Welcome to the first Sunayra Sri Lanka blog post! We’ll be using this space to put out research, compile and analyze existing literature on issues affecting the youth in Sri Lanka, and generally muse on this beautiful and enormous task in front of us. We’ve had so many questions about how Sunayra came to be, and I thought I this would be the best place to answer them! It’s been such a beautiful and wild process, and now sitting here to write it all down for you, I realize that this will most likely be a series of blog posts.
Sunayra was borne out of a very important and poignant six month Asia Foundation Fellowship where myself, Suruthi and Mira met. In the years following our Fellowship, we spoke at length about our experience in Sri Lanka, our diverse backgrounds as part of the Sri Lankan diaspora, and how much we wanted to contribute to Sri Lanka in a hands-on way.
Sri Lanka is still grappling with rebuilding and reconciliation efforts after an almost 30-year Civil War. These after-effects are felt in all areas of political, social, public, and private life, and relationships between communities and individuals have been redefined.
One of the things that struck all of us was that Sri Lankan youth in the Northern and Eastern regions were born into war, and have only a long-gone and almost unbelievable oral history of a pre-war life. Sunayra is dedicated to providing young people with the tools to creatively envision and manifest their own social and political futures, creating fulsome lives for themselves.
While it is important for economic development to take place in an area which has faced as much isolation as Sri Lanka’s war-torn regions, Sunayra believes that post-war development must move beyond purely economic goals. We view engagement with the arts as promoting social rehabilitation and providing young people with the necessary tools to envision a personal and communal future for their communities .
I was born in 1985 in the U.S. I was raised in a stable socio-economic space, where moves from house to house were meticulously planned, educations never interrupted, and where it never would have crossed my mind that I wouldn’t have access to things such as medical care. Within this context, it was a given that I would be able to do whatever I wanted with my life. At various points throughout my life I aspired to be a journalist, a writer, a politician, a lawyer, and a filmmaker, and I was able to explore each of these ambitions.
The above is an idea that a lot of children of immigrants grapple with. A decision, a confluence of events that our parents experienced, set into motion a seismic shift as to how we envision our lives and futures. Without access to various after-school and weekend programs, would I have pursued the artistic and academic pursuits that I did? Without my American passport, would I have been able to travel the way I have?
There are a lot of intersecting factors that made the choices of my life possible, but I think that the vision, the creative imagining, and the confidence to drive the future of the self and the community can exist in myriad contexts.
Sunayra is dedicated to the idea that art promotes healing and empowerment on personal and communal levels. In a space that still bears the heavy toll of war, that sees so much economic and social isolation, whose future seems to be in the hands of those outside of it, empowering and creating visions of the future amongst those young people living within that space is imperative for sustainable political, economic, and social development.
Engagement in creative thinking is especially pertinent to all aspects of life. “Thinking outside the box” is a valued skill in almost all fields. Without creative problem solving, there would be no technological advancement and political change would be slow. Visionaries are those who see outside of the parameters given to them – creating a new idea of how the world in which they live can be.
We believe that it is of utmost importance at this juncture, just seven years after the end of the Civil War, that youth of the North and East become such visionaries. They have inherited isolated, war-torn regions, lacking in infrastructure, fertile lands, and only just finding stability. Sunayra hopes to provide tools, through different types of arts engagement, for these young people to process the tragedy they have inherited. But we also want to equip them with the ability to see past that, as well as past their parents’ and grandparents’ recollections of their communities, to imagine and create transformed and thriving regions.
These youth have the ability to create this for themselves, but they need support from the networks around them. This support is not just financial, but emotional and educational. The creation of safer spaces to designed to empower, bolster self-confidence, and provide understanding are necessary. In the long term, we hope to engage people throughout the island. and all over the world, to use artistic frameworks in working with young people of these regions to explore themselves and their desires for the future.
This is why we believe that our first project is so crucial to start this journey. Our initial plan is to work with young women in the Jaffna region to facilitate storytelling and expressive writing. For young women specifically, the war has opened up new spaces which they must negotiate, both social and economic, and both positive and negative. As such, the process of working through their feelings and experiences during and after the war is important at this juncture, not just for their own personal growth, but to enable them to start creative journeys in imagining their future and the future of their communities. From there, our plan is to sustainably and responsibly expand outwards – covering more regions, more forms of artistic expression, and incorporating young men and children into our programs.
Well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This is a holistic project and Sunayra does not plan to take this journey alone. We are so excited to work towards a brighter, more hopeful future with the people and organizations on the ground who are already working towards reinvigorating those areas which were hardest hit by the war . Our success in this endeavour will not be possible without their knowledge and collaboration.
Not only that, but we want everyone to be part of it. So come on this journey with us! Check us out on facebook and twitter and let us know what you think. Get in touch over email with any other questions or ideas you have. We want to engage on the ground as responsibly as possible and honesty, transparency and accountability are of utmost importance to us. If you think there are ways to improve our vision, let us know! Hope you are as excited as we are!