THE MASTERCARD SCHOLAR STORIES SERIES
In October 2017, Educate Lanka Foundation joined hands with Mastercard to empower 250 young women of Sri Lanka through enhanced access to education and employment opportunities during the first year of their exclusive partnership. The story of Sulakshana is part of the Mastercard Scholar Stories Series launched to celebrate the journeys of Educate Lanka Scholars supported by Mastercard.
Sulakshana is from a calm and quiet village called Marikarampillai in Vavuniya in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. Eighteen years of age, she is studying in Grade 13 in the bioscience stream at Puthukulam Maha Vidyalayam and will be sitting for the G.C.E. Advanced Level examination in August 2018. Sulakshana has an outstanding academic track record. She scored 154 out of 200 for the Grade 5 Scholarship examination, and in 2015, she excelled the G.C.E. Ordinary Level examination with nine (9) A passes. This put her at the top 2% of the entire country among those who sat for the exam that year — a remarkable feat for someone who grew up in a part of the country that suffered from a three-decade-long insurgency and war. Sulakshana is also involved in extracurricular activities such as science and commerce competitions and has won at zonal level. She likes sports and takes part in high jump at school.
“I live with my relatives, so I am happy.”
Sulakshana is somewhat shy, but her smile lights up the room. However, behind the mask of this happy face is a young girl who is battling issues caused by a broken family. When she was just four years old, her father left the family, leaving her mother, two elder brothers, and her behind. Since then, Sulakshana’s mother has been working in households to provide for their family of four. But the income generated through this day-to-day work is not sufficient to fund the basic and academic needs of three children.
Such conditions put Sulakshana’s family members under extreme poverty — living on less than $1.90 per day. While Sri Lanka has managed to reduce its poverty levels significantly over the past two decades, inequality in wealth and income distribution has created spatial variations in distribution of poverty, leading to pockets of severe poverty spread across the country. Despite continued increase in gross national income levels, Sri Lanka also suffers from low living standards as nearly 45% of the population lived on less than $5 per day in 2013.
These circumstances led Sulakshana to reach out to Educate Lanka in 2014 with the hope of relieving her family’s burden of keeping her in school. According to UNICEF, family poverty remains the main demand-side reason in Sri Lanka for children to drop out of their education. Sulakshana became an Educate Lanka Scholar in 2015 and her education is currently sponsored by Mastercard. We could not have chosen a more worthy investment as she not only displays great academic promise, but also manifests Educate Lanka’s mission of producing “driven leaders who are committed to personal and professional advancement while creating positive changes in their communities.”
In spite of the dire turn of events, Sulakshana has maintained her position as first in her class for several years, and her entire school is expecting great results from her at the upcoming Advanced Level examination. Her ambition from childhood is to be a Heart Surgeon — a doctor of and from the heart. She oozes charisma and is confident that she will achieve her dream. She still has a long way to go, but Educate Lanka, along with Mastercard, will ensure that she receives the financial support as well as the necessary mentoring and guidance to reach her goal.
“Women who are empowered, and able to realize their full potential, are an incredible force in taking whole nations forward, and in contributing to their well-being.”
— Pekka Haavisto, Finnish Minister for International Development
At this young age, Sulakshana has matured beyond her years. During our many interactions with her, she has demonstrated a deeper knowledge and vision on larger issues pertaining to the education system of Sri Lanka. For example, she has expressed her concern about the social pressure and stress the Grade 5 Scholarship examination has on children who are only 10 years old. Instead, she recommends that this examination be held in Grade 9 when the students are more mature and able to deal with the emotional strain of preparing for a milestone examination. She further points out that at this age, students will be more sensible to accepting failure and to realizing their potential in different fields.
Brought up alongside two elder brothers, she also remarks on the limitations imposed on women as a a result of the prevailing cultural and societal constraints:
“The society has given less freedom to girls than to boys. Even their decisions are made by their parents. Girls cannot go out on their own. If girls want to go out on their own, their parents won’t allow it. But this is not the case for boys. They can do whatever they like.”
Complementing Mastercard’s Doing Well, Doing Good initiative, Sulakshana strongly believes in the power of education, especially for women, to break free of such social restraints:
“It is only through education that we can better our lives. Without education we will have to depend on others. The society is changing little by little and girls are also taking up responsibilities now. Therefore female students also need to study well. Girls should not be dependent anymore!”
We are thrilled to have taken this significant step in Sri Lanka by introducing a unique social-private partnership towards our vision of making opportunities universal for everyone. With the backing of a global pioneer like Mastercard, we are excited to create an inclusive workforce and an equitable society that would drive Sri Lanka towards its socioeconomic advancement and its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals.
Sulakshana, along with two (2) other Educate Lanka Scholars, was featured in the following video which describes the impact of the unique collaboration between Educate Lanka and Mastercard:
Talent is universal. Opportunity is not.
To learn more about Educate Lanka’s mission and to invest directly in the education of an Educate Lanka Scholar, please visit www.educatelanka.org