25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People Awardee
Anoka has actively been engaging in activities that would help make the locals in various areas in Sri Lanka aware of the importance of mangrove replantation and conservation in averting climate change.
Due to her extraordinary dedication in preserving the environment, Anoka has received several awards and recognitions as a testament to how much of an inspiration and influence she has been. She has been named as an International Climate Champion, a Global Changemaker, and a Youth Venturer by various organizations that focus on environmental care.
One of Anoka’s most important accomplishments is her inclusion in the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America, which simply shows just how far her efforts have been made known.
An Advocate of Environmental Care and Protection
Anoka’s passion for promoting environmental protection comes from an innate desire to see the future generation have something to enjoy. Anoka firmly believes that our relationship with nature must be mutual, and that we must be willing to give something back to it.
She also emphasizes the importance of the younger generation’s involvement, as they are the future of society and will be the ones that would reap the harvest of whatever is being planted today. She said in an interview:
“I am inspired to act because I am passionately curious about protecting the environment while creating harmony between communities and the environment. But mostly, it is that burning urge to act and give back to nature and to motivate other young people in return to do their part in saving their planet.”
Leadership is one of Anoka’s qualities that have enabled her to be successful in her endeavors. She believes that no action is too insignificant, and no effort is too small if one is willing to give their time and effort to make a positive change in society. Anoka is a great example of this because of the amazing influence and inspiration that she has been in the field of environmental care and protection. She often says in interviews:
“I believe that my actions have inspired more young people to act, to take a stand and to be part of ongoing re-planting programs, workshops and to use both social and digital media to protect the environment, one community at a time. This is us youth being inspired by my actions and fellow colleagues’ actions. We are a team of passionately active young people and we know we are making a change.”
Anoka Abeyrathne Biography
Anoka Abeyrathne was born in 1992 in Sri Lanka. Growing up near the mangrove filled forested areas of the Bolgoda Lake, Anoka witnessed even at an early age the destruction of the mangroves. Even though she was too little back then to understand why, Anoka had a glimpse of how important the mangroves are through her parents, who participated in the protests against the loggers were responsible for the destruction of the mangroves.
Anoka’s passion for public service and environmental protection is something that we could say came naturally to her because of her lineage. Anoka comes from a long line of well-known public servants. Her great grandfather was Christopher William Wijekoon Kannangara, a lawyer and politician who was a key figure in the movement for Sri Lankan freedom and became its first ever Education Minister, also popularly known as the Father of Free Education of Sri Lanka.
Her grandmother, Manel Abeysekera, became the country’s first woman career diplomat; Anoka’s aunt, Sunila Abeysekera, was a human rights activist who won the United Nations Human Rights Award. Aside from these people, Anoka also had other family members who were actively involved in government affairs, thus making their family a respected clan.
Growing up with her family, Anoka did not only become quite popular among her peers (due to being related to such famous political figures), but more importantly, she learned of the importance of being aware of the laws and regulations that are placed in society, as well as the rights of every citizen, as it not only opened their minds to what they have, but it also gave them knowledge so they can actively participate in the affairs of society. As such, Anoka developed the desire to be able to make a positive change in her country, especially in the area of environmental care.
An A-Student and School Choir Member
As a student, Anoka was above average in her studies, which earned her the praise of many of her professors. Anoka spent her elementary and high school education at the Bishop’s College, where she not only studied diligently but also participated in extracurricular activities, such as swimming, athletics, and music. Anoka was a member of the school choir.
Anoka also involved herself in many outdoor activities in school, most of which were related to taking care of the environment. She graduated from Bishop’s College in 2009 with high remarks.
Completing a Degree in Environmental Science and Wildlife Conservation
After graduating from high school, Anoka applied at the Open University of Sri Lanka to study Environmental Science and Wildlife Conservation. She also studied Law in the University of London starting in 2009.
Apart from being an excellent student, Anoka impressed her teachers for being able to balance her studies with her active engagements in her philanthropic efforts. She completed her studies and earned her bachelor’s degrees from both universities with high remarks in 2012.
An EMACE Foundation Volunteer
Anoka’s philanthropic efforts began way back when she was only fourteen years old. Backed up with a desire to be able to make a significant change in the environment, Anoka started volunteering with the EMACE Foundation of Sri Lanka in 2006 to promote and actively get involved in the organization’s efforts of scientifically replanting mangrove trees and addressing climate change.
Anoka was assigned to a team that started a campaign to address carbon trading in the voluntary market. The campaign was a success, and Anoka was able to learn a lot in the fields of environmental service. She said later on in a blog she wrote:
“My team and I developed a concept which integrated the environmental, financial, sustainability, and social aspects and decided to upgrade the existing project to address carbon trading in the voluntary market as the regulatory market is complex, risky, and expensive. With my friends, we started to give meaning to the idea that action and service is power, because instead of complaining or being arm chair critics, we decided to do whatever possible to direct the attention of young people like us to be the generation of people who make things right and walk the walk.”
Mangroves–Sinking Carbon Project
Soon after the success of the campaign in which Anoka was involved in, she introduced a system of tree-planting which she called “Mangroves–Sinking Carbon.” This project involved allocating mangrove plot of one acre to 500 community members of each of the villages surrounding Bolgoda Lake, starting with the Indibedda village. She described this experience later on through a blog she wrote:
“Armed with the firsthand experience gained from volunteering with the EMACE Foundation of Sri Lanka, I introduced a Tree Guardian System where a Mangrove plot of one acre each would be allocated to 500 community members of the Indibedda village bordering the Bolgoda Lake of Sri Lanka. This sustains their livelihood of fishing as the Mangroves provide the best breeding place for the many fish, prawns and crabs of the lake. Thus the social, economic and sustainability factors of the project are interconnected.”
Twelve Thousand Mangrove Trees Surrounds Bolgoda Lake in Sri Lanka
When Anoka started the campaign, she was not yet fully sure how successful it would be, given that she did not know how much support she would get from the villages where the mangrove trees would be planted. However, soon after the campaign was launched, Anoka witnessed the willingness of the people to participate in the campaign.
Ever since the campaign was started, over 12,000 mangrove trees have been planted in various villages surrounding the Bolgoda Lake, improving the lives of the families of those who use the lake as a means of their source of living.
As the project grew, Anoka and her team introduced the social entrepreneurship aspect to encourage her fellow youth in actively participating in promoting eco-tourism and sustainability by volunteering their time and efforts to become tour guides during their school breaks to increase tourism and improve the economy in the communities they volunteer for.
The Youngest Youth Award Recipient
With the support of the British Council’s International Climate Champion program, Anoka and her team was able to come up with a feasible plan that empowered the students to involve in taking care of the environment.
Due to her accomplishments in the field of environmental protection and sustainability, Anoka was given the Youth Award by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, the youngest person to have received the award at the age of twenty. The following year, in 2011, Anoka was chosen to become a Global Changemaker by the British Council, in recognition of her efforts in caring for the environment and encouraging other young people to do the same. Anoka said of this honor:
“Being chosen as a Global Changemaker by British Council caused me to become even better trained and live up to my potential of making a change in the world. This made me even more inspired and we came up with a concept to help the community of Bolgoda Lake with solar-powered fishing lamps which were donated and subsidized with the help of various donors.”
Sri-Lanka’s Representative to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Conference of the Parties
It was not long until Anoka’s efforts became known globally. In 2012, she was chosen to be a part of the Youth Service America’s list of the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People of the World. Anoka also had the opportunity to represent the youth of Sri Lanka at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC-COP) that was held in South Africa.
The conference brought together delegates from all over the world and encouraged them to influence decision makers in their respective countries to take a stand on environmental protection and climate change. Anoka said in a blog of her involvement in the conference:
“The power of service is well-reflected in this because not many youth get the opportunity to attend high-level decision-making processes to help them become better leaders and to prove their mettle.”
Sri Lanka’s First Digital Environmental Music Video
Recently, Anoka, with the help of her team and friends, made Sri Lanka’s first digital environmental music video which aimed to raise the awareness of the importance of environmental protection. In this video, Anoka starred as an earth spirit and portrayed that it is essential to focus on the issues of environmental degradation.
The video was well-received not just by the critics but by the public, which encouraged Anoka to hold an environmental film festival to further bring the public into awareness of balancing the economy and the environment not just for harmonious living, but simply out of a desire for existence.
Up to today, Anoka actively pursues environmental protection and works with various organizations in her country to ensure that the next generation would have a greener society. She knows that there is still a lot to be done, but she believes that through making the public aware, more and more people would join the cause to protect the environment and leave something for their children and future generations to enjoy. Anoka said this in an interview:
“I say that there's nothing we can't do. Along with my friends and networks, I will continue to do my very best to help our country and world become cleaner, more environmentally friendly and sustainable.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Green the Climate
- Children’s World Summit
- South Asian Youth Climate Action Network
- Ashoka Foundation
- EMACE Foundation of Sri Lanka
Awards and Achievements
- 2010: Received the Youth Award from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation
- 2010: Named as an International Climate Champion
- 2011: Named as a Global Changemaker by the British Council
- 2011: Named as a Youth Venturer by the Ashoka Foundation
- 2012: Named as a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum
- 2012: Included in the 25 Most Powerful and Influential Young People in the World by Youth Service America