Feature story

Cricket star Sangakkara tells Sri Lankan young people to be aware, open and informed about HIV

16 March 2011

Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara (second from left) joins the youth drama group during their play on the impact of stigma and discrimination for those living with HIV.

Sri Lankan cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara took time off the pitch during the Cricket World Cup tournament to speak to hundreds of young people about the importance of being informed and responsible about HIV. The event was part of the International Cricket Council (ICC), UNAIDS and UNICEF’s Think Wise campaign for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011.

“You need to educate yourself and become more aware of the world around you and HIV. Be unafraid and unashamed to speak openly about these subjects with your friends, family and your teachers in school,” said Mr Sangakkara, during the event which was held at his old school, Trinity College, in the city of Kandy.

As part of the event, a youth drama group staged a play to demonstrate the impact of stigma and discrimination for people living with HIV. The drama reinforced the need for more education and life skills to prevent the spread of HIV, particularly among adolescents.

You need to educate yourself and become more aware of the world around you and HIV. Be unafraid and unashamed to speak openly about these subjects with your friends, family and your teachers in school.

Captain of the Sri Lankan cricket team and Think Wise champion Kumar Sangakkara

"To use theatre and cricket together was a great idea. No one expected Kumar to be a part of the play and when he came on with us, people really listened. Everything we were saying was reinforced by his presence and in his own words," said Kapila Rasnayaka, one of the young people involved in the drama group.

Kumar Sangakkara, along with other leading international cricketers including Graeme Smith (South Africa) and Virender Sehwag (India), is a ‘Champion’ spokesperson for the joint Think Wise partnership. In Kandy he was joined by Sri Lanka team mates Ajantha Mendis and Upul Tharanga who also showed their support for HIV prevention efforts in the country.

“If we are going to ‘get to zero’ on HIV, we need the active engagement of young people—the leaders of tomorrow’s response—now,” said UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Sri Lanka, David Bridger. “Sangakkara’s involvement in the campaign has helped push the boundaries, inciting discussion and a buzz around HIV that we will build on with the hope that young people will take the HIV response into their hands,” he said.

More than 7 000 people worldwide are newly infected with HIV each day—one out of three is a young person between 15 and 24 years-old. The Think Wise campaign encourages young people to be informed, take appropriate action to prevent HIV infection and stand together against the stigma and discrimination often facing people living with HIV.