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Right route

Ashan Perera (Right) Representing Sri Lanka at the International  Human Rights Summit 2011 in Geneva
Ashan Perera (Right) Representing Sri Lanka at the International Human Rights Summit 2011 in Geneva

He has been the voice for the youth for a considerable span. Spearheading The Road to Rights, a youth led organization Ashan Perera reached yet another milestone when he bagged the Peoples’ Choice Award for the year 2018 of UN SDG Action Awards at the Global Festival of Action for Sustainable Development organized by the UN SDG Action Campaign with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the German Federal Foreign Office. The event recognizes the most outstanding and innovative efforts to inspire actions on the Sustainable Development Goals declared by the United Nations.

Considered as the world’s most inspiring SDG event to celebrate, empower, and connect the global community driving action for sustainable development goals the festival brings together the local community taking action to make these goals a reality.

More than 1500 youth from around the world took part in the event which was held in Bonn city, Germany from March 21 to 23. The Road to Rights competed against 125 countries and 746 nominations to clinch the award.

“My parents came from humble beginnings. We lived in Piliyandala. I was the youngest of three. I was brought up to respect and nurture the values of all, a tendency that is rarely found in the world today. Being different from the average child, my intention was always to find ways to contribute towards others. Upholding such values started in my home, where three deprived children born to our domestic helpers would wait for us to return home from school to engage in play and conversation. By eight years I was my ability to lead motivated me to start a small club named ‘United Children Association’. Inspired by competitive programs such as the Olympic Games we would create our own events and games that would culminate with award ceremonies, where the distribution of certificates cut out of milk powder packs and homemade medals made out of cans and metal bottle tops took place. The success of such events led up to setting up of a library which was open to neighbours, both young and old. They were encouraged to bring their own reading material to be read or exchanged with each other. This event was titled ‘Association of Neighbors’. These are the tinny buds of joy I had then which I never thought I would be the person whom I am today. Yet these tiny acts of kindness made me come a long way. My mission began there and there has been no turning back. Inviting friends and friends of friends, connecting with other schools, both public and international to discuss and research the path to ‘Human Rights & SDGs’ initiated ‘The Road to Rights’,” Ashan recalled.

He says that the vision behind The Road to Rights is to create an environment where each one of us understands and respects the rights of our neighbours. We all co-exist in harmony through a human-rights based approach.

“We stand for incorporating human rights for the sustainable future, simply to create a society where we love each other, care for each other and respect everyone’s independence,” he explained.

Filled with diverse young passionate youth from Sri Lanka and around the world, ‘The Road to Rights’ comprises 18 chapters across the globe. All their volunteers are unique in one way or the other. They are passionate and trust in the organisation’s core vision for a better future.

“We are mainly working with schools and higher educational institutes to conduct seminars, workshop and capacity building sessions to empower youth and children. We also believing in using tools to create awareness and empower people so that we have initiatives using art, sport and ICT as powerful tools for peace and development,” he stressed.

An old boy of Piliyandala Central College and Royal College, Colombo, Ashan says that he has learnt many life lessons from his background. His father is a mechanic and a businessman. His mother is a housewife.

Ashan opines that the most crucial issue that the Sri Lankan youth are suffering from today is youth employment.

“Youth is an important part of the economic, political, and social development in Sri Lanka. The country boasts of high achievements in education, including gender equality in primary and secondary school enrollments and more than 90 percent literacy rates among both women and men. Yet only a very few percent of those who qualify for higher education are actually admitted to universities. The unemployment rates among such youth are roughly double the national unemployment rate,” he said.

Inclusive and quality education is one of the key challenges in our society which has also led to issues like youth unemployment, lack of youth participation, their inability to cater to skills-based employment etc.

He notes that education is not only about providing the knowledge. Education is about knowledge, skills and attitudes.

“It has to be a part of the education system in Sri Lanka. That is the only way that we can empower and develop right midgets and skills of young people to fit into to this challenging world. Bringing the full potential of the youth will also be the answer to the existing inequities among them,” Ashan pointed out.

He says that the biggest challenge he has faced is in getting the support of the authorities and policy makers to share the same goals and vision.

“We as young people are the largest generation that the world has ever seen today. It is very important to increase the participation of young people in the policy and decision-making process to create a better, inclusive and sustainable future,” he expressed.

Queried on what he enjoys most about his work and Ashan says that the satisfaction of touching many people’s life in his own unique manner cannot be measured in words.

“It is inspiring to meet many young people from around the country and other parts of the world. Their stories, passion to create change, and commitment are truly wonderful,” he mused.

Winning the Peoples’ Choice Award for the year 2018 is a milestone in Ashan’s life.

He says, “More than 700 nominations were there, and each story is as unique as ours. On top of that we managed to reach the finals with fewer resources while other contestant had many more supporting grounds. However we had a strong team that believed we deserve the chance to tell our story. The path was not smooth. Went though many rough patches but finally the hard work all paid off.”

Ashan has done further studies at the University of Colombo, Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute (BIDTI), and the Institute of Personnel Management (IPM). He is currently reading for LLB at the University of London.

He adds that The Road to Rights has become a large volunteer network today.

“It is one of my goals to establish The Road to Rights as a proper global institution to strengthen all the youth-led initiatives in Sri Lanka as well as other parts of the world. After finishing my current commitments in education, I would like to further my studies by pursuing a PhD in the future. I look forward to serving my country in the best way possible,” he said.

The Road to Rights will be launching their chapters in European countries soon. They are preparing to promote sustainable development goals and human rights education in innovative ways. They will celebrate the 70th anniversary of Human Rights in December by organizing their annual ‘Peace Expo’, a non-profit fair where youth-led organizations and community based initiatives will come together.

“Life is not simple as we see it but if you think that you are going through a lot in life, then around the world in some corner there is a person going through more than what you are going through now. Appreciate what you have. Think wisely before taking action. Respect the uniqueness you have and try not to be some other person. Be who you are and achieve what you want to be,” he concluded with a smile.


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