Sri Lanka: a road to enlightenment

After six months working in the television industry Amy Hill understands what makes a good story. She has now refocused her life on social action but is keen to keep her old story hunting skills sharp. Read what she wrote for Active Citizens International Study Visit live.

'It's been four days since returning from Sri Lanka and I miss it the minute I wake up! The experience blew my initial expectations out of the window. I don't think I have ever felt so closely connected to 30-something random individuals from around the world in such a short space of time.

My new Sri Lankan name, 'Ama', is quite fitting...'Enlightened'.

Our community visit centred around five environmental projects currently supported by a group of Active Citizens based in Kandy, Sri Lanka's second largest city after Colombo.

We visited a school where an 'Environmental Scouts' project amongst its young pupils provides ownership and understanding of the importance of waste management and sustainability. Encouraged through the shared knowledge of making compost and growing their own food resources, pupils become better prepared for a greener future.

In conjunction with this, we visited an elderly farmer who has taken sustainability to his own impressive level by growing and maintaining a large herb garden - both for food and medicinal purposes. Active Citizens in Kandy are now on a mission to incorporate his work into schools and increase knowledge amongst its pupils.

An eye-opening trip

Further into the visit we took an eye-opening trip into the granite and limestone mines. This seemed to be quite a complicated issue that tangled itself in moral dilemmas and shed light on the consequences of excluding a community during decision-making.

Problems that had occurred due to these mines included sound pollution, air pollution, earth slips and destructive vibrations. To tackle air pollution, local governments replaced old methods of mining with new technologies but these new machines required fewer workers and so several miners lost their jobs.

Similarly, vibrations caused cracks and damages to the homes of local residents and as a result they were offered new homes; the majority of which were refused, due to sentimental attachment. During our discussions with the local Active Citizens it was pointed out that residents needed a 'voice' as they seemed to be excluded from any official decision-making. This stayed with me and reminded me that any actions I take in the future have to be done with the communities best interests at heart.

Reality hits home

Cleaning up a large riverbank was one of the biggest tasks during our community visit and probably one of the darkest. Coming face to face with a used syringe lying on a bed of sand brought home the reality of how important it is to raise awareness and educate people on the outcomes of poor waste management. The amount of rubbish was overwhelming and our action felt like a small pinprick.

Words cannot do this ISV experience justice. Not only do I have a better understanding of the motions and processes needed to put a social action into ACTION but I now feel as though young people beyond the UK and across the globe have got my back and are cheering me on. It's moral support at it's best!'

We discovered that a lack of awareness and resources were the biggest hindrances for a cleaner environment and local active citizens are now on a campaigning mission to reduce the amount of waste thrown into the river.

Surprisingly the majority of rubbish found was made up of clothing and I was dumbfounded to learn that smaller garment factories in Sri Lanka deposited their defect materials into the river! We spoke with local active citizens and suggested that they target these factories with a social entrepreneurship in mind. Materials could be collected and fashionably recycled - let's hope this goes forward!

Last but not least we gained a small insight into some leadership programs taking place in under privileged schools. These schools provided education for children of labour workers on low income and I was under the impression that these workshops were in place to tackle the stigma associated with the words 'under-privileged'. It was an interesting concept that I think can be applied to many social action areas.