This is me and my beady eyes working on my Sri Lankan stand-up routine with the Consumer Action Forum in Tangalle. Actually, we were talking media and they were throwing questions at me that had me on my toes. Great, extremely intelligent and thoughtful group of people. The future of mental health advocacy is bright with this group leading the way.

A lot of my work in Sri Lanka is done behind a computer screen, pounding out emails, letters and news releases trying to get as many people as possible to pay attention to mental health issues in Sri Lanka – and to do it in a responsible and ethical way. I’m turning into a professional pesterer and I’m starting to enjoy it. Even so, it can become lonely at times.

That’s why, when I have the chance to jump away from my desk and talk to a group of people, it’s a welcome change of pace.

Just before Christmas, I was fortunate enough to get invited to run a media training session with a consumer advocacy group down south in Tangalle, Sri Lanka. While it meant hitting the road at 4 a.m., traveling six hours by car, running the workshop and then hopping on a bus back to Colombo and getting to my house at 10 p.m., I was game. That’s the way you have to roll in Sri Lanka.

The group I was talking to is hand’s down the most experienced and organized consumer group in Sri Lanka with over 10 years of history behind it. It’s made up of a diverse group of people – entrepreneurs, journalists, moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas and farmers. Regular people, dealing with difficult issues in a constructive and positive way – and doing it together.

Needless to say, it wasn’t a hard sell to convince the group that by presenting their ideas and challenges to the media together, they can have a powerful voice and effect real change. The only problem is that the process of change is slow. Patience and persistence is the key and becoming a professional pesterer is the only way.

We talked about these issues and more for about 4 hours. It was an interesting discussion where I learned far more from them than they learned from me.

At the end of the day, this group, and many others I’ve talked to in Sri Lanka, have all the skills and knowledge to successfully lobby groups like the media to take an interest in their cause and projects. The only thing they’re lacking is confidence – and hopefully I helped a little bit with that.

“You can do it!” is all I really had to say. Thanks for that Rob Schneider.

Peace out.

Shaun

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