives of women in Sri Lanka.

Last year marked the association’s 60th year, the diamond jubilee being celebrated with much fanfare, a gala evening for not only members but any other ladies who wished to participate at The Kingsbury Hotel, Colombo. It was a ticketed event that proved to be an immense success, an evening of fun, dance, music, and prizes.

The organisation, being self-funded, holds two main fundraisers annually to provide for the good work that they do for the women of Sri Lanka and additionally to supplement the general upkeep of their offices and minor staff. Inclusive of the two main events of the year, the association holds a year end sale, a Christmas party, an Avurudu pola, and an Avurudu Ulela to raise funds and also to raise cultural awareness amongst its members and women in Sri Lanka.

In the past, the organisation was dedicated to helping the cancer transit homes. However, at present, they provide aid for their members who are in need, from donating wheelchairs to sewing machines. This year, in aid of the international women’s day, the ladies provided lunch packs to Lankadhara homes.

Speaking about the regular activities conducted by the organisation, SLHA Second Vice President Jayarani Pietersz said: “We keep the ladies informed of current events, hold cookery demonstrations, health programmes, consumer awareness programmes, and cultural events. It’s all about making the world a better place for women in the country.”

As for upcoming events, the organisation urges any and all ladies who are interested to come and be a part of the SLHA’s main fundraiser of the year – a coffee evening which will be held in August.

We chatted a little more with the committee members of the SLHA, and they revealed how the association has affected their lives so significantly, helping them grow into people surrounded by loved ones and showering them with companionship and gifting them with a second home to always fall back to.

SLHA Acting President and First Vice President Deanna Rizvi

After I came to the Housewives, I met a lot of people who are from various ethnicities such as Muslims, Sinhala, Hindu and we’ve become one family. We cook here, we eat here, and we really enjoy it. We actually call this our second home. We get to meet and associate ladies from different walks of life and learn from them. There are times in our lives where we feel lonely, and here we have someone to talk to. I can call any one of my ladies at any time, because that is the kind of friendship we have. So I think I am really blessed to be in such an association.

SLHA Joint Secretaries Nazeera Raban and Kosala Wijayaratne

Since we joined we have really enjoyed our time. We’ve grown to look forward to these meetings we have. We’re having so much fun but also serving our society and giving back.

SLHA Acting Assistant Treasurer Dr. Shan Perera

I am actually quite new to the committee. I joined only about one and a half years ago. However, I have maybe been a life member for 15 years, because my mother was a past secretary. That’s also how I got involved after I retired. I thought I might as well come and join where my mother was very active – a place where she found friendship and purpose. Having joined it, I’ve made friends and we’ve supported each other throughout. And the fact that we are also extending our experience and knowledge by giving presentations and talking to our ladies, the experience has been truly fulfilling. It has been a great platform for the passing on of knowledge and experience, and for that I must say I’m grateful.

SLHA Second Vice President Jayarani Pietersz

I joined when I was a very young mother, and something that attracted me at the time was the lovely, young ladies. We used to dress up and get together and it was a lot of fun. Unlike the other social events we may attend, this was somewhere we had friends – people who shared our experiences. We could confide in them, speak to them, and tell them your problems, and they would have similar things to share. It’s a lovely place, and the education we received was marvellous – how to cook, how to lay a table, how to decorate your home… there were so many programmes that really enriched our lives. Today, we are more sophisticated women because of it. We rub shoulders with formidable women, and I truly encourage young people to join because all that is here is what the SLHA has given us.