“Oh the places we’ll go” – Dr. Seuss
Written By Khadeeja Firaz ( SLYO- Sri Lanaka)
Indeed, life takes us places, from a tiny island on the Indian ocean and all the way across the globe but often there’s something rooted in our heritage that stays with us wherever we are, whether we are aware of it or not.
These were the humble origins of SLYO. During a time of grief our founder Aruni Ganewatta was deeply moved by the care and compassion of the Sri Lankans in Los Angeles. Their affection was sincere and giving, qualities intrinsically rooted in any Sri Lankan be it whether you were born there or not. This sense of togetherness was one profoundly protecting but more so inspiring given that there were huge efforts from a little community linked only by their strong heritage and culture.
It was these simple connections that nurtured the first chapter in Los Angeles, beginning with less than 15 members who sought to be a cornerstone of support for other Sri Lankan’s within the community. This chapter’s impact is one cherished by the Sri Lanka Community across Southern California and around the USA, paving the way for more chapters located in New York, Northern California, the Midwest and the Inland Empire. The primary goal of the LA chapter was to inspire and positively impact the youth in owning their identity and nurturing the quiet leaders within them, a memo now carried forward by every chapter, the motto “born to lead” a driving force.
These intentions quickly reached the Sri Lankan youth across the globe with chapters created in the United Kingdom, Canada and Sri Lanka. Every chapter has since actively engaged in efforts to support the growth of the youth and foster the facets needed in any leader. Anyone can be a leader but it takes the recognition of certain elements in order to become a leader that sees a change.
Leadership programs : This avenue has focused on nurturing leaders through mentoring programes and conferences as well as instilling financial literacy in the youth through partnership with financial institutions. Moreover SLYO’s project based learning scheme allows individuals to develop their skills hands on such as through the organising of fundraising projects. The hands-on project-based learning curriculum for middle school students “rise to lead” initiative has allowed for students in the USA, UK and Canada connect with teachers in Sri Lanka and hence learn of their culture and roots. SLYO has further worked to realise Agenda 2030 on SDGs through their education, environment and community welfare projects allowing the youth the opportunity to learn and participate in this realisation
Community Engagement: Unity is the cornerstone of any successful endeavour therefore SLYO prioritizes certain aspects to best support the community by teaching the importance of being responsible, compassionate, humanitarian and more inclusive members of society. Food drives, beach clean-ups, tree-planting, helping to set-up shelters, distributing food packages to the homeless, adopting and sponsoring families in need during the holidays, and going on community walks to break down barriers between individuals are some of our key activities of caring for the growing needs of our community
Youth Global Interaction: As proud global citizens our chapters are innately interconnected and although from different cultural backgrounds the advocacy for making a difference in our Sri Lankan communities brings many together. This unique platform allows many an opportunity to learn and explore. Through networking and relationship building although separated by oceans the youth are capable of navigating this distance through shared responsibilities between chapters.
Education without borders: Satisfactory education is the essential pillar behind any leading individual. SLYO is committed to creating opportunities for the underprivileged through the provision of sufficient resources such as classroom and learning equipment as well as the creation of libraries filled with shelves of books.
Inherently SLYO aims to lead by example and education. Through active engagement within communities SLYO Midwest, New York and Indland Empire have hosted vesak lantern making events to bring a little Sri Lankan flair across the globe, not only to remind Sri Lankans of their culture but also introduce it to others. Moreover, further activities such as mini concerts and dance nights by SLYO LA and game nights by SLYO Canada have given many an opportunity to meet like minded individuals and support interaction. Essentially the creation of a home across the globe for Sri Lankans, so that they may feel welcomed and supported.
SLYO LA has consistently worked towards substantiating education through backpack and toy giveaways, operation rise above, as well as the medical pathway to success; a mentoring initiative. The ‘Summer Love ‘ event was first held by SLYO LA and raised funds to construct libraries in the underprivileged areas of Sri Lanka, an initiative that is now a collective effort across chapters.
Education only truly gains traction through consistent awareness raising, hence the SLYO UK chapter’s #Voiceit initiative has created a platform for the discussion of pressing topics such as the BLM movement, mental health, body positivity and so much more. Most recently, the SLYO Sri Lanka chapter has worked towards educating on various matters at grassroot levels through digital platforms by creating posts on various festivals shared across the culturally rich Sri Lanka as well as celebrating special days each month such as Women’s day, Mothers day and Fathers day.
Although activities have been approached differently and innovatively by each chapter, the essence of each effort is to give back to the community and raise a better future for the youth. The cross cutting borders has allowed SLYO to become a diverse group learning a little more from someone each day. Today SLYO works towards extending this warm heritage to more than just Sri Lankans and has been well received by many who were curiously drawn in by the warmth of the Sri Lankan community.
SLYO continues to advocate for the realisation of an educated youth who are capable of showcasing the best versions of themselves in any setting. Although it takes individual development, collective encouragement is always a necessary push to get anyone far. SLYO will continue to ensure that their system of support grows well enough to shade as many individuals as possible until everyone can confidently own their motto “born to lead”.
“Alone we can do so little together we can do so much” – Hellen Keller.