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Wings: the story of the Sunera Foundation

 ‘Here, the legless walked tall; the blind pointed that we may see; the armless embraced us warmly and those in their wheelchairs told us of the wheels of life, of this spinning world and how they could steer over the rainbow where they, the butterflies would waft on wings of art and song.’

–          Carl Muller writing in The Sunday Times in 1999

Wings is a celebration of 20 years of the Sunera Foundation. It will take you back to the early days, when Sunera’s founder, Sunethra Bandaranaike met Wolfgang Stange, of the AMICI Dance Theatre Company in London, and the two decided to collaborate on a performing arts workshop for a group of people with disabilities in Sri Lanka. “Butterflies Will Always Fly”, a full-length dance drama was the result. Created by Stange, with the assistance of Rohana Deva, it was first performed in Sri Lanka and subsequently in London, New Delhi and Brisbane. Several other successful performances followed.

Inspired by what they had achieved together, Sunethra continued to champion the Sunera Foundation, growing its activities, expanding its outreach, developing its programmes and catering to an ever-increasing demand for its expertise. Over the last two decades, many hundreds of families from across the island have benefitted from Sunera’s workshops. Through a range of activities explored in this book, Sunera’s trainers help children develop vital social, emotional and physical skills.

 Through Wings you will meet these trainers, who are the heart and soul of this Foundation, and the families they help. Facing down stigma and discrimination, these young Sri Lankans are defying stereotypes and empowering some of the most vulnerable among us. The book captures their journey from the first workshop to the performance at Samanalaya, Sunera’s bi-annual theatre festival – when these young thespians finally tread the boards at the iconic Lionel Wendt Theatre. For many, this is the first standing ovation they have ever received. It can change how they perceive themselves – and are perceived by their community – forever.

Drawing on Sunera’s archives and with writing by Smriti Daniel, design by Renu Warnasuriya and photography by Malaka MP and Suda Shanmugaraja, Wings explores the ways in which the arts can build community, create connection and transform lives.