Ranuja Chandira Pahalawela is an 18-year-old dynamic social activist from Sri Lanka. He is currently working on a project called “HETA DAWASA” – Better Tomorrow, which aims to promote SDGs in society, with a particular focus on climate action and the goal of no poverty. It focuses on long-term development goals such as excellent education, gender equality, and partnerships for goals that have a significant impact on making active citizens for the SDGs. Ranuja is also a volunteer member of many youth organizations, including UN Volunteers, Road to Rights, Action to Impact, SDG promotion-oriented youth organizations.
Another project he is involved in is the ‘Action to Impact’ movement which is globally recognized. There are many projects which he has successfully done and a few are still in the process. One of his projects is “RAKAWARANA YATHRA”- Helping Hands that focuses on assisting youngsters in need, particularly in rural areas of the country. Another project is “GREEN LANKA,” in which he organizes plantation projects with the help of youths from all throughout Sri Lanka. Furthermore, eco-friendly concepts are promoted as a result of this. The goal is to get people to actively participate in climate change and environmental conservation.
Aside from that, he is working on a study project about sexual education in Sri Lanka, which will be a great advantage for future citizens of the country. He aims to be a great social activist in the future, promoting volunteerism in Sri Lanka and continuing to work on human rights preservation.
Ranuja is one of the Finalists of Glocal Teen Hero Sri Lanka 2021. We had a few conversations with him regarding her projects. The major highlights of the interview are given below;
How did your journey as a Social Activist start? What kind of challenges did you face on your way?
When I was 16 I got a chance to be involved in a sustainable development project. Through that, I got many opportunities to get more aware of the challenges and issues faced by citizens in Sri Lanka. Specially I was interested to find more about child abuse, harassment, child marriages, street children. Personally, my family members are very interested in social working as well. After about two months I started my research about sexual education among teens. The National Child Protection Authority helped me a lot. While I’m working on the research many people invited me for projects to help children in need. That start made me a path to help many children around Sri Lanka.
Since I was a child, sometimes I had to work with my parents for traveling, data collecting, etc while managing their time as well. There were some days where I spent my whole day in the public library to collect research data. And some days I walk alone to meet project partners and volunteers around Sri Lanka. It is not easy to manage a team of teens from different parts of the country but as a teen, however, I managed those challenges. When I was conducting awareness lectures about child protection for parents it was really hard to get ready for those events. After I start my projects many people get together with me to help more and more children in need.
What is the motive behind initiating HETA DAWASA and RAKAWARANA YATHRA?
I used phone calls, mail conversations and live interviews to collect research data. By the way, especially those teens who I interviewed proposed to me to start a team of volunteers who are interested in social work. As a result, I started the youth volunteer community ‘HETA DAWASA’. By now there are 30 volunteer teens from 12 districts in Sri Lanka. We always work as a team even if there are elders and the younger one’s. By our team, HETA DAWASA, which I started, has been appreciated by many organizations, government departments, and international organizations as well. And we are the youngest volunteer team of Sri Lanka standing on child rights and child protection in both national and international platforms.
In 2020/month of February I got a chance to get involved in a physical project which was planned to donate some materials for students in rural areas. When I got there and spoke with those children I asked ‘what do they need?’ and their answer was ‘we need what you all have but we don’t have ‘. Then I thought about how I as a teen can help such children all over Sri Lanka. With that motivation, I started the project RAKAWARANA YATHRA by targeting rural children to help their studies. By now personally me and our team have donated school materials, data packages, cleaning projects and projects for disabled children as well. Many volunteer organizations and school clubs get together with us for social service projects. At the end of the year 2021, we are completing our successful 10th project. I always satisfy myself and am very proud to be such a leader and also an example to all teens.
In what areas does Green Lanka work?
Project GREEN LANKA was launched to promote reforestation, green concepts and awareness about environmental conservation. I choose children as the target audience to get their active involvement in environmental protection. We work on two main platforms: 1-physical awareness and 2–virtual awareness. Under physical awareness I get connected with other voluntary organizations and youth communities to get their support for projects. By those projects we cover plantation projects,green concepts promotion competitions and lecture series. I maintain a Facebook and an Instagram page to share knowledge about environmental protection. My aim is to make active teens who care about nature. I try my best by combining with school environmental clubs to promote eco-friendly materials to use in daily life.
When did you realize that you should work for the children?
As I mentioned above, when I actively get involved in social service projects I realized that the attention given to children and their needs is not sufficient. So I started my career working for children as a child. And also I’m a senior member of the school oratory and debating team. Because of that when I search about child rights and child protection I believe that one day I’ll be a person who speaks for children and their rights. In some projects those who organize the event they personally discuss with me and design their projects which are for children. My research was also one of the major reasons why I realized that I should work for the children.
You are involved in different sectors; how did you manage your time?
I work on a timetable. Normally I spend weekends and Fridays on my projects and programs. But when doing virtual programs I normally do those programs at night or evening during weekdays as well. I balance both my studies and social work in a good way.
What are your future plans that you are planning to execute in upcoming days?
My ambition is to be a lawyer one day. By the way, I have planned to carry out my social service work by joining with volunteers around Sri Lanka. Still I have a big dream to represent mother Lanka as a global representative to make solutions for Sri Lankan Children for their challenges. Currently I’m working on United Nations projects and also volunteering in local and international youth organizations. I hope to pursue a human rights diploma in the near future. Glocal Teen Hero was one of my biggest achievements to refresh my future dreams.
What message would you like to deliver to teenagers?
To my youngsters who follow me, I always say that ‘age is just a number’. If you are working on good deeds there are a lot of people outside the society who wish to help and guide you. And some people think that being a teenager is a period where one can bend towards wrongdoings. But according to my point of view, that’s wrong because if you have an aim and a plan to win one day definitely you will be able to achieve your dreams. Being a successful person is not being selfish but caring and thinking of others. As a volunteer, I think teenagers are the best part of life who can make a change in their lives.