Small ideas; big impact

by Ajith

Chamal Malintha Gunasinghe is an 18-year-old student who lives in Meegahathenna, a remote town in Walallawita divisional secretary area in Kalutara district of Sri Lanka. 

"Our town is the center point for a number of very remote villages. People visit the town to buy and sell commodities at the village fair, to see doctors in the rural hospital and to obtain services from the government offices. There is one primary school, a secondary school and a temple school in the town. Bus services are not frequent and at times, people have to wait in the bus halt for more than half an hour."

One of the biggest issues faced by the villagers is that they lack access to public knowledge and information provided by the government and other key information sources.

With this in mind, Chamal came up with an innovative idea to fix three LED panels near the three bus halts to communicate key messages and information to the public.

“LED Panels are something that no one in my village has ever seen or heard of”, says Chamal. "I think it’s a great way to capture their attention and communicate important and positive messages”.

In July 2017, Chamal submitted his idea to the iVoice Idea Competition. Out of 120 submissions, his entry was among the top 20 innovative ideas.

He participated in the final round of the iVoice Idea Competition workshop. At the two-day residency, Chamal had the opportunity to further develop his idea into a feasible project plan and on the final day, presented his idea to a panel of judges.

The panel selected his idea as one of the 10 best innovative ideas and he was granted seed capital of Rs.100,000 to implement and execute his idea. 

This photo was taken just as he was announced as a winner. Sri Lanka Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Ms. Ritsu Nacken is also in the photo. 

Chamal received the award from the Chairman of Sri Lanka Development Journalists' Forum, Prof. W.A.D.P. Wanigasundara. 

Chamath is Chamal's younger brother who is the technician of this project. Both Chamal and Chamath are students of Thakshila College, Horana.

They purchased equipment from Colombo at a wholesale price and built the three panels from scratch. 

The two young men worked hard for the project. Their mother, father, sister, friends and villagers helped them in various ways. 

This is one of the three panels they made. The Panels are waterproof and power supply is given free of charge by the owners of the nearby shops.

In the above photo, Chamath, the little technician stands in front of their product. 

They organized a small ceremony to declare open their project. 

Western Provincial Councilor Keerthi Kariyawasam ceremonially switched on the panels. He highly appreciated Sri Lanka Development Journalists' Forum (SDJF) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for guiding young people to drive innovative solutions to address social issues.

The Divisional Secretary of Walallawita Mr. Ranjan Perera pointed out the importance of young persons coming forward to take up the opportunities available before them. 

"Well Women Clinics are for you who are 35 years old." It is one of the messages run on the LED boards. The message is issued by the Medical Officer of Health in the area. National Well Women Clinic Services of the Ministry of Health conduct a screening programme for cervical cancer for women aged 35 years and above. 

 "You can contribute to increase women's representation in the next local government elections," and "Save the youth from drugs!" are two more messages run on the boards. The boards also include messages like bus time tables across the town and clock time. 

"We will include messages in Tamil too. There is a sizable Tamil community in the area," Chamal said. "People will read them while waiting in the bus halts without idling. We have invited public offices and the relevant community organizations to send us specific public messages they want displayed on these boards."

iVoice is an initiative of UNFPA and SDJF to empower youth participation in community development.