2021 Jul 28
Young peace advocates Janith Prabashwara Perera, Anojitha Sivaskaran and Yasara Ramanayake from Sri Lanka are amongst the winners of the prestigious Diana Award this year – awarded at a virtual ceremony held on Monday, the 28th of June. The event premiered on YouTube; and was held in the presence of the Duke of Sussex Prince Harry, board members and judges of the Diana Award, celebrities from around the world and fellow award recipients. Pulse got in touch with them and here’s what they had to say – read on and enjoy!
Janith, a past pupil of Vidura College and Ananda College in Colombo, holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Conflict Resolution and Peace from the Department of International Relations, University of Colombo. According to him, it was the volunteering opportunity and exposure to “matters of international significance, youth and peace and reconciliation” he got at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2013 and World Conference of Youth (WCY) in 2014 that initially sparked his passion for this field.
Anojitha from Jaffna (who also holds a Bachelor’s in Peace and Conflict Resolution from University of Kelaniya) grew up in Northern Sri Lanka during the decades long civil war- and it was the challenges and difficulties she faced during this time that made her realise her “role in the peace building process of Sri Lanka” she says. Drawing inspiration from her childhood experiences, it was this conscious realisation- coupled with her desire to serve community and empower her fellow youth- that has moulded her into the peacebuilder she is today.
Yasara is a graduate from the University of Kelaniya (specialised in International Relations) and also holds an LLB from the University of Wolverhampton. Her interest for social work stems from family- from her ‘Cousins Club’ (a voluntary service club) within her extended family, the wartime stories she heard from her aunt’s mother and hailing from a multicultural family background. “We celebrate almost all the festivals and engage with many communities,” she says- which gave her exposure to the concept of unity in diversity at a young age.
Janith is currently a youth peace activist, educator and researcher. His community work with youth-led organisations includes serving as the National Advisory Leader of the International Youth’s Wing of ‘SUNFO Global Federation’, a former Task Force member and current facilitator at the ‘International Youth Alliance for Peace’ (he’s been volunteering at these two organisations since 2014 and 2016 respectively), Advocacy Team and Communications Lead at the ‘Youth Peace Panel of Sri Lanka’ and a Core member of the ‘Global Youth Biodiversity Network of Sri Lanka’ to name a few.
He was one of the two Sri Lankan researchers appointed to the EU-funded South Asian Research Project: ‘Amplifying the Leadership of Local Youth (ALLY) in Preventing Violent Extremism and Peacebuilding’. He is also a part of international peacebuilding initiatives (e.g. in Nigeria, UK and Congo).
Anojitha is a youth and peace activist who has been working with grassroots and different civil society organisations in Sri Lanka for over four years. She is currently a Project Officer at the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka and a volunteer at Interfaith Colombo. She has completed internships at the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) (under the Prime Minister’s office) and at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)- Sri Lanka and Maldives. She has three years of leadership experience with AIESEC- the world’s largest youth organisation, and she was also a Team Lead of project ‘Hunting for Peace’, organised by Interfaith Colombo and supported by the United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY) and the Haëlla Foundation.
Yasara is an advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), human rights education and climate action. She believes “peace and prosperity are key pillars to build a sustainable world”. Being the National Coordinator for the ‘Road to Rights’ organisation here, she has engaged in many national and international level projects- including its International Summit in 2016, the Peace Expo 2017 and 2019, the G17 University Ambassadors Consortium (to promote SDGs at the university level) and the ‘Action to Impact’ national campaign to localise SDGs in Sri Lanka.
She was also involved with the now late Sybil Nanda in developing a booklet for children that promotes human rights education- and looks forward to publishing it in the latter’s legacy.
“Recipients are nominated by adults / civil society leaders who know the young people in a professional capacity,” said Janith as he took us through the award selection process. “These nominators had to demonstrate the nominee’s impact in five key areas: vision, social impact, inspiring others, youth leadership and service journey- after which nominations are judged by regional panels,” he elaborated.
“Receiving such an award in memory of Princess Diana makes me feel excited, honoured and tremendously inspired- I aspire to become a national and global leader in promoting peace and development. Continuing Princess Diana’s legacy is what all young people should bear in mind,” commented Janith- insightful indeed!
Two referees and peer feedback are also required by the selection committee. “As it’s my first ever international recognition, I feel really happy and truly honoured. Ushanthy Gowthaman nominated me for this award – I met her during my internship at IOM,” mentioned Anojitha as she thanked her nominator as well as her family, teachers and well-wishers.
“Award recipients are put forward by adults who recognise their efforts as a positive contribution to society,” adds on Yasara- who didn’t know she was an awardee till the last moment. She says she is “forever grateful to receive this prestigious award… it’s an unforgettable moment”.
When asked what he thinks are the most important areas of focus when it comes to peacebuilding in Sri Lanka, Janith replied:
- The UNSC Resolution 2250 (Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) agenda) should be localised and contextualised better.
- Violence against women and children should be combatted using stringent law enforcement.
- There should be efficient dispensing of transitional justice with regards to the civil war.
He encourages every Sri Lankan to have at least one friend from each religion/ethnicity and to volunteer a few hours a week either individually or collectively for a social cause they are passionate about. Anojitha similarly believes “the youth are a very important cohort for building trust and peace”. She also emphasises that proper education and awareness- as well as making sure youth voices are heard- are key factors for progress.
Yasara considers a lack of understanding of different cultures to be the main threat to peace in Sri Lanka. She expresses that “creating inter-religious harmony, inter-community dialogue, cultural exchanges and empowering grassroots youth social and soft skills” are important elements of the peacebuilding mix here. She shares the same view with Janith and Anojitha that Sri Lanka’s youth population of nearly four million “has a big role to play in understanding each other and creating togetherness. And they must take the lead now in leading sustainable peace initiatives and discussions, and work towards sustainable development”.
As they continue to fight the war against war – not with weapons, but with their words- we at Pulse congratulate Janith, Anojitha and Yasara on their achievement, and wish them all the very best in their noble endeavours.
Are you passionate about peace building? Have you participated in such activities before? What do you think would really improve the status quo here in Sri Lanka? Do let us know in the comments section below!