Sunday, June 16, 2024
Maha Winnahi Mela 2024:

Inspires critical thinking in youth

by jagath
June 9, 2024 1:07 am 0 comment 627 views

Words: Anuradha Kodagoda

Get ready to witness ‘Maha Winnahi Mela 2024,’ an extraordinary carnival brought to life by Sulochana Dissanayake, Sri Lanka’s modern puppeteer, and her team, alongside Mahadanamuththa and his modern golayas.

The show is set in the fictional land of ‘Sasiribara Deshaya,’ where Mahadanamuththa and his golayas reside. Once a flourishing land, Sasiribara Deshaya now faces economic peril due to a cascade of mismanagement, rampant corruption, shortsighted economic policies, and a lack of will to change. Mahadanamuththa invites everyone to join him at the carnival ‘Maha Winnahi Mela 2024’ to explore the different facets of this crisis and aid in restoring the land’s economic prosperity.

Mark your calendars for Friday, 14th June 2024, with showtimes at 9 am to 12 noon and 3 pm to 6 pm, at the Municipal Council Hall, Galle. Entrance is free, so don’t miss this opportunity to engage in a captivating and educational experience.

Youth Observer had the privilege of discussing this exciting upcoming event with its initiator, Sulochana Dissanayake, and Dhananath Fernando, CEO of Advocata Institute, the project’s content expert.

Youth empowerment

The concept of ‘Maha Winnahi Mela 2024’ emerged from a blend of youth empowerment and economic advocacy.

When Sri Lanka Engage invited pitches for a youth empowerment proposal, Sulochana Dissanayake, spearheading the initiative, immediately recognised a critical gap: economic literacy.

“Economic literacy was the biggest knowledge gap we witnessed during the crisis of 2022/2023,” Dissanayake explained.

“I thought it would be great if we could combine empowerment and advocacy with accurate economic knowledge, enabling youth to understand how we fell into this crisis, where we are now, and what we can do to move forward,” she said.

The idea of using a carnival to address these complex socio-political issues was both innovative and strategic. Dissanayake saw the potential of educating through entertainment, a field where Power of Play excels.

“We chose Advocata to partner with us as the content expert,” she said. “Power of Play’s expertise lies in educating through entertainment, and we work best when coupled with content experts who ensure the accuracy of the information we deliver.”

Advocata embraced this collaborative opportunity, leading an online national survey to identify key knowledge gaps among the youth regarding the economic crisis and pending reforms.

Focus group discussions were also held with 60 selected youth from Galle and Matara, facilitated by Sahana Social Development Alliance. “Advocata summarized the online survey results and in-person group discussions to pinpoint where the key knowledge gaps occurred.

We also invited Advocata to conduct a two day training for the Power Of Play team of artists to see how we could bridge those knowledge gaps and draw a bigger picture of what went wrong in the economy of Sri Lanka,” she said.

During the two-day training, the team distilled the most critical information into seven key points and decided to create an engaging performance to convey these concepts.

The complexity of the message exceeded the limits of standard proscenium-style performances, prompting them to adopt a village-style carnival format. This setup features multiple simultaneous attractions and main stage acts, each conveying specific messages.

Effective carnival style

To effectively convey the message of economic reform, the team carefully matched performance styles to each key knowledge area. For example, to illustrate the budget deficit, they created the visually striking Maha Dena-Dana Kalaya Poojava, inspired by ritualistic healing processes. “We wanted to show that no matter how much income you pump into an economy, if expenses are too large, you’ll always have a deficit,” Sulochana explained.

Debt crisis was presented as a clown show, asking whether debt should focus on consumption or investment. “Debt isn’t the problem if used for high ROI investments instead of massive, low-return projects prone to corruption,” she noted.

The lack of market freedom was depicted through a traditional ‘salpil’ (auction), and the swollen state sector was tackled with a game show where the audience could ‘play’ to reduce inefficiency.

Carnival stalls featured interactive installations questioning the effectiveness of free education, public corruption, youth opportunities lost due to economic mismanagement, and the overall debt burden on citizens.

Through puppet shows, clown acts, and animated films, ‘Maha Winnahi Mela 2024’ makes complex economic concepts accessible and engaging for all.

Artistic challenges

Speaking about the creative process behind designing the carnival’s attractions and the artistic challenges faced, Sulochana shed light on the delicate balance between entertainment and education.

“The biggest challenge was knowing how much information to give and how to convey that information without losing the artistic quality,” she explained. “I chose to showcase the performers and their distinctive styles, matching each knowledge area to a specific performance style. Each main stage act at the carnival is led by a Power of Play artist, utilizing various art forms such as puppetry, clowning, drama, music, dancing, storytelling, animation, and interactive theater. That was the creative concept behind the carnival,” she said.

“Maha Winnahi Mela 2024” aims to inspire youth to embrace questioning and critical thinking about Sri Lanka’s economic issues. “We aim to direct them to reliable sources of economic information,” says Sulochana, “encouraging them to examine different data points and connect the dots to form their own understanding.”

Success will be measured through a digital audience evaluation survey. According to Sulochana, “This digital feedback, combined with live audience reactions, will enable us to comprehensively assess the overall impact and success of the carnival in achieving its educational objectives.”

In the long term, creative arts are seen as essential in addressing socio-political issues. “Arts provide a familiar and engaging platform that encourages people to open up,” Sulochana said. “Without the people, there can’t be policies,” she notes, highlighting the importance of engaging grassroots communities in driving necessary changes.


“One key objective is to simplify complex economic concepts so that the average person can apply them in their daily life”

In an innovative move to improve economic literacy and education in Sri Lanka, Advocata Institute has partnered on the ‘Maha Winnahi Mela 2024’ project. Advocata, a think tank envisioning a free and prosperous society, saw this carnival as a creative platform to achieve one of its key objectives, that is, making economics accessible to everyone.

Speaking to the Youth Observer, Dhananath Fernando, CEO of Advocata Institute, emphasized the alignment of this project with Advocata’s mission. “We aim to improve economic literacy among the populace, and Maha Winnahi Mela 2024 serves this purpose creatively,” he said. “We were pleased to provide the research and factual background for this project. Advocata is always keen to experiment with novel ideas to create impact, and this collaboration is a great success.”

The primary goal of this carnival is to demystify complex economic concepts, making them understandable and applicable to daily life. “Economics has often been seen as a distant subject due to the technicality of its explanations,” Fernando noted. “One key objective is to simplify complex economic concepts so that the average person can apply them in their daily life.”

Following the recent economic crisis in Sri Lanka, the need for economic reforms has become more pressing. Advocata aims to empower Sri Lankans to respond to this crisis proactively. Fernando added, “We want to contribute to helping Sri Lankans respond to the crisis better and more proactively. We also aim to understand the views of common people, the reasons for the crisis, and solutions to overcome it.”

The partnership with USAID through the Sri Lanka Engage program has been instrumental in supporting the Maha Winnahi Mela 2024. Advocata’s engagement with “Power of Play” has facilitated this collaboration. “We believe in a collective effort to overcome the crisis and are grateful for the support from all partners,” Fernando said.

To ensure that the educational content is both accurate and accessible, Advocata relies on fact-driven policy recommendations and narratives supported by global case studies. “We aim to simplify our messaging and reach a broader audience through social media in three languages, providing accessibility and the opportunity to engage with a wider audience,” Fernando explained.

Advocata sees this project as a stepping stone for future initiatives aimed at promoting economic reforms and governance awareness in Sri Lanka. “This initiative helps us understand how to decode economic problems and solutions for common people and address them in a language that is more relevant to them,” Fernando remarked. “Thus, creating a greater impact together.”

The Maha Winnahi Mela 2024 represents a significant effort by Advocata Institute to engage the public in economic education and reform advocacy, setting the stage for future projects that will continue to promote economic literacy and proactive responses to economic challenges in Sri Lanka.

Pix: Power of Play 

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