Compiled by Savithri Rodrigo
BREAKING THE SHACKLES
Miriam Alphonsus encourages the young to take up leadership positions
Q: How do you view global poverty and environmental degradation?
A: The capitalist system severely damages all these as money equals power, preventing the world from solving poverty. For example, governments are unwilling to initiate more social policies for fear of foregoing economic advantages that multinationals and big business bring.
Even the struggle against environmental degradation is slow as no one wants to irk giant companies. Global giants will change according to consumer demand; so if people can change their consumption patterns the world’s problems may be solved.
Q: Who is responsible for climate change and global warming?
A: Much of the West was industrialised at a time when global warming was not under the spotlight. However, when it was time for Asia and Africa to industrialise, global warming made the headlines – and China and India took the blame.
It is important to understand how difficult it is for governments to support the environment over development, which often means sacrificing basic requirements for millions. Developed nations therefore, have a huge responsibility to help subsidise sustainable growth in developing countries to protect the environment without sacrificing people’s basic needs.
Q: How do you view the growing importance of social media today?
A: It’s an equaliser that’s increasingly becoming an ‘ordinary good’ that everyone has access to. It allows people from diverse backgrounds to hear the voices of people they usually don’t have access to, which leads to better discourse, more understanding and less conflict.
However, social media is programmed to provide information that’s only seen through our ‘likes’ and ‘follows.’ This means we may believe we have access to the whole world but in reality it is the same bubble we live in.
Q: What are the challenges facing Sri Lanka today?
A: One of the main challenges is the polarisation of people. In any country, vast economic, racial and political differences create conflict among people who simply don’t have a middle ground to relate to each other.
Despite being such a small country, the political differences between the north, south, upcountry and Colombo are massive, and the government is compelled to appeal to everyone. A common ground created through greater economic and information equality, and the breakdown of language barriers, will help create discourse and a more united stand.
Q: How can Sri Lanka retain the talent it has?
A: Most Sri Lankans leave the country due to a lack of opportunities for self-development (for example, in artistic career paths) or for better remuneration in jobs abroad. To deal with this, it would be good if the government could provide opportunities perhaps through better extracurricular activities in public schools to encourage entrepreneurship.
Another thought is that Sri Lanka could follow the model used in Singapore, by imposing a compulsory six-year service tenure on university students following graduation. After all, the country has invested considerable sums on free education and the state cannot afford to provide better opportunities at this point.
Q: Do we have young leaders who can take the country forward?
A: While I do see young leaders, there are only a few. The reason for this is the lack of youth participation.
Sri Lanka’s strict age-based hierarchy is a hindrance – our political parties and even youth organisations are led by older people. Youth giving direction or leading older people is discouraged as young people are viewed as a threat to their positions.
I would like to see the infusion of a humble and inclusive leadership style that enables young people to optimise their potential.
Q: Do you believe that Sri Lanka will be united one day?
A: As human beings possess diverse experiences and different senses of justice, our views differ and no country has ever experienced perfect unity. The only type of unity Sri Lanka can aspire to establish is where communal divisions are not the deciding factor for everything.
To achieve this however, there has to be trust in the government to protect everyone. With more time and greater integration, unity will materialise.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
A: Perhaps as a journalist, historian or teacher but definitely residing in Sri Lanka. I’d like to be engaged in a career that will allow me to travel across Sri Lanka, living in different places for long periods.