Anoka among the twenty five most powerful and
influential young individuals in the world:
Challenging global predicaments
At a media briefing
Driven by youthful exuberance and fervour, she has been passionately
seeking answers to come up with remedies that could address burning
issues which plague the eco-system. As industrial wonders of modern
world ruthlessly strive to jeopardize the balance of the system,
activists like her stand tall, rebelling with vigour to put it back into
Due to her active engagement in environmental conservation
activities, Anoka Abeyrathne, vibrant twenty one year old eco-activist
from Bishop's College was recently named as one of the most influential
and powerful young individuals in the world by ‘Youth Service America’.
YSA List recognizes and rewards 25 vibrant young individual from all
over the world, who are actively engaged in voluntary and social
entrepreneurship work which address issues that plague the world today.
Her ‘Mangrove Re-plantation’ project would testify that blend of
astuteness and creativity is all it takes to make a difference. She has
been working with mangroves for more than 5 years, planting more than
12,000 Mangrove saplings. Her initial project encompassed Climate Change
Mitigation through mangrove replantation. The project also imparts
knowledge and awareness through theatre, platforms and discussions
Observing an organic weaving
Her promising projects meant that she was selected to SAARC Youth
Award Recipient 2010 for her outstanding contribution towards the
protection of the environment and the mitigation of climate change. The
success of her projects also paved the way for her to become a British
Council Global Changemaker and Ashoka Foundation Youth Venturer in 2011.
Having made it to such a prestigious list, Anoka recently caught up
with Punch to discuss her future plans on how she intends to tackle
pressing matters that the eco-system is faced with today.
What inspired you to become a conservationist?
Environment has been something I have always been in love with and
equally curious and inquisitive about, ever since I was a kid who was
wading in ponds to collect frog spawn to see how the jelly like
substance turned out frogs or the time I found a cocoon and documented
how it became a butterfly. So for me it was a natural choice to want to
right the wrongs and reset the lost equilibrium of nature.
I would say a lot of things inspired me to do my work, seeing animals
dying and suffering because they have lost their habitats, natural
disasters having major impacts due to deforestation, stagnating water
bodies and mostly people who had lost their livelihood due to
deforestation because fishing and farming is badly affected by climate
change and environmental degradation and Mangrove destruction. I wanted
to do something to make a difference and I am glad that I am making a
Do you want to solely focus on environmental conservation or do
you intend to get in to other types of social work as well?
I have incorporated social entrepreneurship with environmental
conservation so that it addresses poverty which is a serious issue in
today's society as well. And it addresses women's empowerment by
providing employment opportunities through the social entrepreneurship.
The beauty and versatility of environment is its adaptability and
flexibility so that we can combine its conservation into existing by
making small changes such as recycling grey water or not cutting down
all the trees in your yard. What are the key environmental issues that
you have identified which we should address?
Environmental degradation and unplanned constructions as well as
illegal mining, poaching and desecrating protected areas are some of the
tips of the iceberg today.
Engaging in replantation
What steps should be taken to address these issues?
Sri Lanka is already doing well on environmental policies; however
all of us need to pitch in to make sure that people do not violate
environmental legislation. We need to create more awareness on the
importance of nature, which can be easily instilled through education
and awareness building.
We plan to create more awareness through workshops and awareness
campaigns around the country. Media actually plays a major role in
creating awareness, its saddening to see that environmental issues are
not usually given a lot of publicity.
Recently we used digital media to do a video called ‘Make It Green
Again’ with the hope of educating everyone on the impacts we have had on
the environment. Young people are still reluctant to get in to such
voluntary work, how should we mobilize them and get them involved in
that type of work? What are the benefits that they could get from
engaging in such work? Due to the recession and economic downfall, many
young people are reluctant to do voluntary work because it does not
provide any remuneration, but the rewards that young people can gain
through volunteering is immeasurable.
Engaging with youth
For example in the Climate Champions and Change-makers programmes,
many skills such as project management, capacity building and networking
skills that are essential for anyone's life and career are taught, as
well as learning to manage time well. Volunteering really helps people
to come out of their shell and be the best person they can be.
How should we reach out to youth from rural areas? Do you believe
that we have a comprehensive network that can connect youth from rural
areas to get them interested and involved in such work?
The British Council Active Citizens programme and the Climate
champions have networks and champions in the East while Ashoka Youth
Venturers are present in the North. I agree that a comprehensive youth
network is needed to ensure that everyone can be part of making a real
change. Most of the youth are connected through colleagues and projects
so that all young people are part of making a difference.
Today’s youth are way ahead of any generation because of technology
and the society, so it is essential that they use their energy and
resources for the betterment of their communities and country instead of
using them destructively.