ELEVENTH INSTALLATION OF THE BELLEBOSS SERIES
I hoped that with this series, I would find a way to appreciate the incredible South Asian women of our generation, who are breaking boundaries and paving new paths for themselves. Moreover, I would like other people to take a little bit of their time to realize how incredible the women around you are. Especially if you are a woman! I know that at least one woman’s story in my #BelleBoss series will inspire you to follow your dreams, your vision and most importantly your heart. Even if that means breaking a few rules and many societal prejudices along the way.
1) Could you give us a little intro to those readers who don’t know you?
My name is Alison Wijemanne. I’m 19 years old and was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Even though I travel a lot, I have not lived in any other country but Sri Lanka. In February however, I am moving to complete my university degree of International Business at Monash University. While I am here, I do work part-time for my father who exports tea.
2) You went to an international school. Could you share one memory you loved about your school?
In school, I played lots of sports and was quite involved in school. But, obviously, the best thing about my school was the friends I made. The people I bonded with are still my closest friends and will be for a long time.
4) Could you share with us your role with AMI Tsunami Children House Foundation?
In 2006 my aunt, who lived in America, started this home in Negombo to help children affected by the 2004 tsunami and the ongoing civil war. When my aunt died in 2011, she left the home to my father. So my family decided to take over the running of the orphanage as we didn’t want to stop what she started. My father now funds the home and my mum runs it. I always go and visit whenever I have free time to spend time with the kids and the dogs I have rescued. We now have 22 amazing kids there, who are being looked after well and given an education which can help their future.
5) A lot of people are dog lovers but they are not quite sure how they can rescue stray dogs …. eg what they medically have to do for the dog etc. Do you have any practical advice to them which has worked for you?
5) Well, I currently own 8 rescued dogs, in both Negombo and Colombo. It’s quite easy to rescue dogs, I usually rescue puppies on the road whenever I find them. I then immediately take them to the vet to make sure they don’t have rabies and get all their vaccinations (embark gives free vaccinations to stray puppies if you call them). After all, that’s done, I usually try to find homes or I end up keeping the dogs.
If everyone helps in a small way, for example just feeding the stray dogs outside your house on the street, we could save a lot of animals lives. To rescue dogs is a big commitment, but so worth it!
6) What did you enjoy most about your experience at SLDF last year?
Well, I was just an intern who was helping out with the fashion shows because I have always been interested in fashion and style. I love that anyone can express themselves through clothes and makeup. So spending time at the fashion shows was really fun and interesting for me. I really enjoyed watching all the shows and seeing the amazing designs!
7) You have travelled a number of places in and outside Sri Lanka. Where has been your favourite place to travel and why?
I absolutely love travelling. I’m lucky to have parents that understand that and that want me to see the world. Every time I ask to go on a new trip, they are always encouraging me to go and never say no you can’t go.
While I travel I also do business with my dad, so I really get the best of both worlds, as I’m seeing new places and getting work experience. My favourite place to visit as of now is Thailand because it is like a second home to me as I travel there a lot during the year. It is also a really fun country to spend time in for a person my age.
8) Many Sri Lankan women are starting to go into business for example as makeup artists but few dream of becoming CEOs of large companies. Why do you think that is? What would you say to other women who are thinking of starting a business but are scared to do so?
I do feel like women in Sri Lanka are underestimated. We all have this culture where at a certain age you have to get married and have children and your husband will be the breadwinner of the family.
But I feel like that is all apart of the way you are raised. I was always raised to go for my dreams and work hard like my father did. I see a future for his company which I would like to make happen. But I understand that the culture in Sri Lanka is such that women are always put down, even if it is just being cat-called on the road by men.
For instance, me and my dad both have a love for cars and whenever I drive one of my dad’s sports cars, I get fewer comments on the car and more on the fact that I’m a girl and I’m driving this type of car, and to most people that’s shocking, but to me, my dad always wanted me to drive his cars. I however always felt like I had to practice harder so that no one could ever say that I’m a bad driver because I’m a woman.
This all comes with a certain mentality in Sri Lanka and I hope women can work towards changing it by studying hard and going after their own dreams, which can be done while raising a family.
9) What do you think will be the toughest part of running a business?
I’m scared that people won’t take me seriously because I’m a young woman and because they think that the business was ‘handed’ to me, even though I work very hard for my dad. These are all fears that we have to overcome and not let get in the way of doing your job. Because if you work hard and do well, you can then have a good enjoyable life and also help other people, and that’s what life should be about.
10) You have quite a few tattoos.. which one is your fave and why?
I have six tattoos, and all of them have a special meaning and all of them are pretty small. My first tattoo is a dog paw which is pretty self-explanatory since I love dogs and I’ve rescued quite a few. I have my dad’s initials and my mother’s maiden name for my parents. I also got two tattoo’s on the back of my feet saying ‘work hard’ and ‘be kind’ which is my two biggest goals in life.
My favourite tattoo, however, was the ‘made in Sri Lanka’ on the bottom of my foot, but however, that tattoo has faded off now which was really disappointing.
11) Do you think it is possible for a woman to run a company and have a successful love/life balance?
Of course, I think it’s possible. It’s important for a woman to find a person that not only accepts the fact that she works hard but also supports and encourages success in her. If someone is asking you to give up your dream and passion, then he or she is probably not the right person for you.
Each person will have to make sacrifices, but it doesn’t mean giving up what you have worked hard on.
Every woman should have a choice in how they want to spend their future and a partner should ultimately support that decision if he or she loves them and vice versa.
12) What has been the best advice you have given?
The best advice I have been given is from my parents and it’s probably the same advice I’m gonna give to my kids one day. And it’s basically that being a good person doesn’t depend on your religion or status in life, your race or culture, it depends on how good your heart is and how you treat others.
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