Sri Lankan Ambassador to U.S. Speaks on How LankaCorps Can Aid Post-Conflict Reconciliation
Posted on June 20, 2016 at 3:38 am

Originally published on the Asia Foundation website on June 15, 2016. 

 

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On May 18, The Asia Foundation held a reception at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington, hosted by Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the U.S.,Prasad Kariyawasam, as an opportunity for members of the area’s Sri Lankan diaspora and policy community to learn about the Foundation’sLankaCorps program. Over the past four years, 25 young professionals have served as LankaCorps Fellows, a unique opportunity developed by The Asia Foundation for young people of Sri Lankan heritage to live and work in Sri Lanka and contribute to the dynamic, multi-ethnic nation’s post-war recovery through six-month fellowships. Senior program officer Diana Kelly Alvord spoke to Ambassador Kariyawasam after the event.

Sri Lanka lost significant economic ground and many of its most skilled and educated leaders during the war. It is now on a path to rebuilding and healing social divides – both in-country and among its diaspora. What do you see as the most significant areas of progress since the war ended, and where do you see the biggest challenges ahead?

With the end of the conflict, the then-government of Sri Lanka focused on reconstruction and rehabilitation of the affected provinces of the North and East, including the rehabilitation and the reintegration into society of former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) child soldiers and combatants. A massive infrastructure development drive was launched to rebuild houses, roads, bridges, schools, and medical facilities in these areas, as well as clearing of large tracts of land from landmines to allow the return of IDP’s to their homes.

However, six years after the end of the armed conflict, there remained a sense that Sri Lanka had not succeeded in winning peace and harmony. A new government was elected in January 2015, which adopted the two-pronged policy of reconciliation and development, conscious that one without the other would not lead to genuine reconciliation among the diverse communities that make up Sri Lanka.

The new government committed itself to a holistic and ambitious post-conflict reconciliation approach. This was clearly manifested in September 2015, when Sri Lanka co-sponsored – with the United States and several other countries – a Resolution in the Human Rights Council, for implementing several measures domestically, including to evolve mechanisms for truth-seeking, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence. This is first time that any Sri Lankan government has made such commitments to work with international partners as well, to address human rights and humanitarian issues affecting Sri Lanka.

Since the election of the present government, Sri Lanka has made impressive strides promoting good governance, rule of law, and equality and justice. This fact has been widely acknowledged by the international community. For instance, U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, during her visit to Sri Lanka in November said that she cannot think of any other country where there has been so much positive change in such a short period of time.

One of the major achievements of the government was the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in April 2015 which re-invigorated democracy though a re-distribution of executive power, re-introduction of term limits of the presidency and the introduction of independent bodies for appointment and oversight of key institutions including the judiciary, police, public service etc. More recently, in April 2016 the Parliament met for the first time as a Constitutional Assembly, initiating the process of drafting a new Constitution, with a view to consolidating democracy and promoting reconciliation. This monumental transformation in Sri Lanka has in turn paved the way for more strengthened relationships with our friends and partners in the international community, in particular with the United Nations and the United States.

Notwithstanding this progress, sustaining the vigor of the reconciliation process and democratic reforms, among other factors, is centered on economic development, as the general public demands a quick peace dividend. Today, due to past fiscal profligacy, Sri Lanka suffers a debt burden. And a very low tax to GDP ratio compounds matters. While Sri Lanka is a low middle income country, the challenge of incorporating the bottom 40 percent of the population in our push to become a higher middle income country is another onerous task.

Meanwhile, the government envisages a role for the overseas diaspora of all communities towards rebuilding the country, both in supporting the reconciliation process and in contributing to the economic development in all regions.

How do you think these LankaCorps Fellows and the diaspora community at large can contribute to the country’s development and reconciliation?

International support for Sri Lanka’s domestic efforts to promote democracy, reconciliation, and economic development is invaluable. Young professionals of Sri Lankan heritage as well as the wider diaspora can make a substantial contribution to reconciliation and economic development efforts back in Sri Lanka. They have a unique opportunity to use their acquired skills and knowledge to positively influence the work of their brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka.

And they can serve as roving ambassadors for Sri Lanka when they return to the U.S. and other countries of residence. They are in a position to educate their expansive networks about realities in Sri Lanka in an objective manner, not only of its natural beauty, but the achievements in the physical quality of life, and of course the challenges, and as to how communities abroad can assist Sri Lanka to meet such challenges. They are in a unique position to dispel some myths and misrepresentations that are prevalent with regard to Sri Lanka. Moreover, their work in Sri Lanka would provide an opportunity for those establishments with whom they work to learn and understand competencies and work ethics of the communities and institutions they represent. This program is indeed an excellent process of two-way learning and mutual exchange of skills.

Where do you think Sri Lanka’s renewed desire to reconnect with its own diaspora groups abroad comes from?

The long-drawn conflict in Sri Lanka saw the departure of many Sri Lankans in search of greener pastures. We lost many of our skilled and educated people. With the government’s commitment to advancing democracy and promoting reconciliation, exciting new economic opportunities are opening up for international businesses and investors with special incentives for Sri Lankan expatriates. Many in the overseas Sri Lankan diaspora are crucial stakeholders in the reconciliation process. Many in our diaspora are very well educated, diligent, and successful –highly qualified professionals, senior officials, legislators, and managers. And most of them have a strong sense of identity with Sri Lanka. In this context, all diaspora groups have the potential of becoming partners in Sri Lanka’s social and economic development, for the benefit of both their home countries and mother country, Sri Lanka.

Since taking office in January 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena and his administration have focused on getting the country back on a path of good governance and advancing citizens’ rights, including just last week lifting the restrictions on issuing passports to citizens who sought asylum overseas during the war, with the aim of further enabling citizens overseas to visit and return to Sri Lanka. What do you see as some of the biggest changes under new leadership?

The armed conflict and the politics surrounding it polarized the debate on solutions to outstanding political issues in the country. Often, there was little room for input by moderate voices in Sri Lanka and abroad. The path taken by the government to re-invigorate Sri Lanka’s democratic roots and the commitment for promoting reconciliation has empowered moderate voices and their leverage has increased. There is now a very real possibility of generating a national consensus on political solutions to all outstanding issues, such as the nature of the State, devolution of power, and reforms in electoral representation. The challenge for the government and the people of Sri Lanka remains the extreme elements both within and outside Sri Lanka whose interest and objectives are at variance with the general view of Sri Lankans.


Why you shouldn’t call anyone an ‘Oreo’
Posted on June 1, 2016 at 6:24 am

By Dinushi Bopearachchi

A response to Yamu’s article, “Types of annoying Sri Lankan relatives

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For this post, I wanted to light-heartedly take a look at all the cultural clashes and quirks that comes from being a Sri Lankan diaspora. Such as, aunties asking if you’ll be marrying a Sri Lankan or a ‘foreigner’ or the dilemma of what to wear as all your favourite summer clothes and bikinis are suddenly ‘inappropriate’ and controversial. But there’s one, much more troubling way in which our home culture and our inherited culture clash, and it’s normally too uncomfortable and deep-seated to bring up jokingly in conversation, as we do with the rest.

If you’re originally Sri Lankan (and therefore look Sri Lankan) but are born and raised in another culture (especially a Western one) you act, speak and dress in a way that’s not expected of you. This can lead to a questioning of your ‘brownness’, and the accusation of being ‘white washed’- this itself is probably the most frustrating and damaging of all the stereotypes that Sri Lankan diaspora face. Perhaps jokingly said to your face or tossed around behind your back, an ‘Oreo’ or ‘Coconut’ suggests you are brown on the outside but white on the inside.

This is a well-known term used throughout the world and not just Sri Lanka- wherever there is a brown person they’ll be another (usually brown) person to call them an Oreo. But this term is heavily outdated and is filled with false assumptions about race, culture and identity. Why? Because it implies to be a part of a race you must act a certain way- basically we must conform ourselves to a stereotype, and this stereotype isn’t more empowering just because it’s self-inflicted.

So what happens if you don’t act that way? Am I a self-hating Asian who just wants to be white? No. Personally, I was born in England and I grew up in England. I had my first home there, I learnt how to talk there, I made my first friends there, I went to university there and I had my first job there (you get the picture). Naturally, I assimilated and absorbed the culture around me as if my own (-is it not my own?).

My life was built in a country full of people who didn’t look like me and this alone is pretty isolating, not only when you’re a child, but even more so when you’re a teenager beginning to question everything around you and your place in the world. Combine this with everyday racism- being singled out for being in a minority, usually by facing racial assumptions because of your skin colour (ie. ‘Are you from India?’, ‘You must love spicy food!’ and the dreaded, ‘But where are you really from?’). All of this weighs you down as you eventually internalise the feeling of being different and an outsider- you feel like you don’t belong in the country you spent your life in.

Flash forward to your next trip to Sri Lanka. Now if you don’t belong in England, because you look Sri Lankan, surely you belong in Sri Lanka? Nope, apparently not. Because right here in Sri Lanka you are also different. You speak differently, you dress differently, you’re not used to the spicy food and heat, you may not even speak the language. This difference you have seems to get two distinct reactions. For instance, some Sri Lankans are impressed, you have an accent they’ve never heard in person, from a place they’ve only seen on TV. They think you have more money and a better education just because you are from England (or America, Canada, Australia ect.). This in itself is troubling – are these some leftover ideals from colonialism or from the damaging idolisation of western culture?

And then there’s the other side of the spectrum, normally the younger, cooler generation, who seem to find your ‘whiteness’ embarrassing. They themselves are too culturally self-assured to try to be white and speak with an accent (they probably don’t realise that cultivating a ‘normal’ accent outside of Sri Lanka would be a tricky, but impressive, feat). Or alternatively, the older generation who are disappointed with your seeming lack of connection with Sri Lanka and your heritage – you should be able to cook parippu, speak Sinhala or Tamil and of course marry a Sri Lankan by the time you’re 25.

So from these two ends -the two cultures that we embrace and that shape our lives and our identity- we the diaspora are told we don’t belong. But in fact, the opposite is true, we are lucky as we belong to both. I am Sri Lankan and I am English, and no, I don’t have a fancy, easy way of labelling this, like English-Sri Lankan or a Sri Lankan-English, but one label I simply will not accept is coconut or Oreo. Those terms tell you nothing about it me – I do not merely look like one and act like another. My cultural identity is a fluid amalgamation of two distinct cultures that I’m proud to be a part of, and both play large parts in who I am.

So you can make fun of my accent, and I’ll probably laugh, or you can ask me where I’m ‘really’ from and I’ll happily describe that little Island my parents called home and that town that just outside of London that no one’s ever heard of. But if you mention anything about being ‘brown on the outside and white on the inside’, expect nothing more than a sigh of exhaustion and a look of contempt. 


OSL filmmaker featured at Los Angeles CineFest
Posted on May 12, 2016 at 3:35 am

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Overseas Sri Lankan, Srinath Christopher Samarasinghe‘s film, Nazar Palmus has been selected for the Los Angeles CineFest.

The film narrates the story of Agusti, a Catalan young man who lives in London, comes to Paris to hike with Ida, a young woman he has met on internet, on a European Hiking website

Los Angeles CineFest is an online monthly international event. Each month Los Angeles film industry specialists vote for The Best of The Festival in each category.


Moving to Sri Lanka: from the perspective of a returnee.
Posted on May 10, 2016 at 4:09 am

By Dinushi Bopearachchi

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Moving to Sri Lanka is a big step, whether it’s for a few months or several years, as any diaspora will quickly learn holidaying in Sri Lanka is very different from living there.

However, if you have time between jobs or studying or are even thinking of doing those abroad, Sri Lanka could be a great place to go.  As a 20-something, born and raised in England but with parents from Sri Lanka, I thought living in Sri Lanka for four months would let me reconnect with my roots and family and also be the perfect opportunity to finally learn the language my parents speak. The prospect of constant sunshine, beaches and low living costs also appealed to me, however there are a few practical things you should consider before making this move…

My first piece of advice is to apply for dual-citizenship if you don’t already have it. You’d need to apply at least 6 months before you come, just to make sure you have it before you arrive. This way you’ll have minimal contact with Sri Lanka’s dreaded Department of Immigration and Emigration. Here you’ll encounter Sri Lankan bureaucracy as it’s finest (worst) along with it’s odd mixture of tedium and chaos.  Before you get there, go online so you can print off all the correct forms and fill them in, and there you make sure you bring all the correct documents along with plenty of copies. Go early, and be prepared to spend several hours navigating around Sri Lanka’s questionable visa system and queueing etiquette.

Where you live is something that will heavily impact your lifestyle,so carefully consider not only location but also who you live with. If you already have family in Sri Lanka, you have two obvious choices; move in with relatives or find your own place.  The perks of living with families include free rent and utilities (or at least heavily subsidized…), access to their cooks/cleaners/drivers (if they have any) and of course having their invaluable local knowledge on hand. However, there are also many not-so-perky points to consider such as culture-clashes with your relatives and dealing with their protective nature. For instance, my aunt doesn’t let me take three wheelers,  fearing my English naivety will get me kidnapped, also expect looks of horror if you try to leave the house in shorts (if you’re a girl at least).

This all makes living alone or with housemate a much more preferable way of maintaining your independence and a social life. However, this at first can seem a bit elusive, as many young Sri Lankans live with their parents until married, there aren’t as many readily available places for young, single professionals as you’d find back home. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t find any. In Colombo there are many apartments that seem to cater to expats as they offer AC, wifi, and even access to pools and gyms. However, these come with a substantial price tag, starting at at least £600 per month- so find housemates to cut down on rent.

Work, study or volunteer to fill your time in Sri Lanka- this sounds quite obvious but it’s better to plan this out before you arrive to save yourself twiddling your thumbs for your first few weeks in Sri Lanka. I booked my flights with the vague idea to teach English or volunteer during my stay, and it took almost a month to get things sorted (though that’s still ongoing).  Sri Lankan pace is much slower than I’m used, emails take weeks to get a reply and people often forget to call you back so leads are easily dropped.  My advice is too keep pushing people for a response, be it yes or no, and to do research online, and ask around to see if anyone you know has connections you can use.

So that’s pretty much everything I wish I knew or thought about more before I came. Though one last thing I would like to tell my past self, is come with realistic expectations. This may sound a bit foreboding, and yes everyone’s experiences here are different, but living abroad (even if it’s a second home) often means you’re starting from scratch, and making the transition from holidaying to living here day to day is at times hard. But don’t worry, being prepared and coming with realistic expectations means you’re well on your way to building a life (be it permanent or temporary) in your motherland.


A piece of Sri Lanka – A project by International Alert
Posted on May 2, 2016 at 8:06 am

 

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We are delighted to announce calls for submissions for ‘A piece of Sri Lanka’ – a photo story project designed to link Sri Lankan diaspora members with their country of heritage. Using the medium of the arts, it aims to help create a space and narrative for how diaspora members choose to relate back to Sri Lanka.

Tell us about your relationship with Sri Lanka by sharing the photograph of an object – be it personal, cultural or religious – that connects you back to your heritage.

Your story will help us a create a space where people can connect with one another, whilst ensuring that different narratives of experiences are respected.

To participate, please send us a picture of your object with a short story answering the following three questions:

  • Tell us a bit about yourself and your background
  • Why did you choose this object? What is the story behind it?
  • How does this object help you relate to Sri Lanka?

Please submit to: HWijetunga@international-alert.org 

Pictures can be taken with a smartphone or camera (please indicate what you use to take the picture)

Your picture will be submitted to a review panel.  Selected pictures (and their stories) will be displayed on our website, Instagram and Facebook.

Please also helps us spread the word about the project on Twitter (@intalert), by sharing the image above using the hashtag#PieceOfSL


Social remittances: A critical dimension of diaspora engagement in Guyana
Posted on April 5, 2016 at 11:07 am

By Lear Matthews via Stabroek News. 

 

Lear Matthews is professor, State University of New York, Empire State College. A former lecturer at the University of Guyana, his recently published book is “English Speaking Caribbean Immigrants: Transnational Identities”. He writes on Diaspora issues.

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Much has been written about the increase in volume and value of remittances, rendering unprecedented the economic impact on developing countries. Guyana, which reportedly accepted US$417 million in remittances in 2015, is a prominent recipient of cash, goods and services from the Diaspora.

 

Remittances are viewed as financial support that typically goes to households and increasingly to help develop and sustain communities. However, what is not widely discussed is a dimension of the transnational experience referred to as social remittances.  In her book The Transnational Village, Peggy Levitt reported that when people migrate they take with them ideas, know-how, practices, and skills that shape their encounters with and integration into the host society (e.g. USA, Canada or the UK). They also send or take back to their country of origin norms, practices, identities and social capital that both promote and impede development. How social remittances function and the extent to which they are welcomed or rejected in Guyana, is the focus of this article.

The positive outcomes of helping families, local institutions and communities generated by remittances since Guyana’s independence are clearly evident.  However, the norms and attitudes exhibited by returning immigrants often conflict with traditional hometown ways of doing things, sometimes causing resentment and frustration among locals and re-migrants respectively. What immigrants remit back to their country of origin (in kind or in person) is inevitably influenced by the habits, tastes, technology and practices learned and inculcated in their adopted home.

Examples of social remittances impacting the immigrant/non-immigrant relationship include the practices related to organizational behaviour, childrearing, and consumer habits. Often the social remittances that returning immigrants try to emulate and implement challenge local beliefs, customs and practices, causing tension. The perceived motive of the government in soliciting help from the Diaspora is also a factor in determining how well social remittances work in shaping the relationship between the Diaspora and the home country. It is important to note that immigrants who re-migrate are again seeking opportunities, but at a different phase of their transnational migration journey.

 

Social Remittances in Guyana:

Harmonizing or Discouraging?

Recently comments on the topic in various letters published in the Stabroek News put into perspective the feelings and thoughts about social remittances, some of which expose the tensions between the home country and the Diaspora. The following quotes bring home the point:

*The government, with rhetorical overtures, wants remittances, political donations and money for projects. …they don’t want the Diaspora’s skills, knowledge, experience or expertise.

* Some locals believe that the Diaspora abandoned them, they’re not to be trusted, are more like foreigners.

*Locals fail to realize that they need the Diaspora because an insufficient number of them have the skills, expertise or knowledge to bring the country into the 21st century.

*After proposing changes in one sector of the administration, a frustrated returnee stated: If I, who am here, with all my professional expertise, find it so difficult breaking into the inner circles of the bureaucracy, how much more the newly returning Guyanese?

* Another stated, I don’t mind them coming back, but to demand certain jobs!

*Yet another reported: I know several (returning) professional Guyanese enthusiastically desiring to use their training and experience to assist their country, but they cannot get past political gridlock. Some have packed up and returned from whence they came. It is difficult for overseas Guyanese offering skills to break the inner circle of bureaucracy.

Comments tend to be critical of efforts at reciprocal accommodation.

 

Clash of cultures: Affecting

Social Remittances

Everything that immigrants send back or take back to the home country is by no means positive. While some ‘overseas’ values and introductions may enhance progressive change, others are perceived as undermining the traditions of the home country. Individuals and community leaders have expressed concerns about migrants importing values and habits that ‘go against the grain’ of local customs, defy consumerism and weaken families. In the Diaspora, individuality and innovation are generally valued over patronage, obedience and deference. It is not unusual to hear complaints from returning Guyanese about the lack of business acumen, cavalier attitude and extensive delays in ‘follow up’ services. It would be interesting to compare the experience in other Caribbean countries.

Possible Solutions:

There may be as much talent and skills outside the nation as there are within. Several attempts have been made to ‘attract’ Guyanese to return home, but perhaps not enough has been done to ‘encourage’ them to stay. A more stringently administered programme to ‘register skills’ in the Diaspora is needed.  Many apparently prefer to ‘give back’ through Hometown Associations as evidenced by a recent increase in the number of these overseas organizations.

Compromise, collaboration, mutual respect for, and acknowledgement of needs, capacities, assets and liabilities on both sides are essential. Effective Diaspora engagement must include assessment of factors that promote and impede development. There is a need to recalibrate the effects of social remittances, realizing that social and cultural dimensions of engagement and not just economic considerations are vital. We are not dealing with a homogeneous immigrant community, thus expectations and experiences of those who return do vary.  Observing variation by ethnic group, political affiliation or whether social remittances are tolerated with deference toward non-Guyanese may be quite revealing.

Research on the topic is needed, including the narratives of returning Guyanese who have been successful. Perhaps the participation of the Diaspora in the 50th independence anniversary commemoration will provide an opportunity to reexamine the impact of social remittances and ways of fortifying Diaspora engagement.


The Other Side
Posted on April 4, 2016 at 4:27 am

by Indrani via Groundviews. 

 

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A glimpse of the streets we would have called home,

I’m laughing in the park, climbing the coconut trees,
Cycling through the dusty lanes, playing at the local spots.
It’s a strange relationship: Caught in opposition of the surveillance state,
And, gratitude, for finally seeing the corners we’ve never seen.

No war, no displacement: what would our lives have been?
How would the fight for our liberation have compared
with the struggle against white supremacy?
What would have replaced the anxiety of oppression?
The effects on the psyche – to be accepted,
Not longing for belonging, nor grappling for identity:
We look the same.
We talk the same.
We eat the same.
We breathe the same.

But when one battle is removed, another is present.
Would we be strapping ourselves to the frontline
Trying to tear down class and caste boundaries?
How would we destroy these indoctrinations?
Would the effects of colonisation flow more deeply
through the veins of our community and be more evident there?
Is there a similarity between being
a black woman, in Clinton’s America; and
a Tamil woman, in Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka?
They stood on the backs of the most marginalized,
To stretch out, reach out, and crack the glass ceiling.

We’re dreaming.
Walking these streets, imagining our lives,
Children of refugees longing for the homeland,
Children of immigrants straddling the borders, confused.
‘The grass is always greener,’ they say,
and certainly if we lived there, we’d long for the opportunities here.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t acknowledge
what could have been.
What might have been.
What we know, deep down, is missing here.

A town we’ve never seen,
Streets we’ve only heard rumours of existing,
Years wandering what it must be like. And now we know.
It’s dirty, it’s cultural, it’s desolate.
It’s warm, it’s underdeveloped, it’s beautiful,
and it has a rich history… our history.
It’s the life that might have been; it’s a home I don’t know at all,
A town so far away,
And yet… a strange familiarity lingers.


The Mayor of Moreland Australia – Samantha Ratnam
Posted on March 30, 2016 at 3:09 am

Originally published on Tamil Culture by  SHANELLE KANDIAH MARCH 22, 2016

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From witnessing the changing political landscape of Sri Lanka to living in four continents and being elected as the first ever Australian Greens Mayor for the City of Moreland, Samantha Ratnam has learned how to not only adapt to change, but to become it. A common theme underlying the decisions she has made throughout her life is an unmistakable desire to help others and to better the community around her.

Samantha recently spoke with TC to share her experience and the factors that led to her personal development and transition to politics.

1. Tell us about your experiences growing up.

I was born in England as my dad was studying there at the time. Two years later, my family moved to Sri Lanka once my dad completed studying. We grew up in Sri Lanka until 1987. The uncertain political situation ultimately prompted my family to move to find a safer place to live. We went through the 1983 riots in Colombo. Thankfully we didn’t lose people we knew or our home, but the destruction and devastation changed the country.

We migrated to Canada in 1987 with the intention of permanently settling there. However, 1.5 years later, we moved to Australia to be closer to family. When we were in Canada, we lived in Toronto and absolutely loved it. The schools were fantastic and welcoming, we made friends with kids in our apartment block – it was teeming with other young Tamils – we found things easy to get to like the pool, library and skating rink.

These experiences were really important to me and later led me to become more interested in local politics as I began to learn about how neighbourhoods can change the experience of migration and settlement in a really positive way. Canada is like a second home to me.

2. Prior to entering politics, what line of work were you in?

I have been a social worker for about 14 years. I have worked in the fields of drug and alcohol rehabilitation, mental health, international development and most recently in settlement services for newly arrived migrants from refugee and asylum seeking backgrounds. Most of my work has involved either counselling, case-management and project work.

Over the last year, I have been working at a place called the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre here in Melbourne which is one of the largest support services for people seeking asylum in Australia. As a local government Councillor, I was able to work part time while doing Council work. After taking on the position of Mayor, I am at Council full time. I love my work as a social worker; it’s more than a career – it’s a passion.

3. What led to the switch into politics?

I have always been fascinated by politics. Having grown up in Sri Lanka, you have no option other than to be political as the choices made by politicians mean the difference between peace and war or poverty and prosperity. It’s around you all the time and people have to talk about it all the time. I took this interest with me as I grew up.

At the first opportunity I had to study politics, I did – in grade 11. I went on to complete an Arts degree majoring in Political Studies. It was a very natural transition to social work as it is a field of work that is inherently political too. The systems and structures we live within shape the choices and opportunities we have in life.

I always wanted to do something that would help make the world a better place. I also love working with people. Being a social worker, I came to see more and more how politics shapes the lives of the people I work with. I joined the Australian Greens political party in 2009 after I got more frustrated by the country’s lack of action on climate change and have never looked back. I got to see the work of our local government Councillors and that inspired me to stand for local government in 2012.

4. Can you describe the City of Moreland?

It is a big and diverse city of approximately 150,000 people. I love the diversity of the people and the vibrancy of the area. There is a mixture of young people who live and study in the area, to more established neighbourhoods that were settled by post war migrants from Europe. You might want to have a look at www.moreland.vic.gov.au for more of the demographic info about the city.

5. What are some of the big projects you hope to achieve as mayor?

I really hope that I can help shape the last year of our 4 year term on Council by speaking out about issues that concern our community. Some of these issues are urban development and transport, as we strive to transition to more sustainable forms of transport. There are also a number of social issues that I am keen to work on including tackling problem gambling that costs our community over $60 million per year. We have an ambitious plan to tackle climate change at a local level and I am passionate about ensuring that we commit the resources to make our city as carbon neutral as soon as possible.

6. What would your advice be to young people who aspire for careers in politics?

I would encourage everyone to care about politics and to get involved. It is such a powerful way in which to make positive change in the world. I really believe that people should do what they are passionate about.

I know that within the Tamil community we are often pressured to choose from a narrow field of career options because of what our parents were exposed to growing up. But in countries like Australia and Canada, you can do anything and make it. If you love what you do and are giving back in some way, it makes for a happy and meaningful life.

* * *
Having developed a passion for helping others and incorporating this desire into a rewarding and successful career as a social worker, community advocate, and now Mayor of a bustling Australian city, Samantha has harnessed her life experiences to supporting members of her community and improving their quality of life.

What’s next on the agenda for Samantha? Since this interview, Samantha has thrown her hand in federal politics with the hope of bringing a strong voice to Australia’s Parliament, advocating on behalf of policy issues relating to climate change, sustainable development, community services and sustainable transport.

TC congratulates Samantha on all her efforts and extends best wishes for a successful election.

If you would like to learn more about Samantha or her campaign, check out:greens.org.au/vic/samantha-ratnam