Berkeley Prep sophomore Anuksha Wickramasinghe has published a book — Sri Lanka: Through My Eyes — that provides an intimate view into the homeland of her parents.
She presents the story with her photographs of Sri Lanka’s wildlife — such as turtles, parakeets, monkeys, storks, eagles, crocodiles, leopards, water buffalo, deer, boar and elephants — that she captured on sightseeing tours and safaris.
But the true narrative is told through Anuksha’s heart.
Her parents came to the United States when a Civil War broke out during the 1980s in Sri Lanka, an island country in Southeast Asia. The conflict lasted three decades, transforming a tranquil paradise to a war zone. Then, in 2004, an Asian tsunami killed more than 35,000 residents.
While learning about the bloodshed and tragedy, Anuksha, 16, said she felt "very connected’’ to Sri Lanka after making four trips to the island.
"From a young age, I have been raised (to appreciate) the culture of Sri Lanka, from how I look to the food I eat to the language (spoken by her parents),’’ she said. "It is a very beautiful land. But I have also experienced the people and that’s where I have learned so much more.’’
Proceeds from Anuksha’s book will benefit the Grace Girls’ Home, an orphanage. Anuksha said she met girls who "had to suffer atrocities that no human being should ever have to endure.’’ They witnessed parents being shot in the war. They begged in the streets. They slept in graveyards.
Anuksha, a serious photographer since age 8, said she forged a deep relationship with the girls and will work to establish a library at the home.
"It was breathtaking and mesmerizing to see all the wildlife I was able to photograph,’’ she said. "But nothing was more amazing than those girls. For them to smile and be so kind and loving after all they have experienced, it truly made an impression on me.
"You’d think they would be down and disappointed, but they live every day to the fullest. It showed me that we all need to come together for a common cause, regardless of our ethnicity, religion or political beliefs. We’re all human beings at the end of the day and we should be helping other people.’’
Kim Lawless, Berkeley Prep’s Director of Community Engagement and Service Learning, said she’s impressed by the passion of Anuksha’s photography.
But Lawless was even more taken by the compassion behind the book’s purpose.
"Anuksha has combined her passion for photography with service to others, which is pretty remarkable,’’ Lawless said. "By telling her stories, you clearly see she has a heart for others and wants to make the world a better place.
"To create and execute a project of this size, she has a maturity beyond her years. And this wasn’t, ‘Hey, I wrote a book!’ It was never about her. It’s about helping others and bringing awareness. She’s excited to do it, but she shows such humility and selflessness.’’
Anuksha said she’s grateful for the successful outcome of her family, which had an alternative to Sri Lanka’s Civil War. Her father, Ruvan, is now an internist and medical director for BayCare, and her mother, Janaki, is a realtor.
"I myself could not envision the beauty that Sri Lanka possessed,’’ she wrote in the book. "The gravity and destruction of the war … as well as the tsunami … (made) me view the island nation through the lens of a tragedy. It was only when I visited Sri Lanka in the summer after sixth grade that my eyes opened up to a whole new world that was in the process of overcoming great tragedies.’’
When Anuksha volunteered at the Grace Girls’ Home, she gained further perspective.
"Every child deserves an opportunity to succeed and achieve his or her dreams,’’ she wrote. "Yet, inequality is inevitable. Although often times, success is predetermined by the ‘lottery of birth,’ it is not a reason to give up on fairness.
"Instead, it is why we must take it upon ourselves to help those less fortunate and never let the fire of faith in the goodness of humanity and optimism burn out.’’
Anuksha said her book is on sale in Sri Lanka, but also hopes to have it distributed in America.
Contact Joey Johnston at [email protected]