Why Sri Lanka?
I often get asked why Sri Lanka? As a British 26 year old woman married to an Indo - Welsh man, (work that one out!) many people's first question when they hear about AMMA is "Why Sri Lanka?"
I thought I'd unpack some of our journey, answer that question and hopefully reveal how AMMA came into being.
My (Josie) first connection to Sri Lanka was in 2010 when I came for 3 months to live with a woman who has now become a treasured friend. I volunteered for Child Action Lanka - a local NGO based in Kandy. Those 3 months really impacted me and looking back with perspective definitely defined the years following. I returned to Wales and did my art foundation where my first project was a screen printed wall hanging dyed with and about the tea making process in Sri Lanka.
I then miraculously got offered a place at Central Saint Martins to study Textile Design. I remember my interview perfectly and the focus was on a page in my portfolio with images from my trip to Sri Lanka and a trip to Burkina Faso in which I explored the textiles native of those countries. That thread kept running throughout the three years of my degree,. In one project titled 'A place of belonging', I returned to Sri Lanka with my now husband Warren and spent time in Killinochchi and Batticaloa and these places became the focus of my woven work in which I experimented with natural dyes for the first time. The images below are examples of my degree show work.
AMMA first developed as an idea when that same cherished friend from Sri Lanka asked if I would be interested in starting a social enterprise with a group of mothers in Nuwara Eliya. At this point I had just graduated and six months later myself and my husband returned to Sri Lanka to trial the idea. It was then followed by months of fundraising, making and sharing ideas with friends and family back in the UK. This lead to some key moments when we had returned to the UK. Sri Lanka felt a long way off, as did our experience of working with the mothers in the highlands. Trying to convey this to the people we loved back home was difficult. Trying to convince them that this was a good thing to do was even harder. Myself and my husband are financially supported by friends and family from the UK (some we know well and some we don't). All these people believe that AMMA has a future, and that investing in social enterprise and job creation is the best way to end poverty. That’s an encouraging statement to wake up to everyday, and one I need to keep remembering.
Those key moments; the first sitting with a close friend in a London coffee shop - she's graphic designer and thinks in a way I never could. She pulled our experience and ideas apart and then pieced them back together. 'AMMA' came out of that conversation, and she doodled our logo whilst at work a few weeks later.
Another was discovering Joyn India. I watched a video series on their process and life, and I just knew right then that we had to live in the highlands among the mothers and families that we worked with. At the time I was finding ways to live in the city close to our friends and manage AMMA from there, but it was at this point I knew that it would never become what I envisioned it being if I didn’t take live as a neighbour to the mothers and the workshop. So we had to swim in the deep or nothing.
Along with those moments there have been many more defining AMMA altering decisions and wise words. Writing this I realize that I want to encourage anyone reading to muster up the courage to seek within you what it is that your heart, soul and body calls you to do. March has been a shit month for us. Stuff happens and you have to keep going but it doesn't overshadow all the good - another thing to remind myself of! Whatever it is that your whole being longs for, it'll be harder than you expect but you will also realize that you are a hell of a lot tougher that you thought too.
So, "Why Sri Lanka?". Its been a long journey with this country and maybe I could have picked any country to visit at 18 and that would have lead me on a totally different path, but it just happened to be Sri Lanka. Its just what happened.
Written by Josie Mackenzie