Much is already written about the late Kamini Meedeniya Vitarana , (09.11.28 - 28.07.20) leading scientist and activist on environmental , water management and women’s issues - and many more accolades will be written. I never knew her in her earlier days as a student ,scientist or politician. But long before I ever met her , I had been reading about the work of Ruk Rekaganno, the organisation set up by a group of committed environmentalists including herself and her sister, the renowned actress Iranganie Serasinghe. I was privileged to associate with her in later life, due to our mutual involvement of the water sector . I have very fond memories of interactions with her in the water arena.
Our association started with her appointment to the Water Resources Council to meet set up a Water Resource Policy for Sri Lanka in the late 1990s which coincided with my own work in IWRM in the global and local level . Kamini and I immediately bonded over the Third Dublin Rio Principle which states that “ Women shall have a leading role in the management and conservation of water resources.”
She was a staunch advocate of enhancing women’s access to water and the need to integrate women in to decision making in the water sector, especially at community level. Her earlier tenure at the Coconut Cultivation Board ( she told me she had been then known as Pol Nona) had sensitized her to the needs of rural women engaged in coir production and the impacts of environmental change on women in rural communities.
Kamini was an inspirational lady , who was good at encouraging younger persons . She was a great source of strength working in a sector where globally women’s role and gender issues are often questioned as irrelevant or unimportant. She had the knack of pushing , promoting or enticing people to engage in environmental advocacy activities which she believed was important .
Humble as in the manner of the truly great, she never pulled ranks, never boasted of her influential connections, never sought prominence, never jostled to get in to the best position in pictures,never minded sharing rooms with juniors at conference hotels. In the various organisations she had worked for - Rukrekaganno, Environmental Foundation Ltd, Centre for Environmental Justice, Centre for Women’s Studies – would all miss her presence and quiet confidence in taking on environmental and gender challenges head on.
I would miss her most in the annual Partner Forum of the Sri Lanka Water Partnership where, as a Founder Member she would always be in attendance since its inception in 2002 . She missed out on the event only once, that was last year in 2019.
One unforgettable memory is when I undertook to produce a film on minihydros in Sabaragamuwa and persuaded Kamini, ( who had much reservations) to be a part of it. This where I realised that all the acting abilities in the family seemed to be vested with Iranganie. The shoot proceeded , very slowly to say the least as Kamini fluffed her lines repeatedly. The camera crew were sweating, I was sweating and poor Kamini clutching the side of a large rock, with her daughter Ranmal in attendance, kept protesting that she is not an actress like her sister. Periodically we would all burst out laughing.
She will be remembered by many as an environmentalist with integrity and uncompromising values; a supportive and stimulating colleague
But her dedication to the cause and persistence came through. At last we managed to finalise the shoot though only after innumerable takes. This may probably be the only documentary where both sisters Kamini and Irangani appear.
It’s during this shoot that I understood the extent and enthusiasm of the network of environmentalists, from all walks of life , that she had gathered around her in her native province of Sabaragamuwa .We all saw how much she was loved and respected . In her last days , she had made a final visit to Balangoda to see them and to ensure that the work she had initiated in the Bambarabotuwa forest , Pelmadulla would be carried out .
She will be remembered by many as an environmentalist with integrity and uncompromising values; a supportive and stimulating colleague; a brave leader supporting environmental justice and and, above all, a wonderful friend . RIP Kamini ! May you rest peacefully under the shades of green abodes that you fought so hard to protect for Sri Lanka’s future generations.