A note from our founder, Ashok Sinha:
“My first time in Sri Lanka was in October 2010. I was part of a group of invited travel media professionals from the US on a tour of a country that was slowly emerging from a long hiatus after a bitter 30-year civil war and attempting to become the next must-see destination. Everyone in the industry was writing about Sri Lanka’s Eden-like paradise. The New York Times even named it #1 in its list of “The 31 Places To Go In 2010″.
Although I was aware of the country’s pristine beaches, I soon realized how little I knew of this island nation’s treasures. Within a span of a few days, a kaleidoscope of experiences kept me mesmerized. This trip, I thought, was going to end on the all-so-familiar high of visiting (and photographing) an amazing foreign land.
Then something unexpected happened.
Almost on a whim, I was added to a list of people who were granted special access to visit the northern part of the country, an area that was synonymous with the fighting between government forces and the much feared L.T.T.E. (a militant separatist group seeking a homeland for the ethnic Tamil minority). Although the war had ended almost two years by then, once we landed on a small airstrip in Jaffna, I felt like I was in a different world. The scars of battle were visible everywhere and even more prevalent was a silence – one that is synonymous with my memory of the post-9/11 days in New York.
I realized I had to do something. But what could that be? “How can art raise awareness about the human condition and also help spark a conversation about the positive?”
On the flight back to New York, I began thinking about the role of photography in my life and how it has enabled me to better understand myself as well as others around me. As soon as I got back to my studio, I picked up the phone and called Parveen Dassenaike who I had met on my trip to Sri Lanka. “How about using art as a non-political and non-denominational tool to understand what the children are thinking today”, I asked. Our conversation was short but in a matter of minutes, we realized that we were onto something special – perhaps a bit lofty in terms of a mission but definitely worth the effort.
I knew however that only the best team could make this idea come to fruition. I began to dig deep into my contacts in my creative circles, and after weeks of hard work, perseverance and a combination of luck and good karma, the dream team for the first project was formed. And just like that, The Cartwheel Initiative was born.”