Youth. The time of our lives? Or so they say. How many times have you been deprived of your rights? And who stood up for you? Simply, look around you! Abuse. Violence. Rape.

Harassment. It’s all there so much that even the sight of these words annoys me. It’s all crystal clear! BUT, who bothers! Who will speak up for you? Who will say it’s wrong? Who will criticize it?
I barely remember the last time I saw or read anyone, or any organization for that matter, empowering the youth to advocate on preventing and foreseeing an END to the hundreds of things the youth are victimized in today’s society.

One scarcely comes to terms with such woe besides it being bread and butter in every nook and corner! Let me tell you why-it’s because turning a blind eye or a deaf ear is facile. In a nutshell, ‘why would I poke in my nose if nothing has happened to me?’ Now that’s sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?

Breaking the silence, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Sri Lanka embarked on a youthled social change campaign in March this year; 100 voices Leading for change. This campaign encourages youth to advocate on youth rights, sexual reproductive health (SRH) and prevention of gender-based violence (GBV), by steering youth driven networks right around the country. The Nation was at fortune to talk to Onalie Ariyabandhu, one of UNFPA Sri Lanka’s social change entrepreneurs, the inventor of this campaign.

She cited that the campaign aims at creating a platform for each youth advocate to empower 100 of his/her peers through community based activities and social media engagement and thus hopes to create a ripple effect among youth in fostering greater interest and vigilance.

Looking at the Sri Lankan context, we have a large youth population of 16 young people for every 100 persons. Yet, engaging youth to achieve greater heights is something that has been overlooked by many. Ascending up the ladder, Sri Lanka has seen escalating rates of literacy and computer literacy among the youth, starting from social media networks to exposure to the global picture. Onalie pin points that, “it is evidently inevitable that youth today are more progressive and driven towards achieving greater social change than before.”

However, the bitter truth is that the youth have a minimal knowledge on SRH and GBV entirely based on the biological approach in health education received in schools as an optional subject. This has led to repercussions of sexual violence at alarming rates. Onalie added that, “it still remains at the tip of the iceberg, with greater part of the issue still remaining unreported, unsaid and unattended.”

On these grounds, 100 voices make ripples in a river of youth to raise their voices to bridge the gap between the lack of comprehensive knowledge and, sexual violence and teenage pregnancies taking a toll on the society.

Currently, the UNFPA has partnered Interact District 3220, Sri Lanka Model United Nations, Rotaract District 3220, Sri Lanka Unites, Academy of Design, Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association, and Young Women’s Christian Association, some interactive and enthusiastic hubs of the youth in the country.

The handbook which was designed to be distributed among 2000 young leaders between the ages 15- 25 years is an easy read tool which will empower youth to distribute evidence based knowledge in schools and communities.

Onalie eagerly added that the Wellbeing Wheel poster that was designed features 12 key messages on GBV and SRH to disseminate awareness in an interactive manner. Social media network engages young people in expressing their opinions through picture and video messages.


She is also actively occupied in gathering youth perspectives through youth dialogues and debates.

The UNFPA intends to hold a design exhibition in partnership with Academy of Design (AOD) where a platform will be of opportunity for youth to voice their attitudes and beliefs and she hopes to see a groundbreaking participation.

We all have a social responsibility towards disseminating awareness and helping authorities draw the line to this soaring crisis. And all they are asking from you is to get another 100 voices on board, because there definitely is strength in unity!

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