It was the year 2022. A public park named Windmill Park, located in Epsom, Auckland was going to undergo a change. A change that would bring an unhappy outcome not only to the lads who played Basketball, but also to the members of our own Sri Lankan community who played Cricket there. As the local elections were nearing the residents of that area were pushing the local politicians to close down the Cricket pitches and the Basketball courts in Windmill Park, just because they found it annoying when outsiders came to play there. A public property that the residents wanted only for themselves. Then a young man of Sri Lankan origin named Suveen stepped in, not just to ensure the right to use this park for his own community, but for other members of the public as well.
At first, the members of the Sri Lankan community almost accepted defeat. But Suveen took the helm, discussed the matter with the council, and pushed the others to go forward and state their concerns. As a result, today, the council not only allowed the Cricket pitches and the Basketball courts to stay, but also decided to improve them.
Although this may sound like a simple matter regarding a leisure activity, still it ensured the people’s right to play and use public property. Suveen fought for that right by taking leadership and driving his people towards the winning goal.
Suveen, who goes by the full name of Suveen Sanis Walgampola was born in Sri Lanka and moved to New Zealand with his parents at a very young age. He has educational backgrounds in both Massey and Auckland universities, in the areas of Finance and Supply Chain Management. Careerwise, he had been in various roles from working in the docks, logistics to project management. Now he works in mental health support for an organisation called Kahui Tu Kaha.
In addition, he is also into politics. He joined the Green Party in 2020 as a volunteer. This year he will be contesting as the party representative of Mt. Roskill electorate in the general elections.
Although he was schooled and raised in New Zealand, he believes that the Sri Lankan heritage is deep within his DNA. His connection towards Sri Lankan culture is so strong that he and a friend learned Magul Bera and Udarata Dancing all by themselves.
To deepen his connection to Sri Lankan heritage, he co-founded an organisation named ‘Duality’, which mostly consists of youths like him. It is common for the Sri Lankan youths who grew up in New Zealand to face an identity crisis, but Duality could bring some common ground and help them to find their origins and understand who they are. Not only Sinhalese members, but Duality also has a diverse representation of Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims.
Apart from regular cultural and charity events they organise, Duality focuses on more serious matters that affect the Sri Lankan community as well. One such matter was the LynnMall terror attack in 2021.
The moment we heard that the perpetrator was a Sri Lankan, we felt mixed feelings of anger and insecurity. When the media never hesitated to state the country of the attacker’s origin in the first sentence or the headline, no wonder we felt guilty for something we haven’t done. Regardless of whether we justified ourselves as belonging to different religions, the media already pictured us as villains. Needless to say, this is the same feeling Muslims or any other people would feel when someone from their community commits an act of terror.
At that time, Duality came forth with an effort to address our frustration. They communicated with several other Sri Lankan organisations, gathered information about how the community felt, and made a report. Then they distributed it to the Ministry of Ethnic Communities and opened a dialogue on media behaviour and responsibility in such situations.
Not only when the Sri Lankans faced challenges in New Zealand, they were in the frontline when Sri Lankans were in need back at home as well. During the mass protests of 2022, they signed a petition and urged the New Zealand government to offer a statement pressing the Sri Lankan government to safeguard the lives of protesters.
Through Duality or individually, Suveen has done a lot for the Sri Lankan community and his fellow Kiwis. His reason behind entering politics was straightforward, he believes that the changes he wishes to see should come from the top.
By Thulitha Abayawardana – Auckland