A village boy, who refused to allow a war destroy him, becomes an academic in the field of engineering, winning a global award in the apparel industry
‘A Sri Lankan boy, born and bred in a war-infested village in the depths of poverty becomes an engineer and goes onto invent a product that can change the future of the world.’ At first glance the above sentence may look like the blurb taken from the page of a fiction novel, but amazingly, every word is true.
Rathnayake Mudiyanselage Anura Sarathchandra Rathnayake was born in the remote border village of Nikawewa in the Vavuniya District, at a time when the country was faced with the challenge of battling the LTTE. Nothing about his childhood was normal nor easy.
He grew up accustomed to the sound of mortars being fired in the vicinity throughout the day. During times when most of the world was fast asleep, Anura’s family, along with their neighbours frequently spent their nights huddled under a bush in the jungle. They were clutching on to their dear lives.
While other children of his age spent their time in school and playgrounds, Anura, being the eldest of four siblings, scaled trees in the jungle in search of fruits that he sold in the market. He also engaged in heavy work from sowing the fields to reaping the harvest, thus making his contribution to his parents’ daily efforts to fight poverty.
We have heard about people who passed exams studying under the dim lights of kerosene oil lamps. But even the flame of the oil lamp was a luxury for Anura. This was because the smallest light acted as a beacon to the terrorists who raided villages at night, maiming and killing innocent civilians. Even though attending school at this time of his life can be considered a miracle, his former maths teacher fondly recalls that Anura was always a bright and inquisitive student. According to the teacher, Anura had showed potential irrespective of what subject was taught. Not only did he pass the G.C.E Ordinary Level Examination, he took up mathematics at the Advanced Level Examination and qualified to enter the Engineering Faculty of the University of Moratuwa. He was the first person to achieve such a seemingly unthinkable feat in his village.
Receiving his Bachelor’s degree in 2002 fueled his ambition to become the best that he could be in his chosen field. He went on to receive a Master’s degree from the University of Bolton in 2007. In 2015, he received a Postgraduate Degree related to new researches as well as his Doctorate Degree on new dimension of electronic and smart textiles from Nottingham Trent University in England.
Global Change Award
‘Global Change Award’ is a reputed award presented during a ceremony organized annually by H&M foundation. The objective of the competition is to encourage the introduction of game changing new technologies that are safe, sustainable and to promote the climate positively. Now entitled to use the title Dr to his name, Anura, from the little island of Sri Lanka, found stiff competition from thousands of competitors from 130 countries. Some of them were from industrial giant nations like America, England, Australia and Japan. But the Sri Lankan from the border village again achieved the unthinkable. His concept of ‘content thread’ was picked among the top three out of more than 3000 concepts presented by the seasoned veterans of the industry.
Even though attending school at this time of his life can be considered a miracle, his former maths teacher fondly recalls that Anura was always a bright and inquisitive student.
Start of a new era
The textile industry is one of the biggest revenue generating industries in the world, producing approximately eighty billion clothes per year. Unfortunately, only a negligible percentage of this quantum gets recycled, making the textiles industry the second biggest contributor of pollution after oil. The biggest barrier against recycling is the vast range of raw materials used in the industry.
This makes the categorizing of clothes prior to recycling a highly complicated process. The clothes have to be categorized manually and even a single garment of a different ingredient can ruin the whole process, making recycling of clothes an expensive and difficult task.
As a solution, Dr Anura has brought forward the concept of the ‘content thread’. There, a digital tag containing the ‘list of ingredients’ that supplies the necessary information regarding recycling is given to each garment in the manufacturing stage itself. The tag, an RFIG filament, looks similar to a thread, thereby not affecting the quality of the garment. In addition to carrying information, it will eliminate the need for the time consuming task of manually sorting the garment. This enables thousands of garments to be electronically sorted into separate piles within minutes. This little thread has the potential to revolutionize many other fields like medical, military and naval industries. The judges for the Global Change Award as well as world famous researchers believe that this will be the start of a new era in the Textile and Fashion Designing Industry.
A felicitation Ceremony for Dr. Anura Rathnayake was held on 23rd of June by the group ‘Supporters for new innovators’, with the participation of Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka as the Chief Guest. Other distinguished guests included Professor K.K.C.K Perera, Dean of the Morutuwa Engineering Faculty, Mr. Sisira Wijesinghe, Media Advisor to the Sri Lanka Army and Veteran artist Sathischandra Edirisinghe.
Dr. Anura in his speech stated that the consultations regarding the productions of ‘content thread’ was being carried out by H & M, the world’s second largest textile manufacturer.
Dr Anura said he is planning to give Sri Lanka the technology and knowledge he acquired abroad while working with the prominent world renowned companies. He also hopes to continue developing his concepts, which is excellent news for those engaged in the Sri Lankan textile industry.
From the time he was an engineering student, he has helped students from Welioya realise their goals in education by conducting seminars. He was even nicknamed as ‘Welioya Singhaya’ by his colleagues in University when he was an undergraduate.
This was because of his determined attempts to broaden the horizons of education and support sisters and brothers from his village. He expanded his services while he was in UK and granted scholarship to children who were selected to universities from the Welioya area. He remembers the numerous generous individuals who supported him while being in university with gratitude. He is determined to give back to the society by helping young students from less affluent families to help them achieve their targets in life.
The judges for the Global Change Award as well as world famous researchers believe that this will be the start of a new era in the Textile and Fashion Designing Industry.
Imagine a day in the near future where each garment worn around the world-from the President of Unite States to the Queen of England- would carry within it a ‘content thread’, the concept of this amazing Sri Lankan who didn’t allow being born in a conflict area ruin him. With courage and determination he went on to change the world for good. While his story of courage inspires awe, it also teaches us the very important lesson that if your mind is strong and you believe in your abilities, no barrier can hold you down from realizing your dream.
PIX BY WARUNA WANNNIARACHCHI