Mahika Perera

OCIC Global Changemaker 2015 Youth Ambassador
Mahika Perera – YMCA

As a child, Mahika Perera went on regular family trips to visit her grandparents in Sri Lanka. Among the people she met on these visits were two women, neighbours of her grandparents who lived and worked on the nearby Hantane Tea Estate. As she grew older, Mahika became more and more aware of the daily challenges these women faced as they tried to build lives for themselves and their families.

It was in September 2013 that she learned that these women’s houses had collapsed, a result of heavy rains over the summer.

The Basic Life Project was born when Mahika imagined the resulting chaos and turmoil. She started by doing research into Sri Lanka’s tea estates, vast plantations dedicated to the growth and production of tea. There was little information readily available, and the more she learned, the more Mahika realized that someone should start to speak up.

She was driven by empathy, a quality which she sees as a crucial starting point for making a difference and creating change: “We need to care about what people are enduring,” she says. “Once you start caring, all of your actions just start to follow.”

The Basic Life Project, which celebrated its first-year anniversary this January, grew out of her involvement in volunteering and participation in the YMCA’s Youth Leadership Development program. Mahika characterizes the project as “underdogs helping other underdogs,” pointing out that young people can often relate to the feeling of being underestimated, underappreciated, or undervalued. It’s important to her, then, that the BLP is officially a youth-driven organization.

The BLP sends monthly support packages to four families living in Hantane; these packages contain daily necessities such as rice, sugar, oil, wheat flour, and milk powder—items that can often consume most of a family’s available funds. The group plans to expand the packages to include things like school supplies and household items. To date, BLP has raised enough to continue sending support packages until August 2015.

Funds are raised by selling artwork created and donated by young artists. “I love the idea of youth being able to help others while expressing themselves in healthy ways. When people share what they love,” Mahika explains, “it creates a bond between them.”

With a diverse group with so many different talents, “we can focus on what we’re good at and work together to bring each other up and empower each other. We’re always teaching each other something.” What it comes down to, Mahika says, is seeing and sharing each other’s strengths: “We can do what we love, and we can help people at the same time.”

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