Today I speak to a remarkable man, young and ready to win the world. The organization he founded The Road to Rights, a youth-led Organization was awarded the United Nations SDG Action Award 2018 by UN SDG Action Campaign at the Global Festival of Actions held on 21-23 March in Bonn Germany. Ashan Perera represented Sri Lanka with pride and brought home the award. Today on the Buzz he speaks about his inspirations
What made you start Road To Rights?
My parents came from humble beginnings and lived on the outskirts of Colombo in the town of Piliyandala. Born into this world, as the younger of two siblings I was brought up to respect and nurture the values of all, a tendency that is rarely found in the world today. Being different from the average child, my intention was always to find ways to contribute towards others. Upholding such values started in my home, where 3 deprived children born to our domestic helpers would wait for us to return home from school to engage in play and conversation, along with the other children in our neighborhood.
By the age of 8, I was driven by my ability to lead. Inspired by competitive programs such as the Olympic Games we would create our own events and games that would culminate with award ceremonies, where the distribution of certificates cut out of milk powder packs and homemade medals made out of cans and metal bottle tops took place. The success of such events led up to setting up of a library which was open to neighbors, both young and old, to be a part of. They were encouraged to bring their own reading material to be read or exchanged with each other from which sprang the ‘Association of Neighbors’ who met under a wooden shed in our backyard.
These are the tiny buds of joy I had then which I never thought I would be the person whom I am today. Yet these tiny acts of kindness made me come a long journey. My mission began and there has been no turning back from this point, inviting friends and friends of friends, connecting with other schools, both public and international to discuss and research the path to ‘Human Rights & SDGs’ Initiated - The Road to Rights .
What does your organization stand for, tell me about the team you work with?
’Create an environment where each one of us understands and respects the rights of each individual and co-exist in harmony through a human-rights based approach. This is our vision and we stand for incorporating human rights for the sustainable future. We are a youth-led organization that is filled with diverse, young passionate youth from Sri Lanka and around the world with our 18 Chapters. All these volunteers are unique in one way or the other and passionate and trust in our core vision for a better future.
What are the projects you are currently working on?
For this year we are focusing on three main projects in all our chapters and according to the demographic and current needs, we plan to add sub-projects to our yearly calendar.
Based on the focal points and key areas of interest, I was able to launch projects targeting different segments of society. Some of the projects which I have initiated are as follows;
- My Rights. My Goals - This Programme creates awareness about the thirty (30) basic human rights and the seventeen (17) global goals. The project will convene and educate a team of youth on the basic human rights and global goals. They will then take this task forward and spread the message to fellow youth by conducting workshops and forums. The team will develop the action plan on “How” to reach out to the communities with the message. The main audiences of this Programme are the school and university students. The Programme also extends to the community via youth clubs and associations that work on community development
- ILead - I Lead primarily focuses on developing leadership skills of Youth, Children, and Women. The project paves a platform for the leaders to share their innovative ideas on leadership and communicate it to a wider audience. The project, as its core event, puts together a leadership conference for Youth leaders. The main intention of this Programme is to build leaders who are well aware of their Human Rights and Responsibilities. Strong leaders empowered and aware of Human Rights will create a community that will follow them with passion.
- Green Girl - This is a campaign designed to empower and educate young girls through taking actions on environmental sustainability. The green girl platform educates about their strengths and capabilities while the programme will be exposed and coached to a wider range of skills to develop their attitudes.
- Meet the Minister - is a platform where we give a valuable opportunity for young people to meet one of the ministers in the country to discuss matters and get opinions on social matters. As well as the discussion about the role of young people in contributing to addressing these. It’s a valuable opportunity where youth can discuss their opinion independently.
Some of these main projects lead to mini projects highlighting the importance of the core value of the program based on the age group, such as My Rights, My goals, core related with growing to the future project. The difference in these two, is the audience, as growing to the future is for younger children
You won the United Nations SDG Action Campaign Award, what is this award about?
The United Nations SDG Action Campaign is a special initiative by the UN Secretary-General, mandated to support the UN system-wide and the Member States on advocacy and public engagement in the SDG implementation. Building on innovative and impactful engagement techniques deployed since 2002, the UN SDG Action Campaign creates awareness about the 2030 Agenda, empowering and inspiring people across the world to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while generating the political will to make them attainable by 2030.
The Global Festival of Action for Sustainable Development is the world´s most inspiring SDG event to celebrate, empower, and connect the global community driving Action for the Sustainable Development Goals. Organized by the UN SDG Action Campaign with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the German Federal Foreign Office, the Festival brings together the local community taking action to make the Sustainable Development Goals a reality. It will recognize and celebrate the innovators, conveners and breakthrough actors who are transforming lives and generating practical solutions to some of the world’s most intractable problems.
This global event with more than 1500 participant from around the world took place on the 21st of March at Bonn city Germany. Road To Rights was selected out of 125 countries and competed with 746 nominations. And we are pleased to inform our achievement as 2018 people’s choice award winners. As change makers of our generation, we are looking forward to making a difference in our people’s lives while working towards Sustainable Development Goals.
What is your passion in life, where does the inspiration come from?
My passion is always about empowering one another. I started my journey coming from a very less developed area, yet I was capable enough to reach the fortunate zone with my efforts. Since I have been through storms, I believe in reaching more young people who struggle to come up in their lives with many difficulties, my passion is always to inspire with what I do, to educate and empower them. Inspiration comes from each individual I have met throughout my journey. Hearing their stories make me believe in the capabilities we have inside us, and they inspire me to do more trust more in what I believe.
How challenging was it to win this award?
It was indeed, challenging. I competed with 39 finalists out of 125 countries. More than 700 hundred nominations were there and each story was as unique as mine. On top of that, we manage to drive to the finish line with fewer recourses, while other contestants had many more supporting grounds. But we had a strong team that believed we deserve the chance to show our story, and so we worked hard to acheive this. It would be a lie if I say the path was smooth. We went through many rough patches, but the hard work finally paid off.
When you say 'youth empowerment', what do you think is the most pressing issue for the youth of today?
There are many depending on the situation, environment and many other sub influences. But out of all, I personally feel that we do not have an inclusive environment in our society which has led to the creation of many social issues. When it also comes to youth empowerment, it should focus three areas; Knowledge, skills and attitudes of youth.
Lack of understanding of basic human values, responsibilities is one of the highlighted situation among youth today. I believe that participation and proper engagement of youth would bring solutions to most pressing issues like unemployment and quality education etc.
Do you look towards any world leaders for inspiration, if so who are they?
Along the road, i read many inspiring stories of not only leader but individuals. The most attractive attitude will be never giving up and believe in yourself. I highly believe that to inspire others first you need to believe in yourself. Trust what you are doing. There can be many moments that can be questionable of what you do but always trust that you can do it, no matter how hard the line is you are walking in. But apart from that Nelson Mandela was one of my inspiration, where I learned that “the greatest glory in living is not in falling, but in rising every time we fall”. The story of his life itself very inspiring!
What is your message to the young people of today in Sri Lanka?
Life is not simple as we see but if you think that you are going through a lot in life, around the world in some corner, there is a person going through more than you are now. Appreciate what we have already, think wisely before taking action, respect the uniqueness you have and try not to be some other person. Be who you are and achieve what you want to be.
Is there state support when it comes to youth empowerment?
Worldwide yes. There are many support systems. But in Sri Lanka there are many improvements that can be done in this area. Youth is the future of any country so giving them the opportunity to discover inner strength and weakness is important as a country to move forward and empowering them for the better future molding them to not leave anyone behind all these are important aspect that need to be consider and governments and policymakers should get more involved in nourishing these. Today we as youth are the largest generation that the world has ever seen. So its time to invest in young people and support them.
As an activist, what is your view on the political status of the country right now?
Well,.in any county political view can be negative or positive, black or white. What I feel about the enriched history and being known as powerful nations it’s time to make a difference. It doesn’t matter what political party is in running what we all have to keep in mind is we have to leave a better future and a better life for the future generation. We all need to start seeing the bigger picture. In order to achieve that it’s important to understand what changes we need, what mistakes we have done, what recourses and power we have to change these things. If all over the world can come to an agreement on achieving 17 goals by 2030, its not that big a challenge to our small nation to make the change happen.
Does the media give enough exposure for movements like yours, please explain?
Unfortunately, it is not enough. There are many youth platforms in Sri Lanka where they do massive community service, yet they aren’t recognized. I can name our organization as one of them. It is sad to see sometimes, that the outer world has seen what we are trying to do and not our own. But I believe we will be the change makers in the country. We can change all this as powerful, unique youth believers. But I also must say that we still have few outstanding and unique individuals who are taking our work forward with their respective media platforms.