Celebrating Role Models – Day 18

Animal Rights Activist and Co- Founder of Adopt a dog in Sri Lanaka, OSHADIE KORALE

I always get asked the same question; “Why don’t you start doing human welfare???” and I give them the same answer- “Humans can speak out and tell you their pain, animals can’t…” I have always felt their pain, hated not being able to do anything, always spoke up for them when I heard their cry and helped the ones who can’t talk.

There was never a right time to start helping, then we decided why wait! We’ll just start it small any way and see how it goes. So with two friends we started our tiny Facebook based animal rescue organization “Adopt a dog in Sri Lanka” https://www.facebook.com/adoptadoginsrilanka. People can’t believe at 23 years of age I’m doing animal rescues while perusing my PhD in Pharmacology and Biomedical Science. Parents usually refrain from allowing their children to get involved in welfare activities in fear that they won’t study, but being an animal activist, Co-founding and managing ADSL has really taught me a lot about prioritizing work and managing time. It has also taught me how to deal with different people of all walks of life.

We initially imagined just 2 adoptions a month would be something to start up with. But after just 11 months in operation we are involved in around 40 adoptions a month. we have an Adoption program (the current count is 312), We have a Rescue program (rescued around 50 dogs), and we also have a Feeding program which feeds around 125 dogs every other day in Malabe and Rajagriya areas, We have vaccinated 450 dogs and now have a quarterly vaccination and sterilization program based in Kathragama so far we have sterilized 350 dogs. We hope to sterilize around 300 in the upcoming camp in June. The best achievement in this brief span of time has been the growth of our fan base (7200 likes in the group page alone!!) and slowly but steadily the numbers are growing and the word is being spread.

I have, at unfortunate instances, ended up at the police station because of dogs, and have spent many a sleepless night taking care of rescued puppies. But every day when I wake up I am happy in the knowing that I have done something worthwhile and important. And I love the knowledge of knowing that I made a difference by choosing to help these innocent souls. I have also in the process met so many awesome people being an animal activist. I will remain one and will always speak up for the ones who can’t.

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Celebrating Role Models – Day 17

Brands Intern and winner of IDEATORS 2011 (season two) , MUNAZZA RAFEEK

I’m just an ordinary 23 year old with big dreams.

After successful completion of my O/Ls I started doing maths subjects in the local A/L stream. Being a proud Bishopian, I did well in my senior years in school serving as Prefect, House Captain and lead few other clubs and associations. My dreams were quite shattered however when I got just marginal passes for my A/L examinations. For a few days I felt quite lost and confused. All this changed after I got to know about the world of marketing. I began to understand the immense interest I had towards identifying consumer needs and being able to satisfy them. I felt excited about the whole idea that if I’m a successful marketer I will be the individual responsible for bringing in the profits to the company I work for. Here I would like to cite one of the quotes I live by; “Our attitude towards life, determines life’s attitude towards us.”

So with a positive attitude I looked towards a fresh start and changed my career path. I completed CIM within two years and hold ACIM DipM. I graduated with a first class and topped the batch at the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology in the BBA (Hons) degree in Business Management from Sheffield Hallam University UK. I guess the key highlight in my life however was when I won IDEATORS Season 2. IDEATORS is a reality TV enterprise competition organized by British Council Sri Lanka. Here 12 contestants, six undergraduates from Sri Lanka and six from UK compete in various enterprise challenges ranging from diverse industries.  Yep it kinda felt like being on the acclaimed TV show “the Apprentice” with the cameras following your every move and the extremely intense boardroom sessions. Here I learnt that while working as a team is vital, I have to play my individual role to perfection and ensure I communicate it well in the boardroom.

Through IDEATORS I was able to develop various business networks and meet lifelong friends both from Sri Lanka and UK (we stayed for a whole month together – so yes despite the heaty debates in the boardroom and while brainstorming, obviously we bonded J ).

Winning IDEATORS gave me the opportunity to travel to UK for a study tour at Plymouth University. Here not only was I able to interact and make friends with postgraduate students from around the world but I also met respected individuals in the Plymouth business fraternity. Furthermore I was given the honour of participating at FLUX 2011 for graduates at Plymouth University which is a business projects competition for the students as one of the 16 business experts. Very recently I took part in FLUX 2012 in Sri Lanka which was done by Kelaniya University in collaboration with Plymouth University as a Business Expert as well.

Ofcourse I’ve still in the very early stages of my life and have many more goals to achieve and countless dreams to make come true. Currently working as an Intern in marketing for a company I love, I do the best I could to help ‘add vitality to the lives of millions of consumers.’ So my next goal will obviously be to commence my career in the junior brand management level and progress in my career ladder, growing myself along with the growth of the brands I work for.

I know I will get there. Not because I topped my batch in university or because I won IDEATORS, but because I love what I do. I love the feeling I get when I hear consumers being delighted on my brands. And somehow I truly believe that this love, passion and confidence I have about what I do and who I am will just drive me towards making my dreams come true.

Photograph by Pavithra Jovan De Mello


Celebrating Role Models- Day 16

Puppeteer, SULOCHANA DISSANAYAKE.


People are nonplussed when I tell them that I’m a puppeteer. It isn’t something one commonly aspires to be, especially after double majoring in Economics and Theater in an exclusive liberal arts college in New England. Many do not dig deeper to find that puppets are only an entry point for the myriad of things I do. Puppets open doors that people can’t. Puppets enter hearts of even the most hardened cynics, and do it so swiftly that they are often caught off guard. Prisoners to policemen, clergy men to soldiers, corporate icons to lost souls in half-way homes, adults and children from North to South to Colombo 7 – everyone lights up in the presence of a puppet that speaks directly to them. Puppets are the magic of communication.

I always knew I wanted to return to Sri Lanka as I was miserably lonely wherever else I lived. But I knew that performing arts was the way forward to explore, connect and reconcile communities torn apart by decades of myths, misunderstandings and mistakes. At the end of the day, we are all human. We all feel the same emotions irrespective of their triggers. Performing arts is a visceral medium that impacts the core of humans in a unique way. It allows audiences to empathize with what they see. And empathy is vital for understanding.

Progress hasn’t been easy – it’s hard to convince people to believe in a medium they didn’t know existed. But I’m blessed with family, friends, mentors & a few corporate/institutional decision makers who have experienced the power of performance first hand and believe that it is the way forward in Sri Lanka today.

So, I keep going. Thanking those who nurtured me, taught me, believed me when I was losing track of myself and gave me chances to make a living doing what I love. I rejoice that every day. But I am nothing without my pillars. Thank you. I will keep doing what you empower me to do.

Photograph by Dinuka Liyanawatte

For more information on recent projects – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Power-of-Play-PVT-LTD/206118736149418


Celebrating Role Models – Day 15

Illustrator and Graphic Designer, ISURI DAYARATNE


Sketchbooks, pumpkin-orange color pencils and a lot of silly looking puppets make me happy.

I didn’t realize I could draw or wanted to create a career out of illustration until it was long after I graduated from high school. At the time studying Math in high school seemed like a good idea, but somehow I couldn’t see it as something I would make a career out of. I finally decided to apply for art colleges and eventually packed my bags and traveled thousands of miles to an art college in Columbus, Ohio. It changed my life. Not only did it make me realize what I’m passionate about, but it also opened up a few doors to other avenues of art that I didn’t know was possible. Illustrating has basically taken over my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s only been 4 years now and I graduate in May with hopes of contributing my talent to the animation industry as a visual development artist.

I didn’t know I could draw for the longest time before I came to art college. Talent gets suppressed with our day to day conventional lifestyle. Sometimes you have to take a risk and set out to do what you believe in. At the end of the day all you need is passion and a loving support system to see things through. I think we all should do what we love, even if it takes a bit of time and effort to get there.

As Mr. Lightyear would say, to infinity… and beyond.

Photograph by Nathan Moser

You can find more of Isuri’s work at http://artofsuri.blogspot.com/


Celebrating Role Models – Day 14

Professional Traditional Dancer, THAJITHANGANI DIAS

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I began dancing at the age of six under my aunt Anjalika at my grandparents’ dance school.  From that age on I have always been certain that I wanted to become a dancer and nothing else. My father, with his vibrant sports background, tried very hard to get me involved in a few sports. He succeeded with my sister but not with me. My interests were always towards Drama, Singing and Dancing. I am sure it was very frustrating for him at first, but I know he is the proudest of them all about what I have achieved so far. Even as a child I remember always being called on to demonstrate movements to the senior classes and also always wanting to “fill in the blanks” at rehearsals when a production was on and someone got absent. I have grown up watching my aunts, mother, sister and cousins dance. None of us were ever forced into dancing – we were born into it. We lived and breathed it everyday of our lives, and I am not complaining. I consider myself unbelievably lucky to have been born into this family and to know that I wouldn’t have wanted my life to be any other way. As I became a member of the Dance Company I started following classes under my aunt Upeka. Since then until today she has been the pillar of strength behind me, training me and bringing out the best in me. She danced like fire on stage, lighting up the space, and she has always been the dancer that I have aspired to be like.

We are a huge family of strong headed women carrying on a dance form that was once only performed by males. My grandmother Vajira was the first professional female Kandyan dancer in Sri Lanka. After her, my aunt Upeka continued to sustain the legacy of my grandparents, and today I carry it on as the principal dancer of the Dance Company with the support of my cousin Heshma ( Choreographer/Dancer of the Dance Company) and my sister Umi (Administrator/Manager) . I can proudly say that the Kandyan dance form has remained unharmed and untarnished within the Chitrasena Dance Company / family for three generations! It takes a whole lifetime to master one art form so I feel it is important to learn one dance form to perfection before experimenting within it or learning a new one. The base of my grandparents’ work is the Kandyan dance form which is where our hearts linger and which is what we have perfected and continue to perfect throughout our lives. I also believe it is the humility, gratitude and respect we have for our teachers that has lead us to where we are now.
Right now I am on tour with the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble of India. We are part of a collaboration that is currently touring the US. It is  a life-long dream that has become a reality for me. Meeting great icons of the dance-world, performing at prestigious venues, traveling,  seeing places and, most of all, dancing on the same stage with some of the best dancers in the world is more than I could even have dreamt of experiencing so early in my career. This tour has also become a learning process for me. As dancers, we learn all the time – through each rehearsal, through each performance – but this tour has really put my survival instincts to the test. I am not just performing, but learning to live life to the fullest! Dancing is not just a physical activity for me anymore, it is mentally and spiritually stimulating and gives me the opportunity to bond with higher ‘energies’. It has become my religion, my race, my nationality and my life.

Celebrating Role Models – Day 13

Lawyer Activist, SHYAMALA GOMEZ.

I was never a child that grew up saying ‘I want to be a lawyer’. The study of law for me was accidental. It turned out to be a life changing few years. I moved from ‘strict’ law into the area of women’s rights and continue to work in this field today. In those early years as an eager law graduate, I had a few mentors that inspired me with their passion and drive for what they did. The discrimination that women undergo on a day to day basis in Sri Lanka and the fact that many of these women don’t even realize they are being discriminated against inspired and challenged me to find ways and means of addressing this discrimination.

Working in the area of women’s human rights for the past twenty years, I sometimes feel frustrated and feel that all the work that we women activists carry out to empower the women in this country is futile. At other times one feels that every effort will in some way make one’s woman’s burden easier to bear. With that comes the feeling that working in this field is worth it. When a male participant comes up after a particularly tiring training session on women’s rights and says to me ‘thank you for that‘, it all seems worth it.

My work includes research and writing on violence against women, women migrant workers, reproductive rights, women and politics, women and security, women’s land rights and sexual harassment in the workplace. The more I work in these areas, the more I realize how much there is to be done if change is to take place. One has to have the willpower and determination to stick with it and not give up.

I have been an academic, a researcher, a critic, a trainer, a vociferous advocate asking that women are given their due rights at different points in my life. These different roles have made me what I am and enriched my life experiences. My passion for the work I do drives me even when the chips are down.

Photograph by Gerald Pereira


Celebrating Role Models – Day 12

Marine Biologist, ASHA DE VOS

People often ask me what I would have been if I were not a marine biologist. I
look at them blankly. Marine biology is in my soul. None of my family members
are beach goers or swimmers but that didn’t stop them from encouraging me to
follow my heart and do something different. Unquestioningly.

Being a marine biologist is uncommon enough, being a female marine biologist
is stare-worthy. I carry heavy equipment and direct teams of researchers who
are often men. I love the adventure. Spending hours and hours on the ocean with
the biggest animal that has ever lived on the planet – who wouldn’t smile. But
even the science that goes on behind closed doors makes my heart leap. The data
analysis is where I start to unravel the answers to all those burning questions
that reside within. I don’t see it as a job…it’s my life.

But what I do is not just science. I believe in empowering people with knowledge
and creating awareness. I believe in inspiring the next generation of marine
biologists and ensuring that kids know there are alternatives. That it’s pretty
cool to be different even if people look at you funny. I feed off the energy I get
from my audiences and as you can imagine – the kids give me plenty to work
with.

The stories of the great unknown had me hooked from the age of six. Everyday
I remind myself how lucky I am to be doing what I love. The challenges and
obstacles are plenty but things that stand in the way can usually be climbed
over or walked around. Knowing that I am surrounded by people who believe so
strongly in me – I know I can achieve my greatest of dreams!

PHOTOGRAPH BY SHAKIR JAMALDEEN

You can find more of Asha’s work at http://whalessrilanka.blogspot.com/