She is known for her work on empowering women and girls against gender based violence. She is the coordinator of ‘Stop the Violence’ Campaign of the Sri Lanka Girls Guides Association (SLGGA) and is a National Trainer for ‘Voices against Violence’ an educational curriculum co-developed by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and the United Nations Women. Chamathya Fernando, is a youth leader with many titles under her belt and the recent recognition of the Global Emerging Young Leader bestowed on her by the United States Department of State at a ceremony in Washington, DC recently tops it off. The Nation spoke to this Jayewardenepura University undergraduate to ask what inspires her.
As Sri Lanka’s coordinator for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts’ (WAGGGS) ‘Stop the Violence’ campaign, Chamathya Fernando works tirelessly to create a better world where all girls are safe, valued and empowered. It was for this very reason this youth leader was recognized by the United States Department of State as a Global Emerging Young Leader.
The foundation of Chamathya’s mission towards ending violence against girls in Sri Lanka was laid when she was a little girl of seven at Visaka Vidyalaya, Colombo. Though at the time she joined the Little Friends only because of her childhood pleasures of climbing, hiking and camping while growing up, she later realized that there is more to the programme than what meets the eye. She was motivated to continue Girl Guiding as the Little Friends showed her how to be courageous, confident and independent while also inculcating in her many other social skills.
Chamathya explained that through Girl Guiding as well as the Little Friends, girls are taught to be independent, confident, and courageous and inculcated with almost all the skills a girl needs. Most importantly they are taught how to carry out community and voluntary work and to get involved in charity.
“I learned how to plan a project and to execute it through Girl Guiding and the Little Friends,” said Chamathya. She has also won the President’s Guide Award, the highest award in Girls Guiding.
After finishing her ALs in 2012, Chamathya joined the Sri Lanka Girls’ Guides Association (SLGGA) to help them with one of their gender based violence projects. Chamathya is currently reading for her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. In 2015 she graduated from the Plymouth University in the UK, affiliated to the National School of Business Management (NSBM). Chamathya has also volunteered as the Assistant Community Director at the Roteract Club of the NSBM.
In March 2013, Chamathya was selected by WAGGGS to represent Sri Lanka at one of the United Nations conferences held in New York. This is where the foundation for her ‘Stop the Violence’ campaign was laid.
There, Chamathya was able to understand the global ramifications of gender inequality. It became evident that this problem of gender inequality prevails not only in Sri Lanka but all over the world. She was able to understand how girls of all ages were discriminated because of their gender.
“There we were trained to initiate the campaign called ‘Stop the Violence’. Chamathya is the national trainer of ‘Voices against Violence’, a non formal educational curriculum developed by UN Women together with WAGGGS.
After her return to the country, Chamathya initiated the campaign by going to rural areas, urban schools and underprivileged low income settlements and engaged the children in various projects.
According to Chamathya, the SLGGA is mostly based in schools. She mentioned that the SLGGA has ample resources to become the largest volunteer organization for girls and young women. The SLGGA has access to schools, to conduct workshops with school children of both sexes.
“We, the ‘Stop the Violence’ team train other young people. We conduct workshops with children to make them understand their basic rights, problems and possible solutions. We train them in order to create awareness among peers, to facilitate communication within families,” explained Chamathya. Though these may seem trivial, Chamathya maintained that these methods inculcate in trainees the skills and strength they require to face problems. The ‘Stop the Violence’ team has trained 65 adult leaders from different provinces in 2015.
“Everyone has experienced some form of harassment while taking public transport at some point in their lives. But we don’t know how to react, we don’t know why it is wrong or why nobody else is complaining,” said Chamathya. While growing up she learnt how important it is, as girls, to speak up against sexual harassments.
“Those ideas that I developed as a young girl motivated me to learn further about gender inequalities and volunteer to assist gender equality,” Chamathya added.
“So now we have adult leaders rolling out this curriculum ‘Voices against Violence’ with GG and Little Friends troops. It is an age appropriate, rights based curriculum which helps people understand the issue of gender inequality and related solutions,” explained Chamathya.
In future Chamathya hopes to expand the project and train more adult leaders in order to educate more young people and children.
“I invite all young people to be involved, speak out and take action about things they believe in. It is really important,” Chamathya opined.
According to Chamathya volunteering to help other people and communities has given her experience and exposure in society. It has given her the courage to face challenges that came her way. “I was able to learn a lot through volunteering.
“Anyone who likes to volunteer with us can reach us through our Facebook page, Stop the Violence Sri Lanka or via Twitter,@stv_slgga. We can also be reached contacted by email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
According to Chamathya the youth branch of SLGGA is open to all irrespective of age or gender