Sakunika Amarasinghe — The Making of a Global Citizen

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 Sakunika is part of the Mastercard Scholar Stories Series launched to celebrate the journeys of Educate Lanka Scholars supported by Mastercard.

Making her dreams come true through education

Sakunika is from the town of Gampola in the Kandy District of the Central Province of Sri Lanka. Her father is a Security Officer who underwent a heart bypass surgery in 2017. Sakunika’s mother is a housewife and the only household income comes from the father’s salary of LKR 12,000 (~USD 75) which barely supports the livelihood of the family as well as the educational costs of Sakunika and her younger brother.

Sakunika has been a determined and hardworking child from her young days. She studied at St. Joseph’s Girls’ College, Gampola from Grade 1–5, and sat for the Grade 5 Scholarship Examination in 2006. Having scored 164 out of 200, Sakunika got the opportunity of entering Girls’ High School Kandy, a school with far better quality of teaching and facilities for learning. This is the first cut-off examination in the Sri Lankan education system that offers students like Sakunika the chance to better their circumstances through academic excellence. This was a dream come true for Sakunika.

Sakunika with her father

When I was small, when I went to Kandy with my parents, I saw that school — Kandy Girls’ High School. Then I told my parents that I want to go to this school someday. But I had no idea how to do that, because I was small. But after doing the Grade 5 Scholarship examination, I got that chance.

In 2012, Sakunika further proved herself academically by achieving 9 “A” passes for the General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level). This gave her the opportunity of continuing her Advanced Level (post-secondary) studies in the Science stream. Even though she was now attending a school ranked Type 1AB, the highest level in the Sri Lankan school system, she was not exempt of facing issues prevalent throughout the overall education system, such as the lack of teachers, the overall decline in quality of teaching in schools, and the intense competition to get into state universities. It is because of such reasons that the demand for and dependency on private tutoring within Sri Lanka’s free education system has become more of a necessity and a societal challenge. Sakunika’s parents found it difficult to afford the additional educational cost of private tuition classes, added to other costs such as transportation, stationery, and ancillary school fees. It is at this important milestone of her educational journey that Sakunika reached out to Educate Lanka. Addressing such needs of students who have the talent but not the opportunity to pursue their education without any hindrance is a primary purpose of the Educate Lanka Scholarship.

Facing downfall with an open mind

In 2015, with the support of Educate Lanka, Sakunika sat for the General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level). But soon after sitting for the exam, she started preparing to repeat the examination the next year as she knew that she did not perform well enough. Proving her judgement correct, she had passed with only three “C” passes. This result was not sufficient for Sakunika to enter a public university in Sri Lanka through her district. With more determination and hard work, Sakunika sat for the examination a second time in 2016, and this time, passed with three “B” passes. This improved result qualified her to enter the Faculty of Science of the University of Peradeniya.

Like most children who are encouraged by their parents, Sakunika dreamed of becoming a doctor one day. However, with the ups and downs of life, and new experiences, she discovered new areas that she was passionate about and realized that her future lies in a different path:

One day I want to be a specialist in a certain subject field. That’s why I decided to go to the Science Faculty and follow courses in Microbiology or Genetics. I hope to complete a Special Degree and hope to do Master’s and PhD after that. Then I can do researches and experiments and I can invent new things. And then I can use all these things to do something for the well-being of humankind and the environment as well. That’s what I want to do.

A life-changing opportunity

While awaiting university admission, Sakunika was presented with an opportunity that she had been dreaming of since childhood — to travel abroad. She was among the four Educate Lanka Scholars who were chosen to represent Sri Lanka at the Global Citizenship Institute in Massachusetts, U.S.A. in 2017, a global seminar started in 2014 by the St. Mark’s School to explore the meaning of global citizenship and its implications on the local and global level. . This seminar has now become an integral part of the Educate Lanka Global Education Program which was initiated in 2015 when students of St. Mark’s School visited Sri Lanka and engaged with Educate Lanka Scholars. Since then, Educate Lanka has made global education and citizenship part of its core mission and provided a number of opportunities to its Scholars to understand the role and responsibilities of an engaged global citizen by organizing numerous global exchange and engagement programs. Coincidentally, 2017 also marked the 10th anniversary of the Educate Lanka, further highlighting the significance of attending this global event that year.

Sakunika with the rest of the Educate Lanka representatives, the only international participants, at St. Mark’s School, Massachusetts

Even today, there is a sparkle in Sakunika’s eyes when she speaks of this whole new experience. Applying for a passport, filling the visa application, preparing for visa interviews, and flying in an airplane were all completely new experiences for Sakunika and the other participants.

During the one week spent at The Global Citizenship Institute 2017, Sakunika got to meet, interact, learn from each other, and build friendships with her counterparts from different parts of the U.S.A. In teams, they took part in lectures on understanding the roles and responsibilities of a “Global Citizen” and what it means to become one in today’s context. They learnt about Design Thinking and designed a solution for an issue pertaining to their own communities back home. Sakunika reminisces on the group discussions they had on various current global topics such as health, environment, climate change, conflicts, refugees, cultural competence, and human rights. She sees this as an eye-opening experience for her and appreciates the practical value of the seminar which encouraged the participants to assess the issues faced in their own school, organization, or country and to find solutions to those. The following video captures this initial leg of their journey at the Global Citizenship Institute 2017 in Massachusetts:

While in Boston, the students also got the opportunity of visiting Harvard University, Harvard Museum of Natural History, and MIT Museum. The second leg of the journey was in Washington DC where Sakunika and the rest got the unique opportunity of meeting the founding team of Educate Lanka and the Sri Lankan American community in the Greater Washington area. They also got the opportunity of visiting some of the key national landmarks including the museums at the Smithsonian, Lincoln Memorial, and Washington Monument to obtain an overall unique exposure to American culture, history, and values. The highlight of the DC trip was a reception hosted at the the Sri Lankan Residence by the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States, Prasad Kariyawasam.

Sakunika and the rest of the Educate Lanka delegation with Ambassador Kariyawasam and the U.S. Department of State representative, Jason Evans, at the Ambassador’s reception

A new global outlook

The Global Citizenship seminar and the overall visit to the U.S.A. has helped Sakunika grow and drastically expand her knowledge and perspective of the world within a short period of two weeks:

When I talked with people that I met when I was in DC, I realized that this world is so bigger than I know. There’s a wide range in every field and there are a lot of opportunities that I didn’t know before.

I know who I am, what I should do and what I can do. I want to be in that place, the highest place where I can be and where I should be. I know I can do it. I always believe in myself and I always try to do my best to be more like ME, instead of trying to be like someone else.

Sakunika is a girl with great determination to reach her goals. There are many such students within the Sri Lankan education system who have the capacity within themselves but are unable to spread their wings as a result of socioeconomic drawbacks and the lack of opportunity. It is with deserving cases such as Sakunika in mind that Educate Lanka took 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.

Please watch the following brief video for the experience of more Scholars like Sakunika on the impact of the unique collaboration between Educate Lanka and Mastercard:

Talent is universal. Opportunity is not.

You could also read previous stories under the Mastercard Scholar Stories Series on this link. 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.