Inspiring young leaders

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By 2017-01-08

By Umesh Moramudali
Ceylon Today Features

It is often said that the youth is the future of the world. For that very reason, it is important to groom a generation of youth leaders who would take over the country. Ceylon Today interviewed two such young leaders who represented Sri Lanka at the UN General Assembly as Youth Delegates.

Sachinda Dulanjana (26) and Chiranthi Senanayake (21) were two official Youth Delegates to the United Nation in 2016. They both shared their experiences in the following excerpts.

Chiranthi Senanayake

Q: What made you apply to become the UN Youth Delegate (UNYD) for Sri Lanka?

A: I firmly believe diplomacy is the key to solving disputes because it combines dialogue, understanding, mutual respect and compromise. It was a trait that really attracted me, especially as a blue eyed young girl who believes that change is a possibility for the doer that has conviction.

The UNYD programme was an ideal platform for me to really step into the shoes of a career diplomat and witness first-hand how international relations function, while speaking for the 4.6 million youth population in Sri Lanka at a global platform as the United Nations.

Q: What do you think are the major issues that Sri Lanka youth face?

A: I believe that the youth in Sri Lanka face one umbrella problem that practically manifests in various forms. That central issue is the absence of an ideal environment for the youth to discover, explore and exercise their individuality in all ways; may it be in a political, economic, social or even cultural way.

The absence of such an environment results in the creation of a welfare dependent, disillusioned, restless youth sandwiched between the struggles of everyday life and the pressure of national and international influences. The youth are simply not given the chance to be youthful.

Q: How do you see the struggle for free education in which most undergraduates are engaged in?

A: Education in its true sense is a factor that liberates a person and judges both the son of an abusive alcoholic trying to find his place in the world and the son of a well-to-do businessman grooming to inherit his father's trade, through the same yardstick.
Of course this is the ideal but no one can dispute that education, especially free education, is one of the few things that can and has attempted to bridge the socio-economic gap of this country. Therefore, undergraduates who have earned their places in state Universities have every right to fight for its sustenance and to show the leaders of this country why they have a duty to educate the youth.

Yet it is important that, at the same time, these Undergraduates do not take the free education handed to them for granted and not rebel for the sake of rebelling but in the name of a cause.

Q: How do you feel about politics in Sri Lanka? Would you enter into the political arena one day?

A: Politics in any situation is not pleasant because it is people's personal vendettas and needs being characterized in the name of greater good. It is the same case in Sri Lanka as well.

So very honestly I do not see myself entering into politics and the main reason for this is because I really believe that political power is not the only way to bring about change. The biggest problem in Sri Lanka is that we are not political people but politicized people who depend too much on politics to a point where we become emotional voters rather than rational voters. I really believe in civic diplomacy and civic leadership and I want to be an active citizen that is an agent of change.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you countered so far?

A: I was born in Kandy and I had my first years of education at Royal International School, Kegalle, until Grade 4 when I was admitted to Ladies' College, Colombo. It was a complete culture shock for me and it was difficult for me to adapt to my new environment, especially because I was admitted to English Medium and I was not very fluent in my English.

It was difficult to embrace the new so called sophisticated experiences without forgetting my roots; not losing my rustic self and what the village taught me. That was the biggest challenge and it is a continuing one I think, because I am not typical so people often find it difficult to digest who I am.

Q: Do you think that the opportunities received by Sri Lankan youth are class centred? Has it restricted certain segments of society?

A: Even in Sri Lanka, class based on birth is a slowly dissolving factor where your worth is being judged less and less by your family name and family tree. Yet class division based on wealth and other socio economic attributes is something that will always be present because the Socialist philosophy of shared wealth is a utopia. Opportunities received by the Sri Lankan youth is indeed class centred because their race does not begin from the same starting line.

Q: What advice would you give the youth?

A: What I want to tell the young people of this country is, each and every one of you have been given a chance to unearth who you are. So use every second and every moment to find your best self and not the self that others think is best for you. Once you find it, hold onto it for dear life then use who you are to treat another human being in the same way you would want to be treated. Always prioritise so that you can identify what is important to you.

Sachinda Dulanjana

Q: What made you apply to become the UN Youth Delegate (UNYD) for Sri Lanka?

A: To become the official Sri Lankan Youth Delegate for the United Nations was one of my biggest dreams ever. Due to the vast recognition that position carries, I considered it as an extra opportunity to serve Sri Lankan youth in a greater scale while widening my current scope of work with young people.

Since I was really passionate about the UNYD programme, I applied four times consecutively after I got to know about this programme. But I was only successful in my fourth attempt which was my last as well due to the age limitation of the programme. Hence my effort to achieve this dream itself can be set as an example for the young people who easily give up their dreams after even a single failure.

 

Q: What do you think are the major issues that Sri Lanka youth face?

A: I believe the lack of opportunities is one of the major problems that the youth in Sri Lanka face. Sometimes even though there are some opportunities, young people do not have access to them. Also there are some instances where young people are unaware of the available opportunities even though they do not have any issue with access. I also see that many young people do not have a vision for their future due to the negative mind-set. This mental barrier prevents them from reaching greater heights.

Q: How do you see the struggle for free education in which most undergraduates are engaged in?

A: I thoroughly believe that the free education system is the most precious gift which this country ever had. At the same time we should understand that the state universities no longer have the capacity to accommodate a large number of students who are up to the standards to continue with their higher education. Hence there must be a proper solution for this. One solution is to build more state universities while expanding the capacity of the existing state universities where they can accommodate any student who is up to the expect standards to continue higher studies. Or else the government should allow the establishment of more private universities under a strict monitoring system while ensuring the quality of education.

In that case I also believe that the government should make it mandatory for those private universities to provide an agreed number of full scholarships to the students with potential who are marginally not eligible to enter state universities but who cannot afford to go to a private university as well.

In a nutshell, I can say that at any given point the economic strength of a family must not act as a limiting factor in terms of education. Simply, we should leave no one behind when it comes to the right for education.

Q: How do you feel about politics in Sri Lanka? Would you enter into the political arena one day?

A: As per my opinion most of the issues in this country are either created or fuelled by corrupted politicians. So this country is in need of visionary leaders who can direct it towards the right direction. However, unfortunately we haven't had such leaders in this country for the past few decades. Also the people in this country are so used to these corrupted systems and they are reluctant to resist it.

Hence I consider that the political situation in this country is in a highly critical status. Therefore I strongly believe that as responsible citizens each and every one of us should get involved in politics to make a positive influence. It doesn't mean that every one of us should contest for the elections.

When I say 'political engagement', it can be done in different levels. Even casting our vote is one way of getting engaged. The youth of a country being the beneficiaries and not the decision makers of solutions taken on behalf of their issues means that finding sustainable solutions that suit the needs of youth is not an easy task. Hence all the young people in this country have a great responsibility to lead the way in their own capacity in order to make a better country for all. Answering your question, I can say that I am also one of those young people who will commit myself with my fullest potential in any level of the process in order to bring a positive change to the political situation of this country.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you countered so far?

A: Sometimes it is really hard to change the negative mind-set of the people and make them believe in positive change which is not impossible at all to reach through our collective effort. Because the people are so used to this corrupted system and they have no faith in making a change. It was a real challenge for me throughout the way. However I am a person who would like to challenge the challenges. Therefore each and every day I try to motivate people whom I meet while inspiring them through my own life experiences.

Q: Do you think that the opportunities received by Sri Lankan youth are class centred? Has it restricted certain segments of society?

A: Yes, Most of the times, this happens in our society. Not having equal opportunities is one of the main reasons for the prevailing frustration among Sri Lankan youth.

Q: What advice would you give the youth?

A: I believe that each and every one of us are meant to be on this earth for a purpose. We need to identify that purpose. Then we can get involved in our own capacity in order to give something back to the society, because each and every little act matters. I would also like to tell Sri Lankan youth that you should never ever give up on your dreams due to the obstacles you face. You just need to believe in your dreams with unconditional faith while you are committing yourself to work in order to achieve them.

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