What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
Despite the investment and interest on mental health promotion in Sri Lanka, still people are reluctant to come forward due to myths and stigma, that were coined with mental illnesses. Though there is possibility of preventing the occurance of such illnesses, and treat them people hide their patients, until such time of uncontrolable illness. Educating the community through life stories found to be effective, but keeping the concentration to a story found to be difficult. Thus, the Forum Theatre concept was adapted here to let people practically involved in understanding the issues as an interactive exercise by dramatising the story.
Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.
I am a survivor of suicide. But, until the time I took the challenge of leading BasicNeeds Sri Lanka  as the Country Programme Manager, I never knew that my strange behaviour in 1978 was due to a mental illness which is called Depression. Looking at the BasicNeeds Mental Health and Development Model, my Sri Lankan colleagues and partners had doubts whether people would come forward to say that they are having a mental illness, and consulting them in a big community gathering was a challenge. I had no choice, but to make it work in Sri Lanka. Therefore, I decided to share my story as a consumer in mental health , which was a difficult decision. I was the first Sri Lankan professional who revealed my status publicly.
I am happy today for taking that decision having more than 150 stabilized mentally ill people assisted through BasicNeeds - Sri Lanka Government partnership programme (funded by DfID UK from 2003 - 2007, with about 30 are sharing their stories at the consultative awareness programmes organised by BasicNeeds and their partners in Sri Lanka. This movement which we founded with 12 consumers in 2005, is now a registered NGO in Sri Lanka -Nidahas Chinthana Sansadaya, i.e. A Forum of Freedom to Think. From this year, they have also offered honourary memberships for those active village volunteers who helped them control their illnesses. When I left BasicNeeds, due to my health status in December 2006 I have donated SLRs.100,000/- (app. US$1000/-) to BasicNeeds Sri Lanka, requesting them to use that in the development of this consumer action forum. They were so nice to transfer that to the Forum account, when it got registered in November 2008.
In January 2008, with another four professionals who admire my work and the vision organised to form a company - a consultancy firm called Laymen's Den PLC. The idea was to earn as a team for our living while using some savings for the wellbeing of others, i.e. innovative development work. It was not just money, but also sharing with and/or transfering our talents and expertise to the young members of marginalised communities, through programmes and internships where possible. Ours is a small company, amidst the giants of highly profit oriented product/services based companies. My commitment to mental health promotion has not stopped there. This theatre group of consumers made me proud, for neing the trainer, director and producer of the Theatre of Oppressed. Recognizing my commitment to fellow mentally ill people, the members of Nidahas Chinthana Sansadaya officially announced me as the founder and national organiser ot this young organisation.
My career life since October 1987:
[1987-1991] Upali Newspapers PLC, Sri Lanka - Deputy Editor, Vidusara Science Weekly
[1991-2000] Practical Action South Asia (formerly referred to as ITDG) - Communications Adviser [1991- 1994]; Projct Manager/ Communications and small Enterprise Development [1994-2000]
[2000-2001] Independent consultant/ Communications and small enterprise development
[2001-2007] BasicNeeds Sri Lanka - Country Programme Manager
[2007-2008] Independent consultant/ Project Management, communications and small enterprise development
[2008 todate] Laymen's Den PLC - Managing Director
and also being honoured as the Founder of Nidahas Chinthana Sansadaya
How did you first hear about Changemakers?
Through another organization or company
If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company
Young Asia Television Programme on Ashoka Fellows