Interview: Sithmi Edirisinghe
It’s hard to talk about what a big year it has been for Rotaract Arts this year without acknowledging the remarkable performance of the Community Service Avenue. While the lady behind the wheel is known to us, could you please provide an introduction of yourself for those who may not be too familiar with who you are?
Hello! I am Sithmi Edirisinghe and I am currently a second-year undergraduate at the Faculty of Arts, and I am majoring in English.
Around the club, I am known for my undying love for Brooklyn 99, but for the record, I also just love sitcoms in general – they’re my comfort zone. While I know that this is stereotypical to an English major, I do love reading. I’m not always picky about what I read – I love everything from thrillers to biographies, but I think children’s classics will always have a special place in my heart. I’m also told that I exasperate people when, in times of chaos, I resort to common sense and spew out cold hard facts (I’m looking at you, Janidu).
Expectations/Aspirations are high at the start of any Rotaract year, what objectives did you hope to accomplish as the Director of Community Service this year?
I remember how incredibly passionate Methmini akki and Niumi were about community service. They set the bar high, and when I started, I could only hope to live up to their legacy. I always thought that being the Director of Community Service was a massive opportunity. You see so much poverty and so much lack out there, and you are being given an opportunity to mobilize a group of passionate Rotaractors to actually do something about these problems, and to help people in a way that you would never be able to otherwise. When I took up the position, my main objective was to identify people who are truly in need, and do what we could to improve their standard of living. Rotaract also gives you a platform to raise awareness about various social issues, and break harmful stereotypes, and I had every intention of employing this platform as much as possible.
As we know, the resources available to us are of a limited nature. What would you say goes into selecting the types of projects that you want to focus on doing during a given Rotaract year in accordance to the amount of resources that are currently available?
Community Service is about identifying those who are most in need. It is not unusual to feel constrained by the limitations we face, such as lack of time, funds, manpower and more. Faced with such obstacles, it is easy to feel compelled to take the easy way out and work on a project with a limited scope. However, it is important to remember that we are dealing with real lives, people who are out there and require our help, and not just numbers or facts on a piece of paper.
While it is important to choose practical and feasible projects that can actually be completed with a reasonable amount of success, I also think that a healthy amount of ambition can be beneficial. You would be surprised by the amount of support you get when you are working towards a worthy cause, and this can help you do projects with a larger scope than you expected, if only you are willing to take a small risk. All in all, I think the key to selecting a project is the right balance of ambition and pragmatism.
The Community Service Avenue has conducted various projects this Rotaract year, each different from the other in scope and in function. What projects would you say that you are proudest of this year?
Mithudam 2.0 was definitely my favourite, and it is what I’m proudest of. It was my very first project as Community Service Director, and I started that project back when the pandemic was still raging on. My mother is a school principal and I have witnessed first-hand how hard things have been for her students, in terms of not having devices to join online classes with. Through this project, I was hoping to get smartphones for at least one or two students that studied in a rural school, but the funding we got exceeded even my wildest expectations. I had people reaching out from far and wide – close contacts, fellow university students, completely random strangers, even expatriates. Some paid for entire smartphones, others helped as much as they could. Every time we received a contribution, I would get so excited that I would either binge-text someone, or gush about it with my family – they were all pretty tired of me halfway through the project. It was immensely touching to see how magnanimous people could be, confronted with a common cause.
Athwal was another project that had quite a big scope, and the credit here goes to Rtr. Gethmi, who reached out to a donor that made a huge contribution, and to our President, Rtr. Anudi, who bought and parceled nearly 90 packs of dry rations – which, believe me, is no easy task. I’m pretty sure Anudi was slightly traumatized by the mess in her house by the end of the project.
Diwidara, chaired by our Co-Vice President Rtr. Sandali, is another project that definitely deserves to be mentioned here. It was a district project, and twelve clubs worked together to provide access to clean water and sanitation to Iddagahapitiya, Wathugahamulla village. I know Sandali worked tirelessly for this project. She really channeled her inner Supergirl and did everything from coordinating with construction workers to the villagers, to conducting a workshop on the importance of clean water and sanitation.
No avenue can accomplish what it sets out to do without the hard work of its members. Are you proud of your team and all they’ve helped you accomplish?
Yes, of course, I had a huge support system in my avenue members, and I would have been completely lost without them. They were all incredibly passionate and supportive towards all the community service projects they were involved in. They did everything from scouring for donors, preparing social media content, and just plain hard physical labour with some projects. None of these projects would have been possible if not for them, especially those who chaired the projects. And of course I am proud of them – throughout this year, they have grown as much as I have.
The Board of Directors were also truly helpful, taking the time to help out with projects, even though they were busy with their own responsibilities. Whether it was for helping with coordination, or just listening to me vent, I’ll always be grateful to them. A big shout out goes to Rtr. Anudi and Rtr. Dulari who made sure that all the projects went smoothly and were immensely supportive. Same goes for Rtr. Sandali, who was just amazing, occasionally taking over for me when I had stuff going on, and if not, remaining on the sidelines, always encouraging and willing to help.
The Community Service Director for the upcoming year has been announced! Rtr. Buddhimali Parindya will be taking on the reins this forthcoming year. What are your thoughts on the appointment? Are there any words of wisdom that you would like to convey to your successor?
I could not be more excited about the new appointment! Rtr. Buddhimali has just the right balance of warmth, passion and pragmatism, all of which are vital qualities in someone who takes over this position. Frankly, every time I worked with her, she made my life so much easier. I just had to tell her how a project is done, and not only would she handle things smoothly and efficiently, but she would also add something unique to the project, that was undeniably all her. As for words of wisdom…I would just ask her to remember that Community Service requires us to be humane, and that staying in touch with one’s sense of altruism is important in this endeavour. And to not forget to have fun while she’s at it! (also complete project reports in advance – otherwise they WILL make your life miserable)
As you leave Rotaract behind, what would you like to see the Community Service Avenue do in the future?
Now that we are coming out of the pandemic and going straight into an economic crisis, I would really like to see this avenue address the vestiges of the negative effects of COVID-19, and to simultaneously do what they can to help people who are suffering due to this crisis. Little things matter, and with the (albeit limited) resources we have, we can do quite a lot of good in the world.
– Interview conducted by Rtr. Vibhath Jayasinghe and Rtr. Janidu Wijebandara
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