Saturday, August 1, 2015

Social media ‘tweets’ love for soldiers

Published in The Nation

Pic by Ravindra Dharmathilake
Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus users find a classic way to give back something to the country’s war heroes
We picture them in crisp uniforms and crew cuts. We expect high discipline from them. There are certain characteristics, for instance fun-loving, that we don’t associate with men and women of the military. However, breaking this stereotype were those at the Ranaviru Sevana, Ragama.

On July 25, a group of over 30 left for Ranaviru Sevana. The organizers and participants weren’t there to represent well-known companies, nor with the intention of gaining popularity through this good deed. In fact, they were all from social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.
RanaViruMeetup was an event that started with a simple discussion on Twitter on the best way to give back something to the country’s war heroes. The twitter discussion grew and within a few weeks, RanaViruMeetup was held.

The program for the day included performances by Ranaviruvo, breakfast, lunch, tea and a sing along (sajje) session.

When the music started during the sing-along, most were at first hesitant to even clap. Little by little, those seated on the chairs and wheelchairs started clapping and tapping their feet to the music. A few soldiers even left their seats to dance. The most heartbreaking sight was that of a soldier seated in a wheelchair waving his arms and turning round and round in his wheelchair. It is that sight that made the participants of RanaViruMeetup truly realize the significance or depth of their contributions.
In fact, the day was full of moments that made the participants understand the sacrifices of the armed forces and appreciate their service. A number of participants shared their thoughts. Namal Dias sang a song he wrote for the soldiers. One of those at Ranaviru Sevana also shared his thoughts and spoke about how much he appreciates the efforts of the participants.

However, the key segment of the program was the handing over of the items purchased with donations. Since Ranaviru Sevana doesn’t accept cash donations, the organizers purchased 15 wheelchairs, 30 elbow crutches, 10 ceiling fans, 12 printer ribbons and stationery items. During the event, the organizers also said that more items will be handed over with the remaining donations. The target of Rs 300,000 was met and passed and yet, the donations weren’t used for food, transport and band expenses.

“A thank you speech should either be comprehensive or shouldn’t be made at all,” event organizer Gihan Fernando said during RanaViruMeetup. Thus everyone who helped in any way, even with a small donation, was mentioned during the event and the importance of this was felt by all as no one’s efforts or support went unappreciated by the organizers.

The organizing committee included Gihan Fernando, Dr. Muditha D Senarath-Yapa, Pamith Kodikara, Nimila Hiranya Samarasinghe, Aysha Maryam Cassim, Shahera Omar and Amila Gamage. Millennium IT, Seylan Bank and Paan Paan were partners and the event designs were by The Logo Patrol. Additionally, Happy Sri Lankans gave the event publicity.

Thanks to the partners, the organizers were able to distribute event t-shirts that was truly a surprise for the participants. Most social media-related events attract crowds through the promise of event souvenirs like t-shirts. The accusation of attending events just for the
t-shirts has been made of attendees of many events, but it cannot be made of the participants of RanaViruMeetup. Any gap between the participants and those at Ranaviru Sevana were bridged by something as insignificant as a t-shirt. While the participants were handed out t-shirts during the morning, the soldiers were given t-shirts during lunch time. Thus for the sajje, both the soldiers and participants were dressed in the same t-shirts and there was no ‘them’ and ‘us’ which is often felt in events, and society as a whole.
“We don’t know your names, you don’t know our names. But we danced and sang and had fun together,” Nimila Hiranya Samarasinghe said, voicing everyone’s opinion about the unity and friendliness between the soldiers and participants.

Before the event began, the participants were told by the organizers to spend time with the soldiers rather than being busy posting pictures online. This was another way that RanaViruMeetup differed from other social media events where participants are encouraged to live-tweet. At RanaViruMeetup, however, participants were happy to take a break from social media and simply share the day with the soldiers.

The full day event was bound to drain the participants of all their energy. And yet, there were smiles on the faces of all as they left Ranaviru Sevana. This wasn’t due to the gladness about the ending of the event, but due to the content feeling and satisfaction of being able to, at least for a moment, gives the country’s heroes a reason to smile.