The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth: Kavindya Thennakoon on Writing Truth To Power

At The Queen's Commonwealth Trust, we are working together to shape our identity as a Commonwealth organisation, drawing on the experiences of young people in our network whose families have lived through injustice for generations.

For decades our individual and collective histories of colonialism and independence have often been ignored and erased. As The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust focuses on an approach of youth-led and owned development, we believe we are presented with a unique opportunity to redefine our Commonwealth. A reimagination of this collective that acknowledges our shared histories of pain, subjugation and struggles for independence. This work is incredibly important and it matters to us as young leaders that QCT is taking this on. It is time to look back, to understand and to acknowledge uncomfortable truths - our countries, stories and cultures existed before colonization and our experiences need to be heard.

By Kavindya Thennakoon.

This project to me is a deeply personal one. In June last year, I found myself scrolling through the website of another Commonwealth institution and came across an interactive ‘timeline’ feature. I was intrigued and scrolled through to see where Sri Lanka, where I am from, was featured on the map. Our date of independence: 4th of February 1948 was mentioned. However, to my surprise there was no mention of independence but the tagline read “Sri Lanka becomes the 8th country to join the Commonwealth.”

This led to another week or so of research where I began to comb through websites and material related to the Commonwealth. A simple search for the words ‘colonial’ or ‘imperial’ often led to just one or no search results at all. I am a Queen’s Young Leader ‘15 and an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society; I considered this to be a community and family that I was a part of, but what I was seeing filled me with both anger and a deep sense of hurt. What I realised was that within my own community there was a complete erasure of the shared histories of colonial conquest and the pain, suffering, and subjugation our nations and people have been subjected to.

I wrote to Frances Brown, my teacher during The Queen's Young Leaders programme, and now Head of Network Development at QCT, seeking advice for what I should do. Together with other young people, we published an open letter to Commonwealth institutions.

In brief, this letter speaks of the need for acknowledgement within the Commonwealth of the shared histories of colonialism, conquest and the subjugation of nations and peoples and how the remnants of this past persist today. It calls on Commonwealth institutions to recognise this reality and embrace it, working with the young people to shape the future of the Commonwealth, using the lived experiences they have to shape more inclusive policy from now on. Young people have the insight and the knowledge of what this change should look like.

It was QCT that responded to us. Together, we are taking steps to recommend a direction to the Trust’s Board to help the organisation in a positive way, to acknowledge our voices and our experiences as it looks to the future.

In our next blog, QCT Chief Executive, Nicola Brentnall, takes up the story.

Article published: May 2020

Main asset credit: Unsplash/Kat Stokes


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