Voice for the youth!
A candid chat with the talented Agrani Handunge
Feature by Sakuni Kalyanaratne
Strong, Independent, Headfast, Focused, Driven, Determined. These are some of the many words that could be used to describe Agrani Handunge, the star of this story. Still at just 20 years old, she had already achieved so much that many of us couldn’t even dream of or just don’t have the strength or courage to do so. And the best part is, she is still a student herself. About to start studying for her Medical degree later in the year after her A/L’s, she is working tirelessly to get the maximum use of her time to get things done for her other passions, be it community development, motivational speaking, or fighting for human rights, before she needs to focus on her studies full time. Amidst her demanding schedule, Agrani found time for Chokolaate readers.
Q: Tell our readers a little about yourself Agrani:
A: I studied at Lyceum International School and awaiting my university entrance. I am also a teacher at Lyceum at the moment until I start my higher education. I am also working as an International Youth Ambassador and a Global Ambassador for Human Rights in Asia. Almost all of these take up most of my time and whenever I have time, I take part in UN projects as well.
I come from a very humble background and very much attached to my parents. I have seen how hard my father works and I think the reason I too try to work very hard is the inspiration I get from him. My mother is the reason that me and my brother are here today as she gave up her own job to take care of us and look after us. Also, I am very close to my grandmother as well and look up to her a lot. She is my role model. The main reason I volunteer as a speaker, as a helper is because of my grandmother. Her virtue, righteousness and honour which is instilled within me is what keeps me going as a confident, bold and strong person.
Q: How did you get into community development and motivational speaking?
A: yeah! Like I told earlier, my grandmother looked at the world in a very unique way. She would sometimes go out of her way to make someone’s life a little better than you or me. I started off community development work at the age of 8. There was this maid who worked in one of my friend’s houses whose children didn’t have stationary and other things needed to go to school. So myself and a few of my friends, including the one whose family employed this maid, got together and started collecting money, starting off with our own tiffin money. At that point, we had no idea or clue about community development as such and just wanted to help out. We formed a little group and called ourselves as Friends, and now it has come far and we now call ourselves Friends for Change Sri Lanka (FFC), which is a not for profit organisation. Our first project was getting help for those 10 children for one full academic year, for which we managed to do a small fund raiser as well to collect the necessary money.
Q: How much is there the need for motivation/positive thinking in anyway in today’s world?
A: Let me start with a small story. I was a very good all-rounder in school excelling in both studies and extra-curricular activities. But at the age of 13, I started hating going to school. It was the worst place for me to be in as I was physically and mentally bullied by a group of students. I was the subject of their torture from 13 to 15, until I started to think I need to take control of my life and fight back. I started being me which I think was the breaking point. I believe motivation is something which is needed for anyone. We have a structural educational system here where we are being prepared to pass written examinations but not to pass an interview or get a job. In 2016, Sri Lanka was the 17th ranked country in suicides in the world. For a person to commit suicide is a strong emotion, all of which comes down to lack of positivity, lack of motivation, lack of courage. And also, in Sri Lanka women are taught to be housewives first and foremost and in doing so many have to give up their dreams. I am not saying that we shouldn’t be that way. We love our families and we love to take care of them but we also have our passions and dreams that we love to achieve. Therefore, I believe motivation and positivity is something that you need on a daily basis on our day today lives. That is the reason we as Sri Lankans are stuck in one place.
Q: So what sets you apart from other motivational speakers?
A: I have met some great speakers during my work like Hithesh, Manoj etc. and some of them are in fact my role models. I think what sets me apart is unlike most of them who only speaks about positivity and how to overcome challengers in life, I talk about other concepts too. For instance, sex trafficking, suicides, drug addiction, human rights etc. So, it’s not only motivational speaking for me but on broader subjects as well.
Q: What is your core philosophy/core practice?
A: Well, I was brought up in a very religious background and virtues of Dhamma always played a major role in my family. So being brought up in such a background, I am a person who believes a lot in meditation.
Q: What is the difference between thinking positively and being delusional?
A: I think you have to identify your strengths and weaknesses in life. Not everyone can be a Barack Obama or Oprah Winfrey. Not everyone can be doctor or an engineer. But that shouldn’t mean that you cannot be who you want to be in life. I think you need to be realistic as well and really understand what you can do in your life instead of being trapped in a dreamy, flimsy world. First you should find what you can do and then you should understand what your dream is and finally you should find a way to go towards it. And in doing so, you should be able to surpass any hurdle or barrier that life throws at you, which is really important.
3 books that have had the most impact on your life: Long walk to freedom by Nelson Mandela. And this other book called ‘Change the life’, whose author I cannot really recall. And also The Mouse Trap by Manoj Vasudevan.
Favourite colour: Red
3 things you cannot live without: Family, My phone and Freedom.
Some fun fact about you: I am a loner and I like travelling a lot.
Q: What is the best advice that you can give someone who wants to better their lives?
Read more of our interview with Agrani in Issue 51 of Chokolaate Magazine in stores and online now!