Duality helping young Sri Lankan Kiwis shape their identities

Navigating between cultures and trying to establish a sense of identity can be a tricky prospect for young first-generation New Zealanders. In this article, we hear from Duality, a newly established platform/community co-founded by Leadership Network member Tharaka Munidasa that helps young Sri Lankan New Zealanders navigate their dual identities.
Suveen Walgampola, Harini Jayaratne, Indika Samarasekara, Tharaka Munidasa, Anjukhan Kathirgamanathan

The Duality team, Suveen Walgampola, Harini Jayaratne, Indika Samarasekara and Tharaka Munidasa with Leadership Network member Anjukan Kathirgamanathan

Growing up in Aotearoa as children of Sri Lankan parents, we are often forced to assimilate as part of fitting into the Kiwi culture. With one culture inside the house and one outside, this can cause us to lose our sense of identity. We prioritise our friends and end up losing a part of who we are in the process.

Misunderstandings with parents occur as they too have to navigate this new context their children are brought up in. This can lead to intergenerational gaps that can often be too complex to address.

As we mature, we realise we are missing a part of us but often it’s too much as an individual to reclaim as we have ingrained ourselves so much into the dominant Pakeha Kiwi culture.

All communities tend to face an identity crisis when growing up in a new country. This issue grows deeper if our youth don’t have a strong sense of who they are as they navigate multiple worlds, cultures and contexts. However, there is an opportunity to positively change this from within.

Duality was formed to break the cycle of identity crisis across generations by changing the narrative of exposure for Sri Lankan youth in New Zealand.

Our vision at Duality is to build a supportive and inclusive community and platform for Sri Lankan youth to bring awareness to the shared invisible barriers where diversity and personal journeys are shared and celebrated; our rich cultures, histories, pains and successes are taught to each other and to provide the right acknowledgement, tools and resources necessary for our youth to thrive.

We believe that with the right network and guidance, our Sri Lankan youth will have a solid foundation to lean on as they navigate their dual identity in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Having asked ourselves what invisible barriers we experienced growing up in New Zealand as different generational Sri Lankan youth, we quickly realised that our journeys were each uniquely defined, and Duality could not be built on assumptions and the basis we all go through the same experiences.

To understand this further and to ensure we address as many experiences as possible, Duality reached out to the wider Sri Lakan community and conducted a five-month research project consisting of 30 plus workshops and over 1000 research insights of individual experiences.

The core philosophy of the workshops involved listening and documenting community experiences and respectfully extracting any suppressive memories based on what individuals liked, lacked, learnt and longed for growing up as a Sri Lankan youth in New Zealand.

To garner fruitful and all-inclusive presentation, individuals attending our workshops were of diverse Sri Lankan backgrounds and all drove conversations of heritage, privilege, culture, traditions, silos and togetherness.

We identified seven themes (supportive community, lack of engagement, cultural intelligence, work/life balance, vulnerability, expectation of success, female empowerment) that will act as the foundation for the services we aim to offer via our platform:

  • Community Engagement: We are passionate about stimulating fruitful conversations and coordinating interactive workshops to explore particular topics identified in our research.
  • Mentorship Programme: We believe intergenerational knowledge is key to supporting youth to grow and thrive and relate to someone who has gone through similar or projected experiences.
  • Story-telling: Duality will act as the centralised knowledge hub for the community to create awareness and address the invisible barriers and learn about other people’s experiences.
Mariam Bahar

Mariam Bahar speaking about balancing dual identities as New Zealanders of Sri Lankan heritage  

In February, we held our introduction where we heard from our co-founders and two impactful guest speakers from the Sri Lankan community, Mariam Bahar and Anjukan Kathirgamanathan, who shared their journeys and what their dual identity meant for them and our audience.

With future events and services, we hope to give our communities the confidence that there are leaders ready to build this very needed platform and provide the tools and guidance to thrive in New Zealand.

For Sri Lankans growing up in Aotearoa, we hope to leave behind a pathway where they are free to explore and fulfil their exciting obligations of embracing both their Sri Lankan ancestry as well as having a consciousness that encompasses the obligation to the whenua that raised them.

Together they form a powerful tool of identity that empowers us as a community and helps set the direction of next steps for generations to come.

If you would like to find out more about Duality or get involved, check out their website dualitynz.com or via:

Facebook: @dualitynz
Instagram: @duality_nz 
Email: dualityofminds@gmail.com