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Sri Lanka: Grand old advocacy strategy

Recently, I attended a Sri Lankan children’s event where the chief guest was His Excellency the President Hon Mahinda Rajapakse. The venue was swarming with presidential security men. Every person was checked. Every item was checked before we entered the hall. Every person and item, once checked had a label pasted on it. The children were eager to see the President. So were the adults. It is not everyday you see the President in person.

Once I had gone inside the hall and was seated, the security men came and took their places. Everyone was in their seats. And then from almost out of no where an old lady appeared who was hardly able to walk. She carried a faded bag and was wobbling through the crowd. She stopped at one point and placed her bag under a chair. People started looking at each other. The fears of parcel bombs have still not escaped their minds. But she was an old lady. No one really suspected her of doing any harm. But everyone was alert. She walked through the rows of seats and tried to talk to a ‘VIP’ seated in the first row. The security men sprang in to action – but oh so gently. They escorted her to a chair reserved for the ‘media’. ( Believe me, the security guys did not allow us to sit there).

So the event started. Half way through the event the President arrived amidst cheer from the children. He waved at them and the cheers became even louder. It was a short stay for the President. But after about 15 minutes of participating in the event, he made his customery stroll into the crowd. The security men tried their best to keep the crowd at bay. But the President was keen to talk to everyone. As he walked by me, I was just dumbfounded. I could only put my hands together and greet him. And take a few photos. What happened next really made me want to write this blog.

The grand old lady appeared before the President, she held his face with both her hands and told him her grievance. He listened to her and told an official to attend to her problem. AND THEN, the lady reached for her bag, pulled out a letter from it and gave it to the President and said that everything was written there. Wow! I thought. Now why didn’t I think of something like that? I could have written down some of the pressing issues that children in Sri Lanka face every day.

I certainly learned something from the direct advocacy approach adopted by  that grand old lady. In fact the following week, when I was interviewing candidates for the post of Advocacy and Campaigns coordinator, I added this to the list of questions:

” What is the one thing you would advocate for if you had 2 minutes to talk to the President’?

Hats off to the old lady whose strategy was bold and great.

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