“With social service and volunteering, never expect something in return, the happiness you give someone is the biggest joy you can get.” 

At a very young age Shanaya had to endure the pain of losing her aunt to cancer. Grappling with grief after, she was determined to make a difference in the lives of others who were suffering from the same debilitating disease. 

It was her childhood passion for photography that she would turn to, to find solace and to create a powerful movement that is comforting many a cancer patient today. Her mother being diagnosed with cancer later made the effort even more personal for her.

Emboldened by the support and encouragement from her parents, relatives and friends, Shanaya, who was only 10 at the time together with her 8-year-old sister, established Photocause in 2011, an initiative that primarily focuses on raising funds for better service and treatment facilities for cancer patients and an awareness programme that educates people on importance of cancer screening and early detection.

The initiative has now turned to a full-time passion, supported by an island-wide photography exhibition held every two years where amateur photographers submit their work. Two successful exhibitions later, over Rs. 500,000 in proceeds from the sale of the photographs have been channelled to the Cancer Society.

Furthering their cause, Shanaya launched the Awake and Click-off Cancer AwarenessProgramme in 2017. This included the publication and island wide distribution of the Awake Magazine, followed by a series of videos on early detection, cancer awareness and survivor stories. Her motto has always been to make people realize that cancer didn’t define who they were.

“We realized that the videos had a massive impact on people, with some reaching over 20,000 views. We believe that if it has an impact on at least 1% of that number, that is 200 people. Out of those people if we were able to persuade 20 people to screen for early detection, we have then impacted 20 lives and the many lives linked to them. With the feedback we have received, we know that lives have been impacted for the better.”

She has now set sights on a larger vision, planning an exhibition in March 2019, where 25 schools from across the island will take part in and help raise awareness on cancer screening. Her long term goal however, is to have cancer detection centres in every province by 2030. She is aware of the enormity of the task at hand but is confident that with the support of her family and well-wishers she will achieve her goal. 

“Serving others shouldn’t be an effort carried out in anticipation of rewards and recognition” says Shanaya who believes that even the smallest deed counts.  “You can always start small. If you try that’s all that counts. With social service and volunteering, never expect something in return, the happiness you give someone is the biggest joy you can get.”