Headline: Politics, blogging and more – Meet Buwanaka Perera
By Mahika Panditha
When you guys scroll through Instagram and whatnot, I assume that you also follow the news through those platforms. Of course, the usual media outlets are there, but isn’t it great when you have someone you trust providing you with information and thought-provoking conversations?
That is exactly what Buwanaka Perera is doing. Buwanaka is currently studying International Relations whilst also writing about WWII in Sri Lanka – that’s amazing! On top of that, he is also a blogger – you can check out his account @buwanaka for some super interesting content on social issues in Sri Lanka. Start a conversation and engage!
Aside from this, Buwanaka enjoys learning about other cultures and their respective social structures whilst also indulging in watching some Family Guy or eating some ice cream! We got to have a chat with him last week, and here is what he had to say.
Hi Buwanaka! Before we get into it, do tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
I’m a blogger, human rights activist and an aspiring author. I was born and raised in Colombo. I studied at Vidura College and then at St. Nicholas’ International College, Colombo. I moved to Adelaide for my BA at the University of South Australia where I realised I’ve been trying so hard to live someone else’s “American Dream” all this time – so I dropped out of college.
I realised I had so much to see out there, to learn and to grow as a person. So I started to work as a flight attendant. I got to travel the world, meet all sorts of people and learn about different cultures and better myself. But then I realised, as wonderful as it is to gain more knowledge and see the world, I wanted to find a way to give back to the society, and give back to Sri Lanka.
When my thirst for travel was finally quenched (thanks to the Covid-19 outbreak), I started my diploma in International Relations. But then we went under a lockdown. And me, hating nothing more than not doing anything, decided to use this new free time I had to write a book. Most of it is complete and I hope to publish it within this year. Well that’s all about me.
So, what inspired you to start sharing your opinions on social media?
I have always been critical about social issues since I was a teenager. Growing up, my mother and my grandfather always encouraged me to speak up against injustice and taught me the value of knowledge. And I was never this vocal on social media until seven months ago.
It all started with this conversation I had with one of my neighbours on election day, where he said it was useless to vote, and that Covid-19 is so dangerous that placing your vote at such a time was unnecessary. That made me think about all the amount of misinformation out there, and that most media networks in our country share information so recklessly with no regards to media ethics, that they are actively taking part in nurturing ignorance within our society.
I also realised that the people’s fundamental rights are getting infringed all over the world under the pretext of Covid-19, and Sri Lanka seemed to be heading in the same direction. It was frustrating to see that no one in Sri Lanka seemed to see this and a lot of people had a similar attitude towards voting.
So with all the frustration and anger built up within me I decided to make a video on IGTV to encourage my friends to go and vote. The video went viral and more people encouraged me to make more videos, with some even saying I was their only source of news.
I started to make opinion pieces on every other week about whatever the issue I thought people should be following on. Issues of value that mainstream media tend to ignore. And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the ability to share unbiased information. I enjoyed the realisation of how I could use my social media to make even a small impact on the society. This newfound power to create a dialogue within my community felt great!
What would you say has been the best experience using your platform to spread awareness?
I would say there isn’t just one, but so many! The white cloth protests really made it to the top. Even though I was not an organiser of the protest, I’m really glad I got to take part in it. The domino effect it had was just amazing! To see how the youth of different cultures and ethnicities unite and exercise their freedom to protest, their freedom to speak out. There was this sense that the youth, all over our country, was waking up to understand how powerful their voices can be.
I’m also extremely grateful that I got to know these amazing individuals through social media, who are doing great work raising awareness on a wide range of issues. I’m really glad I get to amplify their voices too.
But more than anything I’d say the best experience is to know that I’m not delusional to believe that we can change things. To hope for a more empathetic, tolerant, and sustainable society in the future. And that I’m sharing the same vision with so many other young citizens of our country. What better experience is there?
What changes would you like to see happen in our country in five years?
I’d like to see more people realise the power they wield as citizens of this country. The impact they can have as a collective if they are to stand up for the good in the world. I hope they realise their responsibility does not end at the bottom of a ballot box, and that they can do much more by continuing to speak for what’s right and fight for what is just.
I hope this ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor in our country will get narrower. I hope we remove ourselves from these Eurocentric norms and Victorian values which were imposed upon us, making us strive for these unsustainable and selfish materialistic goals. And instead be more kind and empathetic towards each other.
How do you think the public and the younger generation can help?
Fact check. We are living in an age where you can know about anything known to mankind through the supercomputer called the “mobile” in your pocket. Just fact check anything before you share on social media. Get involved in the political discourse. Read about policies, hold your local representatives accountable, educate yourselves on the different aspects of governance. For these things affect your life.
And the youth, being the most resilient of us all, have a responsibility to influence policy making.
Learn about the country you live in. Its past, its present and its future. Try to get involved in more grassroots activism as much as you get involved in social media activism. For there is no point in all the activism we do if it is only going to be limited to likes and shares, without having an impact on the real world.
Let’s try and make a more effective impact on our country where social media usage is limited to 31% of the population.
How do you deal with any criticisms that may come your way?
I look at any kind of criticisms or hate mail I receive as an opportunity to gain more knowledge. And even if I agree to disagree I see it as an opportunity to widen my perspective on society. So I always try to have a conversation and hear out what the other person has to say. I try to give space to create a dialogue.
For I believe that through dialogue and discourse we can fix our differences. But sometimes it can be overwhelming. Then I talk to my friends and sometimes even take a break from social media for a few days.
What has been your biggest challenge with sharing your views online? How did you overcome it?
Being unbiased. It is a constant conflict of sharing information without offending anybody, but at the same time trying not to hide the truth. It is difficult. And the possibility of a backlash is always there. Especially from the people who don’t want to have a discussion. The ones who aren’t even willing to entertain the idea that opinion can be changed. The ones who merely want to spew their hate through temporary accounts.
Any advice for people trying to spread awareness/a message on social media?
Be unafraid. As long as you are speaking the truth and standing up for what is right you shouldn’t be scared of anything. Whether it’s your friends, family or a different institution. Be unafraid. Do not let anyone tell you that you can’t change anything. Don’t let anyone undermine your power.
Live your life and enjoy the rights and the liberties you are entitled to as a human being. And do not let anyone take them away from you. For they are yours. Without your rights you are not living, but merely surviving. In the end remember this, in this divided world filled with loud-mouthed agitators and instigators, try to be a peacemaker.