International Women's Day: Interview with Sambol Foundation founder, Devika Hasler
To end our International Women’s Day series, we chatted to Devika Hasler to talk about her advocacy work as founder of the non-profit organisation Sambol Foundation. Her goal is to provide safe protection for women and children affected by domestic violence in Sri Lanka.
We’ve long known that Devi was a force for good – as her answers to our questions below will prove. Devi has real solutions for women abused in Sri Lanka and is working tirelessly to bring about change for women and children all over the island. Threads of storytelling, nurture and empowerment are woven through every aspect of the organisation’s message.
Take a seat and read Devi’s fresh and insightful experience of creating Sambol Foundation, the power of women, and sustainability.
What inspired you to start Sambol Foundation?
My own story, my work at the girls' shelter in Switzerland, my knowledge of Sri Lanka my country of birth (which I have been visiting since 1991) my strong feminist stance as well as the aspiration to improve rights for minorities and of course the activism that drives me to use my privilege to share it for others who need it more.
What values have you installed into the Foundation and why?
Priority is given to the psychological, physical, and legal first aid of victims of domestic and sexual violence. Our values in the shelter are mutual respect, appreciation, and solidarity which we show to each other on site. There will be no judgement based on culture, religion, status, or level of education.
How have these values helped keep Sambol Foundation alive during the Covid-19 pandemic?
The unspoken solidarity within the team and the victims strengthened rather than weakened this time of the pandemic, that is how I perceived it. Through coaching, but above all through the strong, sincere attitude of our manager, the vibe that keeps the house "healthy" has been able to survive excellently.
What are some of the issues women and girls face in Sri Lanka and how is Sambol Foundation helping?
Due to the strong patriarchy that prevails in the collective society, women and children have an immeasurably difficult time attaining their human rights. Rape, harassment, beatings with sticks, even on pregnant women, abuse of all kinds are a daily occurrence. The system makes it difficult to obtain justice and fails the victims in every way. Our foundation, the shelter, provides first aid and prepares further steps to obtain justice here. Our lawyers and therapists, whom we involve on a mandate basis, take the necessary steps with all their strength and courage.
I can see that you take a sustainable approach to tourism. Tell us a little more about this and how it works.
Through our two small tourist and sustainably developed houses in the south, we had the opportunity to train the women in the second step and to make them independent with income as employees in tourism (within our protected framework). This independence meant that they were no longer financially tied to their abusers. Again, every guest who stayed with us automatically donated 10% of their overnight stay to the foundation. So, we had a cross-subsidy of the day-to-day costs of the foundation and at the same time a long-term contribution from every woman involved. Unfortunately, Covid is affecting us severely and due to the loss of tourism we have suffered a major financial loss.
For others looking to start their own project what top tips would you give?
No matter how difficult the steps to be taken become, it is worth taking this path even if only for one person and their improvement of the situation.
How did AMMA catch your eye and what made you want to work with us?
AMMA follows all our values, such as empowerment of women, promotion of women's independence, sensitive and sustainable use for commercial products, closeness and care for nature. We were able to fully identify with these values, which is why we chose AMMA’s interior products for our guesthouses. Up to this day, we are delighted with the output and consistency that AMMA maintains on a daily basis. It makes sense to follow the chain of sustainability for people and nature to the end.
As it is International Women's Day could you share with us a piece of advice for our readers who may be aspiring female entrepreneurs?
The privilege and education we enjoy in western countries only makes sense if we are willing to share it. We women are independent enough to drive projects forward and it would be too comfortable to just settle for our comfort zone. We owe it to those who did not have these opportunities. If everyone gave a piece of their plate, everyone would have enough.
The International Women's Day 2021 hashtag is #ChoosetoChallenge - what does this mean to you?
For me as a person with excess adrenaline, it is of course a welcome message (haha). Challenge or even activism (without being extreme) has not only a responsibility that we have to carry, but it also has a drive that should be contagious. Every change, no matter how small, should have an impact on our lives on a daily basis by those who can channel their concentrated power for others.
A massive thank you to everyone who has engaged with us this International Women’s Day! Each year International Women’s Day is a poignant moment to reflect on the ongoing inequalities many women still face today, and the work to be done in overcoming them in the fight for a fairer future.
The 2021 theme #ChoosetoChallenge has raised many interesting and inspiring conversations here at AMMA. We are thrilled to have shared a few individuals who set a tremendous example for change makers to follow.
Written by Izzy Bevir
Photography by Amanda Prifti