‘My Friends and I Never Dreamt Big’
Meet Susantha, 17. He’s a member of a ChildFund youth group in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, where we help young people develop and demonstrate leadership skills through community involvement.
At 4:30 a.m., Susantha’s day has already begun. He is up before dawn preparing his speech for the student assembly in his school. Later, he will go to the Kataragam sacred shrine. It’s Perahera (pageant) season, and thousands of Buddhist devotees will flock to the site. Susantha, along with other youths, will be volunteering at the First Aid center.
The eldest child in his family of five, Susantha joined his local youth club supported by ChildFund in 2004. “I was very different to the person I am today,” he recalls. “My friends and I never dreamt big. We never participated in the community. I was shy. Then came ChildFund,” he says.
“The real change came after I participated in the life skill development programs,” he confides. “I enjoyed taking part in trainings and camps, which helped me become a leader, interact with others, speak in public and set targets for myself. Now I am confident and I am comfortable in leadership roles. For example, my friends and I painted Buddhist temples, organized a Densala [free food distribution] and arranged a cricket tournament in the village. Recently, we had a camp for other children and youths.” He emphasizes, with pride, “We organized that.”
Providing youth with opportunities to engage in leadership and build self-confidence is a key ChildFund initiative. We know that skilled and involved youth will carry that expertise into their professional and personal lives.
“Youth have great potential, and they are ready to contribute their energy, idealism and insights to a community’s growth and progress,” says Devaka Amarasena, ChildFund area manager for Hambantota. “When they are given the opportunity to become engaged, young people take on a sense of responsibility for the common good. The most important step is to equip them with necessary skills so that they can make an effective contribution to society.”
Susantha’s youth club actively plans and designs its own programs. Club members identify and discuss issues in their community, and raise them at the parent board of directors’ meetings. Susantha has proved to be an excellent facilitator in the youth group discussions and has been selected as a member of the club’s children/youth board of directors.
“Today I feel very confident and focused,” he says. “I have a target now. I want to do my higher studies and enter a university. I also want to do good things in my community.”