Footsteps To Freedom: 14,000 km Journey of inspiration

Footpath To Freedom

We all love traveling. Whether its conquering Alagalla or simply a train ride through the mountains, traveling is a favorite past time for most of us. But instead of leisure, imagine traveling for a cause. Imagine traveling across Sri Lanka by foot for almost 3 months, all to get a message across. That’s exactly what Nivendra Uduman, Sara Nazoor, and Ranil Thilakaratne did with the Footsteps To Freedom initiative.

A walk to remember

For those of you not sure what the Footsteps To Freedom is about, its basically a walk across Sri Lanka. This walk is about raising awareness about mental health and suicide prevention, an area in which Sri Lanka seriously lacks in conversation.

Back in April, the trio kicked things off from Mount Lavinia. Almost 3 months and over 14,000 km later, they concluded their journey on the 12th of June at the Colombo Independence Square. During the journey, Nivendra, Sara, and Ranil conducted over 100 workshops around mental health and suicide prevention. Sara, a trainee psychologist, notes how she had listened to stories of many women having suicidal thoughts.

“It was quite a grounding experience because as a young mental health worker there wasn’t much I could do, but call and check up on them”

According to Sara, there are certain practical issues in the system that prevent better care for those going through such experiences. For some, it may be as simple as a phone call or being able to talk to someone who understands their language. “They didn’t have mobile phones to call the helpline numbers and while some were diagnosed with mental health issues, even then when they called the toll free number counselors who could speak in Tamil weren’t available.”

Drawing inspiration from a 550 km journey

Of course, this wasn’t the first time Footsteps To Freedom took place. Back in 2016, Nivendra made a 550 km walk with his colleague Hashini Gunasekara, to raise awareness about mental health. The experience left Nivendra inspired to retrace his steps and charter a new path. Thus, reaching out to a much wider community.

Footpath To Freedom

Nivendra, Sara and Ranil, after successfully completing their campaign, returning to Colombo

Everybody is fighting their own battle. Sometimes, all it takes is a moment to listen. “I met a deputy principal of a school who had been wheelchair-bound since his childhood. He also had other health complications. When we had a conversation privately he spoke about thoughts he was having about ending his life due to his health issues and also about the positives in his life like his wife and family. This conversation really struck a chord with me because he said he felt like he released some of the burden he carried by talking to me and also the fact that I didn’t feel sorry for him or express sympathy made him want to talk more.”, mentions Nivendra.

“We need to get the word out”

This year’s Footpath To Freedom was held in aid of two charities working in the areas of emotional well-being and suicide prevention in Sri Lanka-Shanthi Maargam and CCCline 1333. Ranil, who is a part of CCCline 1333, points out the need for better awareness with regards to services that exist to support those struggling with their mental health. He shared the story of a 15-year-old girl who took her own life. What’s more distressing is the fact that the girl felt she would be blamed and judged for what happened to her. This is despite the incident being way beyond her control.

“People need to know about the services that are available. Please help us get the word out.”

What can we do?

In a broader sense, perhaps it would help to have a data-driven analysis approach towards researching suicide. This would enable a better assessment of the situation that’s currently prevailing in the country.

Footpath To Freedom 2018

An inspiring journey of over 14,000 km around the island, came to an end on the 12th of June

But then again from an individual standpoint, it might be as simple as paying close attention to those around you. If one feels another is struggling with mental health issues, their silent cry for help should never go unnoticed. Services like CCCline 1333 and Sumithrayo (011 269 6666) exist to help such individuals. So look after your friends and family, and those next to you. They may be going through their own battles. But that doesn’t mean they have to fight alone.


Lahiru Perera

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