Friday, August 22, 2008


Fathima Nuzha Jawardeen

Fathima is a 17 year old girl from Wallimada, Central region of Sri Lanka. Though she may seem shy and reserved at first, it soon becomes clear that Fathima possesses wit, and a humour which never fails to keep people entertained. She is also quite adventurous and open to new experiences such as learning to swim for the first time. She has two siblings- an elder brother and younger sister, and her mother is a teacher while her father runs a small scale tea shop in their hometown.

Prior to the Learn and Lead scholarship, Fathima attended Muslim Central College Guruthalawa. She describes it as a good school but, lacking in necessary facilities which tends to stunt the development of talent and potential leadership. Fathima also laments that where she comes from girls aren’t always encouraged to pursue their academic goals and dreams no matter how talented or intelligent they maybe and instead are given in marriage at an early age. She states that a few of her friends have succumbed to this fate and are deeply unhappy that they are not given the opportunity to reach their full potential and consider Fathima blessed to have gained an opportunity to pursue her career path.

Fathima now attends Methodist College in Colombo and has chosen political science, Logic, Business Studies and Statistics as her A level subjects and has a keen interest in current world affairs. Though she finds the pace of teaching speedy, she is determined and dedicated and commits herself to studying everyday and seeking the help of her teachers- who she sates are obliging and encouraging. She has also taken part and won the inter school calligraphy competition held at Bishops College, showing her talent, creativity and skill. This dedicated student is diligently determined to make most of the opportunity she has received from the Learn and Lead scholarship and says that hard work and a little effort is always needed to arrive at the doorstep of success.

The future to Fathima is clear; becoming a Muslim lawyer and upholding and protecting women’s rights is her topmost priority. Injustice and intolerance are her main aims of focus when it comes to women’s issues and she is passionate about doing her part for the enrichment of women’s lives. She also states that education is the best and only way for a person to take charge of their lives and strive towards bigger and better goals. Therefore, Fathima declares, she will always strive for the provision of equal educational opportunities for both sexes and make sure that other women and girls like herself, will receive the same opportunities that she has been given.

Lahiru Samaranayake

Lahiru is a tall, lanky, good natured 17 year old from Kebithigollewe, North Central region of Sri Lanka. His face is either adorned with a bright smile or quizzical look as he is constantly contemplating the practicality of his actions. Though he is shy by nature, he nevertheless has a spark of intellect, sensibility and good humour which tends to draw his peers towards him. Lahiru, excluding himself, has three members in his family; his father works for the Ceylon Transport Board, his mother a housewife and a sister who is a sixth grader at Aunradhapura Convent.

This scholar has witnessed more than his share of horror, living quite near terror camps. He recalls that the period leading up to the O Level examination- instead of indulging in normal student activity such as extra classes or cramming in preparation for the exams, Lahiru had to flee from home in order to be nearer to the town for shelter and protection during times of war and terror. It is there where he poured over books, never giving up hope in performing exceptionally well, which finally resulted in 9 A’s. Even without the danger of conflict, this determined young scholar still had an uphill battle in finding an environment in which to cultivate his knowledge. He states that his school was always short of staff- especially teachers in English, Math and Science. Furthermore, the school also did not offer Math or Science as A Level subjects, therefore compelling him to travel to Anuradhapura which is approximately 50K away from his hometown.

Now, after receiving the Learn and Lead scholarship, Lahiru is an AL student of St. Thomas’s College, Mount Lavinia. There he has taken up Biology, Chemistry and Physics and is enthusiastic about his workload. He is an active member of the student community, being involved in the chess club, science society and Buddhist society, through which he has formed many friendships. When asked if there was a vast difference between his two schools he mentions that at first he was quite taken aback by the more westernized culture in Colombo and that he felt the impact of English oriented speech. Still for all, he happily informs us that he has been treated well and for most part, been treated as an equal comrade and not an outsider.

Lahiru’s main aim is to go to medical college and be of service to his community and fellow countrymen. He mentions that he feels deep sympathy for the many he has seen enlisted in the army and feels extremely lucky at gaining an opportunity to take a stab at achieving more than he ever thought possible. Like most of the scholars in the Learn and Lead program, he too hopes to eventually go back to his hometown and dedicate himself to empowering the youth of his community to achieve goals that they may think impossible.

Chamali Hewage

Chamali is a bright young student from Badulla, Central region in Sri Lanka. For a 17 year old she has remarkable oratory skills coupled with a sensible and charming nature. She has two siblings; her elder sister currently attends a teacher training college in Galle while her younger brother is an eight grader at Chamali’s old school in Badulla. Her father is an army pensioner whilst her mother is currently a housewife.

Prior to the scholarship Chamali attended Srisumana Vidyalaya in Badulla. There she says the students had to face many hardships mostly due to continuous shortages of supplies and facilities. According to her descriptions, the school is lacking in a variety of facilities ranging from the basics such as desks and chairs to more modern ones such as computer and internet facilities, which in this day and age has become an increasingly necessary commodity in business and society. Chamali explains that her classmates most often couldn’t even afford books, much less a school bag to put them in and were frequently absent from class declaring it a pointless waste of time. This was also exacerbated by the absence of teachers as a reaction to the students’ behaviour and numerous teachers’ strikes. To her, this meant a constant uphill battle to finish the syllabus to perform well at exams. But as determined as she was, Chamali achieved 8 A’s for her O Level exams.

This diligent student now attends Ladies College Colombo. She has chosen to study arts subjects for her ALs and enthusiastically engages in her favourite subject Logic, which wasn’t offered as an AL subject in her previous school. She states that the method of teaching and facilities at her new school are sufficient, providing her with the confidence to study and comprehend without the extra help of after school tuition classes- on which she would normally depend on. When asked about her extra curricular activities she laughs and explains that she is not usually interested in sports but plans on joining the renowned LC Sinhalese choir in the near future.

Chamali aims at becoming a law lecturer and has ambitions of earning a place in the Sri Lankan law faculty. The use of English as well as Sinhalese, she mentions, is of utmost importance to her and she is happy with the progress she has made so far with the former due to frequent use when in Colombo.

To the question of what she wants to do (if anything) for her society in the future Chamali pauses to think for a second and then shyly offers that she wants to help others of her hometown to receive the same opportunities she has gained and make sure that they are armed with the necessary skills to contribute towards a more equal and diversely strong society.

Nisal Samarakoon

Nisal is a boy of 17 years residing in Gomarankadawala in Trincomalee, East of Sri Lanka. His personality is best described as one full of life. One can always find him either engaged in sports or cracking witty jokes in the midst of his friends. He is sprightly and ever willing to engage in new adventures and experiences. Nisal’ mother works as a teacher while his father is an Army Officer He also has a younger sister and brother.

This young scholar attended Rajakeeya Vidyaloka Maha Vidyalaya where he was a school prefect prior to receiving the BPA Learn and Lead scholarship. Due to war and poverty, Nisal has undergone very many trials and hardships throughout his childhood that most people will not even experience through out a lifetime. He remembers that form grade 1 to 5 they lived a mere 48 Kilometres away from the terror camps thus various movements he had to interrupt his education in order to go into hiding. In fact, during his O Level year the school closed down for 2-3 months due to rebel attacks and a further month was spent where children didn’t show up to school as they were too afraid to go back. This school also does not offer science or maths as A Level subjects. Irrespective of these hardships he was actively involved in social development and charitable activities, through the Rotary and Interact Club.

Nisal is now a student in the Arts stream in St. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. Though he has seen and endured terror that many of us wouldn’t be able to dream of, he is still an active and keen student involved in the Buddhist Society, wildlife society and is the secretary of the Politics committee. He has proven himself to be an all rounder as he is also a member of the schools football team and to his credit, Nisal has won the district championship in Table Tennis back in Trincomalee, though he was never fortunate enough to be trained by a proper coach. Sports, he states, is the common ground he has with most of his new friends as it gives him the opportunity to create friendships with people regardless of their socioeconomic background.

Nisal wishes to become a lawyer in the future and to do so he has taken up Logic as an extra A Level subject and studies for it privately. This young all rounder mentions that he has a fierce determination to better his skill in both the classroom and playing field. When asked what motivates him towards success he states that unlike in Colombo, where many lead carefree lives, he and the people of his hometown are instilled with not only the will to survive, but to also strive for bettering themselves and their communities. Nisal laments that though most of his friends have immense potential and intellect, they are unable to nurture and cultivate it due to the lack of opportunities and have to engage in fishing industry to earn an income soon after their compulsory educational years.

When we asked him what he would do to better the situation, Nisal explains that to him, education is the only key to success and therefore will do his part and beyond to ensure that others like him will receive the same opportunities he himself has been fortunate enough to have.

Akila Lokuarachchi

Akila is 17 years old and hails from Anuradapura, North Central region in Sri Lanka. She is a vibrant and outgoing girl and shows special skill in oriental dancing. Akila possesses an enthusiasm which is infectious and one can often find her in the midst of lively conversations and engaged in playful banter with her peers. Her family consists of her mother and sister of which the former works for the Ceylon Transport Board. Her sister having completed her degree in physical science, is currently searching for employment.

The school she attended prior to the BPA Learn and Lead scholarship was Anuradhapura Central College. According to her the college has a separate boarding for school athletes and she always felt that the student athletes were given more prominence and that the school regarded quality education secondary to sports. Akila, who now exudes purpose and confidence, says that she spent most of her school career in Anuradhapura aimlessly, without a solid goal or special interest in her work. Most of her time was spent outdoors- climbing trees, reading books or watching TV. When asked why she was less interested in her school work she mused that to her the atmosphere of her previous school (ACC) did not motivate her or her friends to excel academically, even though deep down she was aware of her talents. Eventually she found those talents peek through her nonchalant behaviour and worked towards excelling at the O Levels. Which she did , exceptionally so by achieving 8 A’s for her O Level exams.

She now attends Ladies College in Colombo and has chosen Mathematics as her A/L stream. When asked her opinion on the biggest difference she has experienced between the schools, she points out that unlike her previous school, Ladies College tends to have a more balanced outlook on athletic and academic activities, providing facilities for students which help them excel in both sports and studies. The behaviour of the students and teachers alike has made Akila feel both welcome and accepted in the school and overall is treated as an equal to her peers. The teachers of LC too have had a very big impact on her by guiding her and not discriminating her in any manner - in fact, through her hard work and dedication she shyly (but proudly) declares that she has become her math teacher’s favourite student. According to her the teachers especially have been very encouraging, dedicating their time to help her catch up with the work she had missed and that her elder sister frequently glances through her books and commends their methods of instruction saying that she had a much harder time understanding the method in which her teachers thought at her school back home.

Akila’s interests are wide and varied, she is both artistic and technical and her ambitions reflect this trait as she aspires to be either an engineer or linguist. She states that though she doesn’t take classes in languages she is nevertheless ever improving on her trilingual skills as being in Colombo has compelled her to use Sinhala, Tamil as well as English. This, she muses, has helped her rub shoulders with people from all walks of life and has made her more aware and supportive of a multicultural society.

Akila smilingly declares that the scholarship has given her a new perspective in life and that she now works diligently at achieving solid goals.

Mohamed Arshad

Arshad is a rather quiet but well spoken boy of 17 from Badulla Central Region of Sri Lanka. Despite his soft spoken manner Arshad is an active sportsman and an avid dance enthuse. He is pleasant and respectful and is always game to participate in activities and is generous in offering others the chance to participate as well. Back home his mother works as a teacher and his father is a three wheel driver.

Prior to the BPA Learn and Lead scholarship Arshad attended Badulla Maha Vidyalay. Here, he says, the students had to face many hardships due to under funding and poor allocation of facilities. According to him, the classrooms were rarely equipped to accommodate the mass of students who attended the school, and because of this a lot of classes were conducted outdoors where the atmosphere was often distracting and not the best for concentrated study. Still for all this determined scholar achieved 7 A’s at the O/L exams.

Arshad now attends St. Thomas’s College in Mount Lavinia. There he says they are given access to many more facilities such as computers and internet to further his knowledge. A keen student with an aptitude for numbers, Arshad has selected Mathematics as his A Level stream- which, he says, was not offered at his pervious school. He has taken to his new school like fire to paper and is involved in various clubs and societies such as the Science and Technology club and the Islamic Society. In the true nature of a sports enthusiast he also participates in a range of sporting activities such as carom, badminton and hockey to name a few, and has even been enrolled as a member of the school hockey team.

Arshad’s burning ambition is to become an IT engineer, greatly reflected by his interest in computer technology. He strives to make most of what has been offered to him through the Learn and Lead scholarship and is determined not to squander any talents he may possess.

When this ambitious youth was asked if he would like to be of service to his community in Badulla, he takes a moment to reflect on the question and then sincerely explains that within his new school he has been exposed to children from all walks of life from the wealthy to the poor, and regardless of his social background, he’s been treated equally and fairly by everyone. Therefore, he says, that in the future, when he can be of good use to the country, he aims to help everyone realise their full potential in life regardless of their socioeconomic standing and will strive to bring about true equality of opportunity to all.

Niroja Vasanthakumar

Niroja is a 17 year old girl hailing from Pallikkudiruppu which is a highly volatile conflict affected area up North. She is tall, sturdy and once spoken to one discovers that she exudes simplicity and intelligence. Niroja has quite a large family with a 14 year old sister and 3 brothers, of which two attend thier village school and the youngest still a toddler at age 3. Her father currently is a casual worker while her mother is a housewife.

Before the BPA Learn and Lead scholarship, Niroja attended Sri Sanmuga Hindu Ladies College and prior to that, the Pallikkudiruppu village school. An athlete by nature and talented at netball and long jump, Niroja has participated in many sporting events even though, as she describes it there was never much encouragement or facilities granted to them by the school. This active young scholar cannot be pigeonholed as only a sportsman as she also took part in various school plays and musical groups, remaining active throughout her school career there. This young scholar has faced many difficulties in pursuing her education as the village school did not offer AL subjects other than in the Arts stream and the school was constantly understaffed. Therefore Niroja had to subsequently shift to Sri Sanmuga College in Trincomalee in the East. This was no easy feat as Niroja states that to travel to and from home daily involves a long and strenuous journey both by bus and ship. As this is impossible to do on a daily basis, she entered the school hostel though it was a huge financial burden to her father who is the sole breadwinner for her large family.

Niroja now attends Holy Family Convent Bambalapitiya. She has chosen Business Studies, Economics and Accounts as her A Level subjects. Though she is new to the school, she has not failed to shine. Niroja, a member of the HFC netball team played and had a hand in leading the team to victory at the Interschool All Island Netball Championships 2008. Her resilient determination is displayed here as later on I was informed that just a few days before the championships, Niroja suffered from a bad flu and had to be kept in hospital for awhile. All in all, this all rounder states that she is quite content at the moment. She smilingly informs us that the friendships she has made during her short time in Colombo has helped her to cope with the distance from her family and to catch up with the school work she has missed. Niroja says she has faced no discrimination and states that the teachers are always willing to help her with her work and that overall her knowledge and understanding of her subjects have broadened considerably as they are compelled to answer past paper questions after each lesson.

Nirojas ambition in life is to become a charted accountant and is confident that she is on the correct path to becoming one. She earnestly declares that by receiving and accepting the BPA Learn and Lead scholarship, she has made a commitment to better herself by improving her language skills, gaining greater knowledge and finally, becoming independent and take care of her own affairs- specially when she is in Colombo. Though she has great dreams and ambitions for herself she has not forgotten her hometown as she declares with a determined eye that she will return there and help her community stand up for themselves by improving their standard of education and helping to instil confidence within the youth, that they too can dream big with confidence in themselves.

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