Their logic is simple. ‘You can always dream bigger’ if only you’ve got the right attitude. From Youth For All (FYFA), the brain child of Lasantha Liyanage and co-founder Harshana Weerasinghe is an organization which focuses on attitude development and environmental conservation. Liyanage, a youth from Ratnapura wanted to lay the foundation to an organization that could help find solutions for issues in rural Sri Lanka.
Liyanage first joined Healthy Lanka Alliance For Development, an NGO that facilitates community change towards a healthy lifestyle, mainly focusing on preventing consumption of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs through a health and wellbeing promotion approach.
Then he joined Y Generation, another volunteer organization where he met Buddhika Ratnayaka who gave Liyanage guidance in leadership and volunteering. Though he joined many youth organizations his vision went far beyond. He was able to establish a branch of Y Generation in Ratnapura but could not get what he wanted. He felt that something was always missing.
The inaugural meeting of FYFA was held on September 10, 2015 as a result of Liyanage’s yearning to find solutions for rural problems. Liyanage mentioned that co-founder, Gihan Kariyawasam and event organizer, Harshana Weerasinghe along with the other members of the organization have been a constant support since the inception of the programme.
For those who don’t already know what FYFA is, it is a ‘non religion, non political and non profit organization’, according to Liyanage. In fact, he said that political influence is one of those challenges the organization faces.
With the guidance of the National Youth Services Council FYFA held a few leadership development programmes. “On December 1, 2015 we organized a walk in Ratnapura town to educate the public on HIV AIDS. This walk consisted of schoolchildren and hospital staff,” Liyanage recounted their first project.
After their first project became a success in Ratnapura they wanted to spread the good work in other parts of the country. Consequently, in February 2016 they organized a dansala in Sri Pada to provide refreshments to pilgrims. FYFA also commenced a series of campaigns in schools with the permission of the Ministry of Education in order to improve positive thinking and leadership skills in Schoolchildren.
“When we donate a book or a pen it doesn’t last long. But if we could give them something that they can keep with them forever, it is far better.” Liyanage explained how he hopes to achieve one of the main objectives of FYFA, to change the attitudes of rural youth.
According to Liyanage in rural villages girls and boys who finish O/Ls lack foresight. “They have no future hopes, other than working in a garment factory or getting married at an early age. That’s why we focus mainly on attitude development of youth in O/L classes. If we could change the minds of at least one per cent of them, our efforts would not be in vain,” said Liyanage.
Their first campaign was held at a school in Weerawewa, Polonnaruwa. It was a programme to develop leadership skills in O/L students. The unexpected support from sponsors allowed the organization to distribute stationery among the school kids in addition to the leadership programme.
The FYFA team makes use of Facebook as their platform to raise awareness about the organization, gaining them access to a large number of users irrespective of age. FYFA also uses Facebook to showcase the fact that there are people in society who are still eager to help others, despite the fact that most are busy living their own lives. “By doing so we hope to inspire and motivate others. Basically we want to reiterate that Facebook has many other uses than just as something you can use to pass time,” emphasized Liyanage. In fact, the organization was able to use Facebook as a tool to develop their identity. It has afforded them publicity which has helped them to create a positive image. Their reputation is such that they receive positive responses within minutes of posting requests for donations or aid.
“Once I posted a request for aid, also asking for ideas on establishing a farm at a rural school. Within minutes Asanka Gunasinghe from John Keells commented that they are willing to donate two million rupees for the project,” revealed Liyanage, explaining how they were able to use Facebook productively to develop their contact base. “Through Facebook we were able to reach out to many people who are willing to help the organization,” said Liyanage.
The FYFA team was so inspired by the film, Ho Gana Pokuna (The Singing Pond) directed by Indika Ferdinando, that they wanted to make the concept a reality. They organized a trip for students from a rural school in Badulla to enjoy the sea breeze in Hikkaduwa. “We didn’t want to organize an educational trip that would drag them to a hundred places,” explained Liyanage. He said that the whole idea was to give the kids a chance to enjoy their freedom.
In addition, the kids were also taken to the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, where they attended leadership and motivational sessions. Liyanage thanked Bathiya Attanayake and all other fourth year Management Faculty students who helped make the programme a success.
Event organizer, Gihan Kariyawasam pointed out that their only challenge was the floods that occurred few days before the trip. “We didn’t want to postpone the trip because we couldn’t possibly disappoint the kids,” Kariyawasam added.
In the pipeline for FYFA is an animal care center for cats and dogs. Liyanage also hopes to turn FYFA into the best youth volunteering organization in the country. “We want to train groups of volunteers for every district,” Liyanage concluded.