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“Learn to balance not only your work, but also your soul”


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Society should seriously consider if they need children raised in a safe and healthy environment, says SANASA Development Bank Chairperson Samadanie Kiriwandeniya, pointing out that women need to take care of the household economy, protect their children from all types of ills, and play the role of the citizen. “They raise future citizens and they should be taken care of by society, not because they are recognised as a ‘weak sex,’ but because they perform an indispensable role to sustain communities,” she emphasises, in an interview with the Daily FT. As a working mother, Samadanie, who possesses senior management experience in the field of participatory development, gender issues management, microfinance and conflict resolution, says neither her family nor her husband’s family expected women to stay at home and take care of children without employment. “Both my mother and my mother-in-law were teachers who firmly believed that a woman must have her own income,” she adds. Following are excerpts:   Q: Why did you choose to be a working mother? A: I did not want to work fulltime until my children were at
 
 Samadanie Kiriwandeniya and family
  least 10 years old. I had decided not to work fulltime when I gave birth to my second daughter. But the tsunami and subsequent support programs that had to be implemented gave me no choice but to continue in a more-than-fulltime job.   Q: How do you balance the demands of working and raising children? A: I have been lucky to get help from some kind women to support me to manage the domestic chores as well as my secretary to organise my office work well. Also I had my husband and my mother-in-law to be with my children when they were very young and when I am away out of the country or in far-off regions. We have made our children understand the lives we lead. I make sure to be with them before they go to sleep and on weekends as much as possible to help with their schoolwork and other things. My husband and I both attend school meetings so we both are on track with their difficulties and achievements and help them.   Q: Could you describe a day in your life today? A: Wake up at 5 a.m. Get the lunch prepared with the support of my maid Priya. Wake the children up. Get them to attend to their preparations for school. Feed them. Malinda takes them to school. Then I get ready and go to work. We have made arrangements for the children to be picked up and dropped at home after school. I come home by 5 p.m. and help them attend to their school work, by 8 p.m. we have dinner. By 10 p.m. they go to sleep. I read a book, or listen to some music, attend to my own work and go to sleep by 11 p.m.   Q: How was your decision to work after having children accepted by your family and those around you? A: Neither my own family nor my husband’s family expected women to stay at home and take care of children without employment. Both my mother and my mother-in-law were teachers who firmly believed that a woman must have her own income.   Q: What are the positive and negative reactions you have encountered along the way? A: I have always been positively recognised by all communities in Sri Lanka due to the contribution of my father in making SANASA and for what it did to Sri Lanka. Q: Looking back, what would you do differently? A: Have more children.   Q: Are you satisfied with the level of recognition for women, their voice in national issues? A: No. definitely not. Women’s voice is not heard. If it is heard, we would have less domestic violence, more diplomatic support in Middle Eastern countries where they work as unskilled labourers, better systems to take care of young children when the mothers are away, and more women in parliament and in local government bodies.   Q: What new roles should women/mothers play in the future? A: I think society should seriously consider if they need children raised in a safe and healthy environment. It is not an issue of women alone. Women need to take care of the household economy, protect their children from all types of ills, and play the role of the citizen too. They raise future citizens and they should be taken care of by society, not because they are recognised as a ‘weak sex,’ but because they perform an indispensable role to sustain communities. Q: In terms of policy, what changes would you like to see that would assist working mothers? A: Tax cuts on institutions that give decent work for women, flexi hours, work from home, and more day care centres.   Q: Your advice to aspiring career women who intend to continue after they have children? A: Seriously get your priorities sorted. Ensure that the choices you make today will make you happy when you retire from whatever work. Do not expect perfection from yourself. Learn to do the balancing of not only your work, but also your soul.   Q: Any tips you can share with working moms? A: Explain to your children what your work is and why you have to do what you have to do at early stages of their life. Expose them to your work if you can. Plan the day with them, not for them. Be nice to your maids and relations. Your balancing depends on them. Feed the children a good breakfast and dinner, so that you do not have to worry too much about their lunch. Get the children to do what they can so that they do not expect parents to help them in everything. Have some time everyday to spend with you doing your own thing – it may be gardening, listening to music with a nice cup of tea, reading etc.   Q: How do you stay inspired and continue on your chosen path? A: I follow Lord Buddha’s Dhamma as my guide and the fact that I can go to sleep every night peacefully and wake up peacefully, knowing that I intentionally did not harm anyone. I try my best to help people who are less privileged. All this inspires me to continue. My children’s love and their dependency on me give me a purpose to improve myself.

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