Selina Kumar is discriminated against thrice: as a woman, a Tamil, and a Christian. She lives in the patriarchal and Hindu region of North Sri Lanka where she's witnessed the devastation of war first hand as it raged for over two decades before the defeat of the Tamils in 2009. Yet, these are but hurdles she has overcome to live an extraordinary life and bring reconciliation, restoration and growth to the more than 280,000 distraught and displaced.
Over the last six years through her organization World Concern, Selina has set up a child protection programme, sought to reconcile the Tamils and Singhalese, and singlehandedly resurrected the dairy industry to bring economic growth and stability to the region. All in the face of adversity.
From April 9 to 30 she'll be touring New Zealand, meeting with Agricultural experts, donors, and government to collect kiwi agricultural know-how and speak about the success of the Wanni Dairy Regeneration Programme. She'll have plenty to talk about; it's been an overwhelming success.
The WDR programme is a public-private partnership between MFAT, New Zealand companies QPod and Patton, TEAR Fund NZ and World Concern, and aims to generate sustainable incomes for at least 1500 farmers in northern Sri Lanka.
However, after only three years since it commenced more than 2000 farmers in 30 communities are operating financially sustainable operations and are earning nine-times more than originally predicted. Where before they were earning close to nothing, they are now earning around $300 per month - comparable to a mid-level government official. Forty percent of these farmers are women.
The combined expertise of kiwi companies Patton and Qpod has taken the 10th-century regional warm-chain dairy system and transformed it into a 21st-century national cold-chain model. This advancement has turned around the economy in many communities where excess milk, after the community and schools have been supplied, is transported through a cool-chain system to meet domestic demand; three times greater than the milk supply.
But Selina knows economic growth itself is not enough for human flourishing, so alongside every dairy project she has started a children's club to protect and nurture vulnerable children affected by the war.
"In the beginning the children would paint the aftermath of the war," says Selina. "But through many counseling sessions, they have started painting homes, streams and even the sun."
Selina and TEAR Fund NZ also work with the International Justice Mission rescuing victims of slavery and exploitation; tragically, many children were trafficked into the sex industry during the war.
Not content working only with children and farmers however, Selina is also committed to seeking reconciliation between the Tamil and Singhalese peoples. As a Tamil married to a Singhalese man she knows both cultures and languages well and makes use of this to try to bring them together to live in peace.
"Selina is one of the most inspirational people I have ever known," says Kevin Riddell, a colleague and friend of Selina's, and TEAR Fund NZ's Programmes Manager of Food and Agriculture.
"She's completely dedicated to the betterment of her Sri Lankan people regardless of what creed, colour or religion they are. She has dealt with thousands of displaced people living in camps fleeing violence and has seen the horrors of war personally, but has a great capacity to see all sides and wants those who have suffered to move on and live in peace."
Although much has been achieved, the journey is far from over. The Wanni Dairy Restoration Programme has been given a one-year extension from MFAT, and there is still much reconciliation and restoration work to be done in the war-ravaged north.
"My vision, my heart, is to see permanent peace and people living together happily. I have hoped for a very long time that we will have peace in this part of Sri Lanka. I have hoped that the children will have a normal childhood, and that adults are free and have a sense of belonging."
Having already overcome extraordinary hurdles and succeeding despite real adversity, if anyone can do it, Selina can.