Somewhere in the calendar in 2002 I can mark my first visit to the North after the Cease Fire Agreement was signed. I was just a 7 year old girl who viewed this visit as a family trip. We visited a lot of affected areas-broken houses, rehabilitation camps, Army camps and also met a lot of people who had stories to share. I remember we stayed with an uncle who had lost his son at the war who was struck by a Mortar while playing outside. On our way back we ended up staying in a camp– it was an adventure for me and I didn’t know what else to make out of it. Everything people had to tell, all these places I visited were just stories and ruins I could never relate to. A word called “War” was never in my dictionary. Why? Since I was never affected by the war. My life was secure and I was just a carefree kid who had protection.
When the tsunami hit Sri Lanka in 2004 I watched my dad- then the mayor of Beruwala spend day and night rebuilding his city with the help of his people. I wanted to become like my dad, a man who was always there to help people. In my eyes he was making the world a better place and for me my dad was a superhero, and I wanted to be one too. For a 10 year old helping my dad in a small way was a big thing. I still remember my dad telling me, “We can bring in change.” And that’s when it all began. My passion to be the change I want to see, my passion to help people was born. The word “War” was still not in my dictionary and any sign of people dying was still absent in my mind.
But as I grew up and understood more of the situation in my country, the moment I got familiar with the word “War”, the spark of wanting to help people slowly started to die. As a Sri Lankan I had little love for my country.Then, being born into a country with a blood stained history didn’t appeal to me, I was in awe of Sri Lanka’s beauty but was never proud to say, “I am a Sri Lankan”. I was scared to walk out the door not knowing if I would ever make it back home safe. Bomb blasts were taking place every day, people were dying, things I didn’t want to hear were on the news- Sri Lanka was dying. In 2008 my family and I missed a bomb by just 10 minutes, this was the closest I came to experiencing the war and I was overcome by fear to be living in Sri Lanka. I no longer felt safe and I couldn’t bring myself to imagine how it must have actually felt like to be there. The only thought running in my mind was “if only I could leave.”
The finality of the war came to me with “HOPE”, something I didn’t feel when the war was at its peak. The spark of hope didn’t die just there because in 2010 I was introduced to Sri Lanka Unites. I was 15 when I attended the Future Leader’s conference, season 2 and will always consider it a privilege. The 5 day conference changed my personality entirely. It changed my perspective of my country and its citizens. The interaction with students from other ethnicities was something I was never deprived of, but the last day what I witnessed in the conference I will always keep close to my heart. I saw us forgiving each other, building bridges and creating new friendships, I saw us becoming one. I became a proud Sri Lankan as I witnessed Sri Lanka Uniting; and in that moment standing among other future leaders of our country, a leader in me was born.
A person is always faced with challenges when trying to reach their goal, my challenge came in the form of hate speech against Muslim. Racism stood between me and my passion of achieving reconciliation because I was once again taken over by fear, a terrible sensation, one I never ever want to feel again. While visiting the North, South and East during the school relations tour in January I always started my speeches and my work by saying, "I haven’t personally been affected by the war, so I do not know how it feels to be in your shoes. But all I know is the work I’m doing is because of my genuine passion to sustain peace in Sri Lanka".
Today, Six months later it pains me to say that I know how it feels to live with fear and spend sleepless nights filled with worry. I know what it’s like to actually no longer feel safe. Today I know how terrifying it is to think that you would lose a family member or anyone dear to you due to riots formed just bymisapprehension. I now know what ‘fear’ means and feels like and here’s what I want to say-“I do not want anyone else to go through it”. As Sri Lankans I know our beauty is our diversity so enough is enough,Sri Lanka does not deserve this. These incidents have reminded me the ugly truth of reality, but it has also brought me ten steps closer to my passion. It has made my belief strong and made me stronger.
During the School relations tour 2014, being part of the Dream team 3 I learnt that we recognize the power each of us have as future leaders of Sri Lanka and discover how best we can put them to use. I met some incredible individuals who have taught me how to perceive life in a new light, despite what you have gone through.
When people ask me about what I want to become in the future I always reply saying, “I haven’t found what I am passionate about yet.” But all I know is I want to do something for my country, I want to play a part in making it a better place because I believe each and every one of us should contribute in any way possible to make sure that those dark days never ever repeat. We might not be responsible for acts of history but we will definitely be responsible for the acts of today and the world we handover to the next generation.
Today as I continue to enhance my knowledge on how I can be the change I want to see and as my journey with Sri Lanka Unites continues, I know my life would be full of challenges, surprises butyet be amazing. I will today, tomorrow and always be a proud Sri Lankan, because here, every day in this journey called life in which I learn.