The courage to offer hope
Harshani Bathwadana, Sri Lanka06/11/2020
Harshani Bathwadana from Sri Lanka was part of the Caux Peace and Leadership Programme. She describes how she found the hope to bring hope through education to thousands of girls.
My story is about going from not having hope to bringing hope to others.
I belong to a generation which was born into an armed conflict. Even though we were not directly affected, it was a life where you lived one day at a time – if today goes right, we’ll think about tomorrow. Having a father who was a teacher, we were brought up to believe that education was the only path out of our situation, so studies were my main focus. Being the elder child in the family brought a set of responsibilities to be aware of what I did.
Teenage years were difficult due to loss of a parent, which meant taking more responsibilities in the family. Not knowing how to balance the newly gain role with studies, there were many times I felt I was lost. I felt numb for a long time, unsure of exactly how I was feeling and hiding my feelings from my peers. I wore different faces, to match the expectations of my family, friends and society. Having good grades was always a good distraction, everyone celebrated my academic achievements and my hidden feelings slowly disappeared into the background.
Time passed and here I am, with my Masters degree and a managerial job which I landed at the age of 25. Did I plan for this future? Did I have any hope of this? I am still trying to figure out what hope means.
The opportunity to be a part of the Caux Peace and Leadership Programme (CPLP) came unexpectedly. A friend, who saw how I was losing myself every day, encouraged me to apply, promising that Caux provides a safe space for everyone to find themselves. ‘There is something for everybody there,’ he said. He was right, CPLP made me the person I am today. It gave me the space I needed to be who I am. It gave me the people who are around me today. Most of all it showed me how to love and know myself. It was a life-changing experience – a transformation from not knowing to knowing, from not feeling to feeling, from not hoping to hoping.
During a job placement in Afghanistan I met a young woman about 14 years old, whose family had been terribly affected by the war. At the end of our conversation she told me, “Seeing you here makes me feel safe, it shows me that I’m not alone. There is a world out there which cares for me” In my perspective I did nothing. I was there because it was my “Job” but she saw a person beyond the officer who was talking to her.
Her statement made me think a lot which transformed my perspective on life. Her story of survival and the needs she told me about shook me to my core and showed me how privileged I was. It pushed me to pursue that which I felt was meaningful to fulfill the purpose of my life. How much could I leverage from all the people and opportunities I had, in order to bring meaningful change to someone? What could I do to make a difference?
Change one life and that will bring change to thousands.
After moving back to my own country, it was all about finding an opportunity which would allow me to engage in activities that would change people’s lives. My search led me to an International Non-Governmental Organization, Room to Read, which works in the field of Literacy and education, supporting girls to stay in school, that they get the much needed support to ensure they reach their full potential as human beings.
The power is in the testimonies of the work which we do. When a family comes and tells you that their daughter is the first in the family to finish secondary education or maybe the first to enroll for university, it is difficult to keep the tears in. Life is not about ticking boxes that make you acceptable for the people around you. I feel that life is actually about knowing your heart and following it to wherever it takes you.
Bringing hope to people and to oneself needs a lot of courage. Courage can’t be found unless you have a motivation. Thanks to a young girl who shook me to my core I could find that courage to see what I needed to do. I was able to ask for help, for guidance for support. And I was able to unleash my bottom drawer knowing that nobody would judge me. Because of one girl’s voice I’m able to bring hope to thousands of girls.
Be that girl for someone! Change one life and that will bring change to thousands.
If you want to be part of an online follow-up conversation with the CPLP Alumni and learn more about Harshani's story on Saturday, 21 November 2020 at 14:00 CET (13:00 GMT), you can sign up through this link.
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