Anojitha spoke about her life and peace work.
What was your early life like?
I was born and brought up in Mallavi in the Mullaitivu District. My mother is a teacher, working at a primary school in Jaffna. My father is a lab assistant in Mullaitivu. I have two sisters. We have always had the freedom to follow our passions and explore new things; my family has been a big support to me. Between 2008 and 2009, I attended six different schools and couldn’t get a proper education because of the war. Sometimes I went a school only for two days. The next day we had to move because of the shelling. We spent few months in a welfare camp. We later moved to my grandmother’s house in Jaffna because our house was destroyed.
How do you feel about winning the prize?
I am truly honored and happy because I have received international recognition for what I am doing. It gives me confidence that I am going on the right path. I also realised the responsibilities I have to improve my work.
Do you feel your work is making a difference?
Yes. The work I do is changing the way young people think. Many young people in Sri Lanka are not aware of facts. They believe what they hear. As someone who interacts with diverse communities, I am trying bridge the gap among different communities through sharing my experiences. Through Interfaith Colombo and the National Peace Council, we create spaces for young people to speak about several critical issues related to reconciliation. Young people are given the opportunity make friends with others from different faiths and to understand their cultural practices and traditions.
Do you sometimes lose hope and feel your work is not achieving any results?
No but I feel that we, as country, are lacking in state policies and spaces for young people to engage in decision making and lead change. It sometimes affects our work. There’s also concern about the security of people who are involved in humanitarian work and social action. My mother tells me, “Do whatever you want but make sure that not only you but also people around you are safe”.
What motivates you to do the work that you do?
At a leadership session I facilitated, a young lady who had a stammer said, “I don’t normally speak since I have a complex because of my speech problem. Your speech and training have given me the confidence and motivation to speak out.” Such feedback motivates me to continue my work. My experiences and passion drive me to put more effort to give back to my community. I really don’t want others to experience what I have gone through.
How has living through the last days of the war affected you?
I lost my education for several months. At university, I sensed the difference in terms of the ability to speak English, record of achievements and other aspects where I was lacking. Fortunately, we as a family came through the war without physical injuries and overcame our financial struggles but many relatives and friends suffered. I have relatives who are living with disabilities, shrapnel inside their bodies and with heavy loans.
How have you managed not to feel hatred and bitterness for what you have suffered?
One major factor is my parents and family. My grandfather used to tell stories about his Muslim friend with whom he celebrated Ramazan and a Sinhala principal who saved his job. I never felt
differences with other communities. My mentors are from the Sinhala community and they have always been supportive and inspired me with their examples.
What was it like, coming from the north, to study at a southern university?
At first, my family didn’t want to send me so far away. I couldn’t speak a single sentence in Sinhala so I struggled at the beginning. However, I made friends with people from different communities and learnt to communicate in Sinhala within six months. Now they are like my family. After the Easter attacks, our hostel was closed and I couldn’t find a place to stay. One of my friends from Kalutara invited me to stay at her house and her mother used to wake up early to cook for me. There are many examples like that.
How can young people influence the peace process? Are they an important contributor?
In our country, youth have been misled and misguided to take part in insurrections, the civil war and religious riots. Therefore it’s crucial to empower and transform young people as peace agents. This can be done through quality education and through creating opportunities for engagement. I believe that if young people work together, there’s nothing that cannot be achieved.