Organising John Keells Foundation’s first public campaign for Project WAVE

By Nibasanda Yapa Abeywardana

I joined the John Keells Management Trainee (JKHMT) Programme in August 2016 and all 6 of the JKHMTs were assigned a CSR project as part of our training. I was given the task of organising the very first public campaign of John Keells Foundation (JKF) under Project WAVE (working Against Violence through Education) and I was very anxious not only because I was entrusted with the responsibility of executing a campaign on behalf of Sri Lanka’s largest listed conglomerate which places such great emphasis on empowering the nation also because it was a campaign which had the potential to take a strong and confident step towards eliminating violence against women.

While organising this campaign, I came to better understand the magnitude of the harassment women in Sri Lanka face while taking public transportation. It has become a critical and sensitive problem in the country, therefore, heading this campaign under the guidance of JKF truly helped me understand that John Keells is definitely more than just a work place! Among many other campaigns organized by JKF this was also one, which showcased the true potential and contribution of John Keells staff volunteers, to make a difference in the lives of people.

It was a challenging task to organise this campaign, as we had to focus on the passengers of four of the busiest bus routes in Sri Lanka. Bus Stands in Pettah Central, Bastian Mawatha, Gunasinghepura & Borella were the main target areas of the campaign. We pasted awareness stickers (in Sinhala and Tamil on 1150 buses), which informed commuters that sexual harassment is a punishable offense under the penal code of Sri Lanka and also the police hotline to report harassment faced with when using public transport. In addition to this we also distributed 30,000 pocket sized leaflets to commuters giving more detailed information on note only reporting harassment but also creating awareness on the issue of violence against women…

The campaign was scheduled for International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is November 25th and we had to seek the assistance of more than 100 volunteers during ‘month-end’, which is usually the businesses time at work, for most. Surprisingly 124 our staff volunteers signed up amidst their busy schedules without whom we would not have been able to make this campaign a success!

The encouraging response that we received from the relevant transport authorities, drivers, conductors and commuters showed us all the importance of organising similar social awareness campaigns in the future. I was shocked to hear that more than 90% of the women who use public transport are sexually harassed. Furthermore, the stories which unfolded while speaking to commuters, were heart breaking! We met a women who said she is being sexually harassed by her husband and did not know where to go and we were glad to assist her with the relevant contact details of where she could seek assistance. Best of all, was the corporation given by almost all bus drivers and conductors, despite their tight schedules, to allow this opportunity for commuters to be educated on this serious issue!

Undoubtedly, organising this campaign has been an unforgettable experience as we discovered several real-world problems faced by women. Although we managed to successfully raise awareness and bring a smile to some who needed support, there is so much more we as a nation can do! It’s been 5 months since the campaign was held, we still discuss the memories of this successful campaign, and it brings enormous pride to me as one of the main organizers and I really hope we can do this again next year! I consider myself as one of the luckiest JKHMTs because I had the opportunity to organise such a campaign that would definitely have a positive impact on the society.