Breaking the glass ceiling of social invisibility | Daily News

Breaking the glass ceiling of social invisibility

Sri Lankan actress and environmental activist fights social invisibility and introduces alternative social cogwheel theory:

Renowned actress, author, and Earth Day Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Michelle Dilhara, is simply dazzling! With a heart of gold, she has worked alongside some big names in the industry, making a name for herself as an accomplished actress. Michelle's ambition is to become a globally recognized actress and step up in the global industry. A multitalented leader, Michelle is also an author who aims to break the glass ceiling and be a voice for the voiceless. With a focus on the youth, Michelle is an intellectual who believes in nurturing the future of our society. Culture and Arts proudly features Michelle Dilhara as a leader of tomorrow.

Q. You authored the book “Social invisibility is not fiction, it exits”. In fact, you received an award for this book as well. Why did you decide on writing it? I understand that you received the National Youth Icon Award at the World Youth Summit in New Delhi for this book?

A. At the age of 15, I experienced an incident at the Negombo hospital, when I went to visit my uncle who was hospitalized. While we were walking in the corridor, I heard a huge noise in a ward. I saw there were two bodies lying inside and a family was fighting with hospital staff asking to release their father’s body. A few minutes later when we came back I saw only the second body. After about a week I found out that the second body was buried with Government funds since the children of the deceased were overseas and there was no one to claim the body. This incident made me realize that there are many people in society who have been marginalized by the majority of the public. This includes elders in elder homes, children in children homes, differently abled people, and children with a language barrier. I was also once a victim of social invisibility. But I wanted to break the glass ceiling and come out of it and be the voice for the voiceless. I wrote this book after a four years’ research with Emeritus professor Antonette Perera, Doctor ParakramaWarnasuriya and Dr. Shiromi Fernando. I released the book in 2019 and during the same year I won the “National Youth Icon Award” for my book.

Q. You released the “Theory of Alternative Social Cogwheel” along with your book. Tell us about your new theory.

A. The society we live in run on a specific system. Before a child is even born, there are multiple advertisements showing the best milk powder, the best food and the best doctors. Once they are born and till they reach 55, the society has a system of taking care of them. They go to nursery, grade 1, and then they face their O/L and A/L. Until the point where we retire, we work very hard in order to survive. But a few years after we retire, we gradually start to feel lonely because we don’t get our usual calls, our family doesn’t have time to spend with us due to a busy schedule and ultimately we face depression. This happens because we have been replaced with someone stronger and efficient than us. The society goes on but the retired elders are moved out of the current social cogwheel. Therefore, I introduced the “Alternative Social Cogwheel” theory with the intention of creating a different alternative wheel that can bring back all the retired people in the society as functional individuals.

Q. You are a social activist. What causes do you fight for? What cause do you take up? Why does the young generation, especially university students choose you as a role model?

A. As an actress and environmental activist, I basically focus my projects on school and university students because they are the next leaders in society. They will be the next scientist, next innovator or next entrepreneur. As I mentioned earlier, after the industrialization, most of the innovations were created against nature. The scientists then did not consider nature as an important factor. I do my projects and awareness programs with O/L students, A/L students and university students, because if they get the right education and awareness now, they will definitely consider nature as a very important factor in their equation.

Q. I know that you have donated school shoes worth 6 lakhs and distributed more than four tons for rice. Can you tell us about your philanthropic activities?

A. The last few years have been very difficult, not only in Sri Lanka but also around the globe. With the COVID pandemic, we fell into a huge economic crisis. I believe that with a crisis like this, what we need to think about, is not really a permanent solution (because these take at least 10 to 15 years to activate). In my opinion, we should focus only 50% on permanent solutions and start focusing on the most important timely issues at the moment. The main issue we are facing is food insecurity. We need to ensure food security within our community first. That is the reason I distributed 4 tons of rice in the past few months. The second main issue is the crisis affecting our next generation. The only solution to this issue is to ensure that the next generation get a proper education. I visited Nuwara Eliya in December, and there I saw that many children were going to school wearing slippers. Some of them didn’t even have slippers! When I spoke to some of their parents, they said that they couldn’t bear the cost of a pair of shoes. Earlier a pair of shoes cost 900/=, but now it’s over 3000/=. There are many children who don’t go to school because they don’t have a pair of shoes. These kids have the potential to become doctors, lawyers and engineers. I know that what I am trying to do is not sufficient to fill up the gap. But as one human being amongst the 22 million, I am trying to make a small change. If that succeeds and others get influenced by my work, then I am satisfied.

Q. Who are the international figures you have worked with?

A. After I started working with the Earth Day Network, I was fortunate to work with many influential personalities. On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I was invited to deliver a speech on how to reduce the carbon footprint and aim for zero waste with the participation of renowned global personalities including Denis Hayes, Albert II, Prince of Monaco, Al Gore, Patricia Espinosa, John Kerry, Zac Efron and Anil Kapoor. Recently I met the Korean Ambassador to Sri Lanka Mr. SanthushWoonjin Jeong. He is an inspiring personality who works very hard to strengthen the bilateral relations between Korea and Sri Lanka. Ambassador Woonjin Jeong engages with many communities in Sri Lanka to build a strong friendship between the countries. I have worked with many Ambassadors in the past few years, but Ambassador Woonjin Jeong is the most inspiring personality I have met.

Q. You were nominated for Sumathi “Best Actress” at the 26th Sumathi Awards. How do you feel about this feather in your cap? (was this award ceremony held already or yet to be held?)

A.26th Sumathi Awards ceremony was held on the 9th of February. And I was nominated the "Best Actress" award for the role "Mahimi" I played in the teledrama "Can you hear me". This was the first ever Best Actress nomination I received during the 6 years of my acting career. This was a huge turning point in my career and I feel very honored.

Q. You are a two times “Best Supporting Actress” nominee in Raigam Tele Awards. The 19th Raigam Tele Awards will take place on March 25. How do you feel about this tremendous honor?

A.First I would like to thank the Raigam Tele Awards and the respected Jury, because I won my first award in 2019 at the Raigam Tele awards and it was for the “Best Up-Coming Actress”. In 2020 I was nominated as the “Best Supporting Actress” for the character “Chenugi” in the teledrama "Pork Street", and in 2022 I was again nominated as the “Best Supporting Actress” for the character "Navyaa" in the teledrama "Looka". I take this opportunity to thank the director of "Looka" teledrama Mr.Shivagurunadan for giving me this role and the opportunity to be a part of the teledrama.

Q. In addition to these achievements, are there other ‘memorable’ milestones in your life during the last few years?

A.Yes. Recently I was invited as a delegate and speaker for the 4th ICSE Global Conference on Sustainability Education which was held New Delhi. Other delegates from 50 countries including USA, France, Switzerland and Denmark were also present at the event.

Q. I understand that you were involved in the release of a music video recently? I think the name is “Aalen Numba Ona”. Are you doing music and acting together? What are your goals when it comes to your music career?

A. Yes. "Aalen Numba Ona" is the latest music video I appeared in recently. It was a song by Samitha Mudunkotuwa and Gayashan Weerasinghe. Kusal Maduranga appeared as the co-star with me. As long as the song and the script fit my profile I am very happy to be a part of a music production.

Q. Who are some of the people you love and look up to in the industry?

A.I am very fortunate to have worked with some of the pillars in the acting industry such as veteran actors Sanath Gunathilaka, Dilhani Ekanayaka, Chandani Senavirathna, Lakshman Mendis, Sriyani Amaraseka, Cletus Mendis, WasanthiChathurani, Palitha Silva and Kusum Renu.

Q. Why did you decide on entering the Sri Lankan Tele Drama industry? Why are you passionate about acting?

A.Becoming an actress was one of my childhood dreams. That is what led me to enter this career. I studied acting for two years. My first teacher was veteran actress Anoja Weerasinghe. Then I was educated under veteran actress Damayanthi Fonseka and Indian director Ujjwal Sinha. I started my first teledrama “Salsapuna”, portraying the character “Podi Paththarakari” which was directed by Nalan Mendis.

Q. How many Tele dramas have you done? Which ones are you most proud of?

A. So far I have appeared in approximately 30 teledramas. Among them “SuduAndagena Kalu Awidin”, “Can You Hear Me”, “Podu Season 2”, “Pork Street” and “Looka” are some of the significant teledramas I have done.

Q. What are your future ambitions?

A.My future ambition is to become a globally recognized actress and to step up into the global industry.

Q. You are the Earth day Network Ambassador for Sri Lanka. What are your duties as Ambassador?

A. I was appointed as the Earth Day Ambassador to Sri Lanka two years ago by the Earth Day Network. It is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 150,000 partners in over 192 countries to drive positive action for our planet. My duty as the Earth Day Ambassador to Sri Lanka is to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement among the young generation, basically school and university students. For the past five years I was able to conduct awareness programs and practical projects on minimizing climate change and global warming with almost 11 National Universities in Sri Lanka including Colombo University, University of Sri Jayawardenapura, University of Moratuwa, University of Jaffna, etc…

Q. As a popular Tele drama actress and the Earth day Network Ambassador for Sri Lanka, what is the message you would like to give our readers?

A. Today 7 million people die annually due to air pollution. Carbon emissions from fossil fuels have reached up to 37.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Since the industrial revolution in 1760, humans have caused massive damage to the environment. Our ancestors gifted us a beautiful and healthy environment, but what are we gifting our next generation? a damaged and unhealthy environment. We need to make a difference together in order to handover a healthy planet to our children. Because according to the UN 255 babies are born in a minute, 385,000 babies are born each day and about 140 million a year.

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