SULAKSHINI PERERA, External Relation’s Officer at the UNHCR, former TV News Anchor.
For me, independence was never a choice; it was a reality that was forced upon me by life. I also believe that strength in the face of adversity is inherent in all of us.
In my life, the turning point came in my late-teens when, within a period of two years I went from being a typical ‘only child’, doted on and spoilt by loving parents, to being an orphan who had little choice but to depend on the generosity of family and friends. Needless to say, those few years and the immediate aftermath can be easily defined as the most challenging period of my life. It also helped define who I am today. Through all the bizarre experiences, both good and bad, I stumbled upon the path that I firmly believe I was meant to take in life.
I became a part time newsreader for MTV/MBC to help put me through graduate school. A month later I moved on to become a producer/line up sub-editor/anchor on television. During a span of three years there, I can confidently say that I learned much more ‘on the job’, than I would ever have learned sitting in a classroom, listening to someone teach me about becoming a TV journalist. But the most significant change, both personally and professionally, came when I joined the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Sri Lanka.
When I look back, I am amazed at how my six years with UNHCR has helped mold me into the person I am today. Especially in my line of work, I have the good fortune of regularly traveling to the areas where we work and meeting with the people we help, both in Sri Lanka and overseas. Each time I am reminded that, in the midst of all the criticism about the UN and its bureaucracy, we do make a difference in people’s lives, be it through something simple like giving a pack of essential household items and cash grant to a single-mother of five who has lost everything in the conflict, to helping an old lady who has been living in a camp in India for decades return home to meet her grand children for the first time or by providing protection to a young boy forced to flee his own country for fear of being persecuted for his religious beliefs.
Despite the intense personal losses I have experienced, individuals like these have helped bring a sense of perspective into my life. In the midst of everything that’s wrong with the world, there are people who have picked themselves up and wake up in each morning ready to battle it out with whatever life throws at them.
To me, these are the true role models.