I am simply continuing my father’s work

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By 2017-10-01

By Menaka Indrakumar

Flashing her infectious smile, not showing a single sign of how tired she was from the previous day's work schedule Kavindya sits down comfortably. Before she could start, she sent out some quick texts. From a young age, her mission was to bring about change in the lives of many communities. Kavindya has been working for Without Borders uplifting many communities. She is most passionate about her work and she hopes to help many people who are in need.

What inspired you to take up activism?

A. I think I have wondered for a long time about what the most effective strategy is to achieve my goals. I joined the Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association at the age of 7 and I grew up among strong women who had dedicated their entire lives to social service. I think my mother was also an extremely strong influence. Despite all the financial difficulties she faced as a single mother, she went above and beyond her means to reach out and help and to make others feel even a little bit at ease. She always made sure that we were thankful for what we had and she would often tell me that you don't need to be rich nor do you need to be from a well connected family in order to make a difference in somebody else's life.

Was your past one of the reasons?

A. Mom and I have moved houses 15 times over a span of 16 years, there were times when even two meals per day was a joyous luxury. I would always get a late payment notice and everyone in my class knew that I hadn't paid my school fees. This situation only changed when I was granted a scholarship in the ninth grade. I know poverty and inequality like the back of my hand. I know what it's like to be stripped of one's dignity and to be simply judged by your parent's job or how fat your bank account was. I think everything I've gone through has helped me understand the work I do through a very different perspective. At Without Borders, we focus on treating our beneficiaries as customers and to offer the highest level of quality with every project or service we offer. Dignity and choice is far more important than charity. The communities we work with simply need to be connected to the right resources and skills, they don't need anyone's 'saving' or 'sympathy.'

How did the killing of your father affect you?

A. My father was the chief warden at the Welikada Prison when he was assassinated by two underworld thugs on his way home from work. I had just turned two. To this day, I constantly meet people who tell me stories of how my father had stood up for them or gone out of his way to help them. He wasn't a rich man, but had a generous heart. As an officer, he never neglected his duty and was instrumental in carrying out many investigations and cracking down on a number of drug cartels that were ravaging Sri Lanka at that time. He was killed because he stood up for what he believed in despite countless threats to his life. I still vividly remember being shown his body at the funeral. I remember nothing before or after. The void can never be filled, but I think I am simply continuing his legacy and I know he is constantly watching.

How was your stint in the US?

A. I received a full scholarship to attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts at a time when I had completely given up on the idea of attending college. Wellesley would have been just a dream if not for Antonia De'Meo. I met her back in 2013 when she was the Deputy Representative for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Sri Lanka and I worked with her at the UN Country Office and she has been an incredible mentor ever since. She was an alumna of Wellesley College and went above and beyond to make college a possibility for me. It has been a truly life changing experience to be a part of the Wellesley network. I have developed lifelong friendships and discovered my undying love for Anthropology and Media Studies. It has been an academic experience like no other.

Will you be travelling abroad for more research work?

A. Yes, I will be starting off at Oxford this September. I hope to pursue a bachelor's degree and will be continuing my studies and research work in Anthropology.

You are constantly travelling to many parts of the world. Do you think that Sri Lanka is the most affected country in the world?

A. I think something I've realized over the past 4+ years is that Sri Lanka is a tiny island and the problems faced by different communities in this island nation are very diverse and unique and this is exactly why umbrella solutions don't really work. Since my focus has been on education, there are two main issues that teachers talk about in Kegalle, Dehiattakandiya, and beyond - outdated, irrelevant curriculums and unmanageable class sizes that exceed 40 students.

How many organizations are you associated with?

A. Without Borders consumes most of my time and energy, besides this I am a part of the Queen's Young Leaders' Alumna Network, Wellesley Centers for Women, and the Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association where I am helping with the revamping process of their senior guide curriculum.

From all the work you have done what do you cherish the most?

A. I started teaching at the age of 16 at the Warehouse Project and today I have students who are already employed and some of them have become English teachers themselves. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the kids I work with discover and become their most vibrant selves; transforming themselves into confident leaders and giving back to their communities.

And your advice to young activists?

A. Keep your community and conscience at the heart of everything you do and before starting something always dig deep to find out your real 'why.' Also, activism should never start and die in a plush office in Colombo, it should start and grow with the communities that battle with these issues on a day to day basis; they are the experts, you are here to learn and facilitate.

Pix by Anuruddha Medawattegedara
Location: Coco Veranda

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