Sri Lanka: 1 in 4 people are youth.
This means that there are 4.7 million young people between the ages of 15–29 years living in Sri Lanka.
As agents of change, young girls and boys have the ability to create lasting social change in their communities.
This is the story of Dilki — a 21 year old girl challenging stereotypes with her perseverance and community leadership.
Life in rural Sri Lanka
Dilki lives in a remote village in the town of Neluwa, located in the Southern District of Galle. Like most other rural areas, there is a lack of access to quality infrastructure and services here.
For most of her life, the only point of access to the next town was by crossing a makeshift bridge. This ‘bridge’ was one most would never dare to cross; an assimilation of cylindrical tree barks strung together horizontally.
To Dilki and the rest of her community — this was a normal commute. Often taken several times a day.
A tragic past
13 years ago when Dilki was just nine years old, she lost her father. Attempting to make his way across the bridge to visit her mother and newborn baby in hospital, her father plunged to his death.
The makeshift bridge still exists as a grim reminder of the past
In the years that passed nothing was done about the unstable bridge — largely due to lack of funds and resources. Although Dilki was forced to move on, she held on closely to the memory of the fatal accident that took the life of her father.
Inspiring Community Leadership
Things turned around in 2016 when Dilki and her friends submitted a proposal for a local competition: ‘Youth Got Talent’.
The proposal outlined plans to construct a safe and secure bridge that would replace the existing structure.
A few days later they were informed that their proposal was selected.
But there was a small issue — the seed money was minimal and would not be enough to complete the project.
“I was told that a girl can’t make a difference. But I accepted the challenge anyway” — Dilki
Initially disheartened, Dilki soon realized this roadblock was not going to stop her. She began campaigning with her friends, local politicians and government officials to mobilize funding for the project.
As president of the ‘Silver Stars’ Youth Club, Dilki turned to crowd funding, within and outside the club and community.
There was an overwhelming response. The locals of the area were all too familiar with the dangers of the bridge and wanted to finally bring justice to Dilki’s father.
Whether it was serving tea for those working on construction, investing resources or providing manual labour — the entire community came together to help make her dream, a reality.
“We hope our story inspires others and makes them more confident to achieve their goals” — Young community leader, Neluwa.
Three months after the first stone was laid, the bridge was completed.
An enabling environment
Youth officer at the National Youth Services Council, Mr. Deepala, reiterated the importance of young community leaders like Dilki.
He explains that Dilki’s story has inspired other young change makers in the country, and also added that a strong community culture is central to facilitating change.
“We are proud to see young people take the lead in our community. After all, they are the future” — Mr. Deepalal.
Fulfilling youth potential
With such a large youth population, it is imperative that comprehensive youth policies are implemented at both National and Provincial-levels in the country. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Sri Lanka, through its Youth Policy Programme works with Provincial Councils to bring together multi-stakeholders and convene the formulation of youth-specific policies.
At UNFPA, we work to ensure that young leaders like Dilki realize their true potential and have an enabling environment that will allow them to pursue their goals.
This is further echoed in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — part of a wider 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that promises to ‘leave no one behind’. And the more recent UN Security Council Resolution 2250 — that recognizes (for the first time) that young people play an important and positive role in the maintenance and promotion of peace.