During a time when social conflict isn’t difficult to start and not easy to douse, it is important that people, especially the youth, join hands to create stronger communities and nations and focus on commonalities like emotions and experiences rather than differences like beliefs and language. Happiness is an emotion felt by us all, so why not share happiness and promote Sri Lanka as a happy nation?
This is the objective of ‘Happy Sri Lankans’, a simple tag that accompanies photographs taken at various events. Manoj Alwis explained that through Happy Sri Lankans he hopes to portray Sri Lanka as a happy nation and take this image to a global level. “Sri Lanka has been given a bad image, what with the armed conflict and other issues in Sri Lanka, and through ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ we want to show the world that Sri Lanka is a country of happiness,” Manoj said.
A student of Mahinda College, Galle, Manoj Alwis has followed degrees in Information Technology. He currently works as a software engineer at Virtusa. While he is from the Southern Province, it was after his A/Ls that Manoj came to Colombo, and more specifically, Maharagama.
“When I first started ‘Happy Sri Lankans,’ I didn’t even own a camera. I haven’t studied photography,” Manoj confessed.
Speaking of how the concept was put together, Manoj recalled how he had to spend some time at home because his mother wasn’t well. During this time, he watched Pharrell Williams’ Happy song and was inspired by it. He then thought of ways he could bring the concept to Sri Lanka and this was the beginning of a simple tag that now accompanies many photographs.
Today, ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ is a Facebook page with over 11,000 likes and while there is also a website (www.happysrilankans.com), Facebook is where the community started. “I opened a Facebook page and added pictures of my friends where they were laughing and having fun. I used the ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ logo on these pictures,” Manoj said.
Their journey has been uphill ever since. The concept went viral, Manoj said, and the way it was embraced by social media was just unbelievable to him. Evolving over time, ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ is now a community of people, in Sri Lanka or abroad, of Sri Lankan nationality or not, sharing pictures capturing their happiness.
Known as a digital community collaboration platform, ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ connects Sri Lankans and those who love Sri Lanka across the globe.
Following its establishment as a photo sharing platform, Manoj registered the name ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ and the photographs taken by the organization photographers are usually ones where those in the photograph hold a bright yellow board that says, ‘#HAPPYSRILANKANS.’ This is the basic concept of the community.
Recalling how the organization itself expanded, Manoj said that once ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ gained popularity, his friends let him borrow their cameras and even volunteered to take photographs at events. Photographers of ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ include Sai and Sujan and there are many other freelance photographers too.
Manoj too covers events for ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ and spends weekdays as a software engineer and weekends as a photographer. He thanked the Virtusa management for all their support in helping his manage his job and the community.
“In October 2014, we launched the ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ website which acts as a magazine and has many categories, including Happy Places, Happy Entertainment, Happy People and much more. Manoj thanked ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ co-founder Kasun Sameera who handles the website, which gives Manoj the time to handle the operational aspects of ‘Happy Sri Lankans.’ Manoj also thanked all his friends and family, especially his mother and sister.
Speaking of how well ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ has been able to capture the happiness shared among Sri Lankans regardless of ethnic differences, Manoj described the array of events covered by ‘Happy Sri Lankans.’ “We don’t limit ourselves to events organized by Sinhalese and instead cover all types of events. I’ve never felt any difference between these events and the participants take pictures with the ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ board regardless of their ethnicity,” Manoj explained.
“We also have Sri Lankans in the US, UK and Australia sending us their pictures, especially from events held for Sri Lankans in those countries,” Manoj said, adding that ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ is the main partner of the Sri Lankan Youth in the US.
However, it’s not only fun that ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ captures. It isn’t only through fun and entertainment that happiness is felt. Thus in an effort to capture happiness, the organization also covers charity events.
In the future, Manoj plans on using ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ to promoting tourism in Sri Lanka and he has already taken a step towards that goal by being the main digital partner of Citrus Leisure. Dilith Jayaweera, a manager of the company, has given Manoj opportunities in the field which will help in achieving the goal.
Other future plans involve developing ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ into a community magazine which will be used to promote Sri Lanka. Innovation, development related to economic or social fields will be promoted through this magazine.
To achieve their future plans and for the maintenance of the digital collaborative community platform, ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ needs funds. Thus while the community does receive payment for covering certain events, they remain a not only for profit organization. ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ also operates as a digital marketing platform where discounts at hotels are offered through the site. This further boosts their image in the travel and tourism field.
‘Happy Sri Lankans’ will thus continue to show the world just how much happiness can be found in the island we call home. “I want Happy Sri Lankans to be our nationality, rather than simply being known as Sri Lankans,” Manoj said. However, ‘Happy Sri Lankans’ isn’t only for Sri Lankans. It’s for anyone who shares a love for Sri Lanka and its ultimate goal is to share happiness with each other and not let nationality or ethnicity be a deciding factor of how happy one can be.