On an initiative of the Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat, the Business for Peace Alliance of the Ceylon Chamber of commerce commenced in 2007 a scholarship programme entitled ‘Learn & Lead’. The purpose was to secure a good education for gifted children from difficult areas whose future schooling was uncertain. The scholarship was also intended to help young people from conflict affected areas in Sri Lanka to realize their leadership potential.
The programme grew out of a vision to decentralize the next generation of leadership from the capital to less-affluent regions. Its goal was to nurture leadership abilities in conflict-affected and poverty stricken areas that were emerging from a generation of conflict. Capable but under-privileged students from the conflict affected areas of the country were selected and provided with funds and assistance to study in leading schools in the capital.
The programme provided full scholarships to gifted pupils to study in an environment where they could network, build confidence, and develop their full leadership potential. Understanding the value of the program, schools such as St Thomas College Mt Lavinia, Ladies College, Methodist College, Holy Family Convent Bambalapitiya, St Benedicts College Kotehena and Singapore Informatics offered places to the L&L scholars. In addition to schooling, the project manager Pushpi Weerakoon put in place a number of initiatives to build the leadership capacity of scholars. This included peace-building and exchange programmes with students at other schools to foster a greater appreciation of the disparity of opportunity which exists in different parts of the island, and to encourage interaction between people from different ethnicities and backgrounds.
To build the profile of the programme, a Steering Committeewas established that included the former United Nations Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Dr Jayantha Dhanapala, the Director of the National Child Protection Authority Dr Hiranthi Wijemanne and Mr Mahen Dayananda the President of the Regional Chambers of Commerce, in addition to the the Secretary General of SCOPP and Manique Mendis of BPA. Pushpi was the first point of contact for the scholars, and administered to their wider needs. Some had grown up with conflict, and were uncertain of who they could trust. They came from rural backgrounds with parents who tilled the land, and lived with large families in makeshift houses smaller than some garages in the homes of urban students who were now their classmates.
Coming to an urban area, and mixing with often privileged children, was extremely intimidating for them. The leadership challenge was to build trust and provide comprehensive pastoral support. As the scholar’s confidence grew, Pushpi established a network of ‘guardians’ who provided much of the function of a parent whilst the children studied away from their homes. Having received successful results from the A/L exams in 2010 from the Maths, Science, Arts and the Commerce stream the 1st batch of scholars are now attending vocational training courses, awaiting university entrance and some have also set up their own entrepreneurial ventures.
The Rotary Club of Colombo Mid Town has now adopted the L&L scholarship and is looking forward to nurturing a 2nd batch of scholars to lead the reconciliation & development process and sustain the hard won peace achieved in Sri Lanka.
Anyone interested in contributing to the programme should get in touch with Pushpi at: email@example.com
By Pushpi Weerakoon