‘Herstories’ of Resilience and Hope

This archival project is first of a series of Sri Lankans’ histories that focuses on mothers from the South and North. It highlights their strength in the face of adversity, and their hopes for their children’s and Sri Lanka’s future. Mothers are guardians of their family history. They are the pillars of strength upon which a family is built. As such, this project chooses to archive mothers’ stories, thereby recording the story of an entire family. The stories are extraordinary lives of ordinary people, becoming a collective peoples’ history that inspire and layer our ‘text-book’ version of history with the rich narratives of individuals’ lives.

These histories or ‘Herstories’ showcase a shared history and highlight how we Sri Lankans are rooted in multiple identities, multiple histories, and different experiences. Through the narratives of many, this project also highlights a sense of fundamental humanness that transcend boundaries. These ‘Herstories’ will not only add to the culture of oral tradition and story telling in Sri Lanka, they will contribute to bringing diverse groups together through the lives of others.

The project has collected 270 oral histories (between August 2012 and February 2013) recounting personal histories, experiences and hopes – some through hand-written letters; some through photo essays; some through short video; and some through collective timelines and memory mapping,  and visual story telling exercises such as the ’tree of life’. They have been translated and are available in English, Sinhala and Tamil.

A sample collection was presented through a traveling exhibition in Colombo, Galle and Ampara. The facebook page ‘herstories’ attempts to build a community that is able to share, update, provide feedback and will be notified when new stories come up on the website. The originals will be presented to the National Archives in Sri Lanka for posterity.

The feedback option on this website is meant to enable Herstories to become a living history. By uploading stories onto the site it is hoped that this will become a repository for our shared history and shared hopes for Sri Lanka.

The Process

The project design, began in July 2012 and the data gathering continued through till the end of January 2013. The processing and exhibition preparation continued till the end of March 2013.

1.   For initial access to rural women, community based organisations working on women’s development were contacted.   These were selected based on prior working relationships and on their reputation. Two community based organisations based in Vavuniya (working in Mullaitivu and Killinochchi), one local organisation working on women’s economic development in Kurunegala and one local organisation working with women in Moneragala were chosen.

2. Together with the local partners, a series of field visits were conducted to each location. First community meetings were held with women that volunteered for the project. They were told about the objectives of the project and why recording oral histories and story-telling is an important part of the culture and history of Sri Lanka. The project gave no compensation nor any other socio-economic benefits and was entirely voluntary. Some women who were not beneficiaries of the community based orgnisations, volunteered for the process after their friends and neighbours had told them about the project.

3. Subsequent to the community meetings with women, each woman was visited at her home where conversations about their personal histories were recorded through videos, photos, visual expression in the form of trees of life, timelines and hand-written letters

4. Although the project is only about recording histories, where possible, we have connected them to other organisations doing socio-economic development, psycho-social work and to private donors for support

The Project Team

Radhika Hettiarachchi (Development Strategies Group – concept, project design, implementation and Herstories curator), Zahira Ismail and Shanthi Sachithanandam (Viluthu – coordination, implementation and financial support), Sharni Jayawardana (Photographer), Vathesh Varunan and November Productions (Videography and editing), RukiZone (website design), Chandraguptha Thenuwara and Shanika Perera (mediated artwork). On the field the project has been supported by FIRM and WDF in Vavuniya, Praja Sampath Surakeemay Madyasthanaya in Moneragala and Deva Sarana in Kurunegala. The project is funded by the Commonwealth Foundation and the Prince Claus Fund. Some exhibitions have been supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

** The Sinhala and Tamil translations, although available for everything are being uploaded gradually due to delays in conversion to unicode. As soon as this delay is rectified, the translations will be added for all the stories **