Poverty in Sri Lanka is of an endemic nature. Employment is scarce and with rising cost of living, the very existence becomes a daunting experience. However, in spite of being a third world country where poverty is an issue that begs immediate government attention, there indeed is a saving grace. Little Sri Lanka can certainly boast of a literacy rate in the 90's rarely seen in the other countries in the region. This is due to the availability of free education from the kindergarten right up to the university level. Despite of this gift, unfortunately many students dropout scholl at some stage or the other as their parents being daily wage earners, find it extremely difficult to meet their ever increasing needs.
Some of us back at home used to help a poor child now and then through personal contacts - although not in an organized way. This has been disturbing us, as beneficiaries of the free education ourselves, ever since we left university in Sri Lanka and we were waiting for an opportunity to contribute in whatever small way and be of assistance to those deprived brothers and sisters. After we came to the United States, this has been one of the topics we used to discuss often in our meetings with like-minded Sri Lankans who identified the need to group ourselves to do what we can to help poor Sri Lankan students. When we discussed this with a friend from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he said that the Sri Lankan Society of which he is the president has indeed started such a programme and are now supporting a number of poor Sri Lankan students by way of scholarships. He also invited us to join them so that we here in Arizona can also be a part of their outfit. We gave it our earnest thought and agreed to affiliate with them.
The Arizona Chapter was inaugurated in March 2004 with the support of the Pahansila Urbana-Champaign chapter affliated to the Sri Lankan Society at the University of Illinois. Since then we have been working hand in hand with them towards a common goal of helping the needy Sri Lankan students for their education and grow up to be good citizens.
The Scholarship Programme
The programme has been aptly named "Pahansila", which literally means "light of a lamp" in Sinhala the native tongue of Sri Lanka. The lamp and its associated light have been traditionally identified with learning and knowledge in our country. As light dispels darkness, learning dispels ignorance. This is the symbolism behind the concept of the lamp and its light. But for us it is more than that. For us learning is a vehicle that dispels the darkness from within oneself while providing an opportunity of leading a life of reasonable quality. Learning should make one a better human being. This was the motive behind us in embarking on a project like the "Pahansila".
The selection of students so far has been purely on personal contacts. Applications are sought from needy students, who according to the school authorities are good performers in their class. Every student is accompanied with a local supervisor, usually a school teacher, who provides us with periodic assesment on fund utilization and the progress of the student. These applications are carefully scrutinized and matched with a donor. The details of the students are sent to the donor who selects a beneficiary. The donor should first be satisfied that the student whom he/she sponsors is in fact a deserving one and agrees to sponsor the child for a minimum period of one year. Once the student is selected, we advise our coordinator in Sri Lanka who advises the supervisor that the child has been selected and requests him/her to help the student to open a bank account in a nearest bank. Once the bank account is opened the supervisor intimates the details of the bank account to the coordinator who starts remitting the monthly instalments. For this purpose the local coordinator maintains a separate account with the Seylan Bank, Kandy, Sri Lanka. The role of the local supervisor is of paramount importance in that he/she not only supervises the child's progress during the period of the scholarship but also sends bi-annual reports to us regarding the child's performance.
At the end of first six months, the supervisor collects letters from the student and parent / guardian explaining in what way this scholarship has helped them with the other details for the child's performance during that period and passes to the coordinator who in turn sends to the committee. We request them to collect letters from the student and parent/guardian explaining in what way this scholarship has helped them. The dossier on the child also includes a letter from the Principal or the class teacher who reports on the general performance of the child and his/her school attendance. The supervisor is also requested to send us his/her own assessment of the child. The students are encouraged to write directly to the donor so that a direct link between the donor and the recipient is established.
Quantum of Payments
At the moment, the beneficiaries of the Pahansila Arizona Chaper are either students in their G.C.E. Ordinary Level or Advanced Level classes. These are the most crucial years in a child's school life. They invariably have to attend extra classes outside to augment their knowledge if they are to keep abreast of the competition. This is a recent phenomenon in Sri Lanka and it costs money. There is an inherent phobia among students that without extra "tuition" the chances of them getting good grades at their examinations are slim. This is indeed sad but given the ground situation that only a paltry two percent of those qualify at their G.C.E. Advanced Level examination end up at the university makes the situation bad and the competition therefore, is really stiff.
The donors after pursuing the details of the beneficiary child pledges a payment of USD 10.00 per month which can be paid monthly, quarterly, half-yearly or yearly. An amount of LKR 900/- to 1000/-, depending on the exchange rate, is paid to the beneficiaries monthly which is just sufficient to meet their tuition fees and other immediate needs. Depending on the exchange rate, rest of the money is deposited in our main account in order to use in an emergency and to use in other administration work. This certainly is a boon to them without which they would fall by the wayside. This also takes a load off the parents shoulders. What they told us when we met some of the beneficiaries and their parents amply prove this.
The administration of this project both here in the USA and Sri Lanka is handled by volunteers. While we contribute, find donors, liaise with the donors, send the money across to the Sri Lankan coordinator, he deposits the monthly instalments in to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries, keeps accounts and coordinates with the supervisors continuously to ensures that we get the feedback. He also informs us regularly details of the monthly payments he has made so that we can keep a track of the transactions. He is also responsible for collecting progress reports from the Principals/teachers and supervisors, letters from the students and their parents/guardians along with their personal profiles.
Report to the donors
The donors are kept informed about the progress bi-annually. The report includes documents related to the progress of the student and the account statements. This report is password protected to ensure the privace of the scholarship recipients.
Currently there are five chapters; namely UC [Urbana Champaign], AZ [Arizona], TO [Toronto], USW [United Stated West] and SL [Sri Lanka Chapter] work hand in hand towards the same goal. The latest additions to the Pahansila family were the USW and the SL chapters, both inaugurated in January 2006 with the help of Ishika Lokuge, the founder of the Pahansila Scholarship Project.
With growing number of scholarship recipients and the chapters, it was drawn to our attention to form a general body of Pahansila, which consists of "Pahansila General Coordinating Committee" (PGCC) in addition to "Pahansila Regional Committees" (PRC). The main objectives of PGCC would be to ensure all chapters comply with the mission and goals of the Pahansila program, to carry out general operational work including propaganda and assist in coordinating activities between chapters.
How can anyone join "Pahansila"?
The success of our endeavour so far has made us quite optimistic and it is our view that we can expand this project further as there are a number of poor students who need our support. We are therefore in the constant lookout for kind-hearted people who are willing to sponsor a poor Sri Lankan child for at least a year. You can pledge your support by offering a one-time payment of USD 120/- or pay in monthly instalments of USD 10/- per month. You can also make a smaller contribution, which will be placed in a common pool and utilised to sponsor a child jointly by two or more donors.
First and foremost, we must acknowledge with gratitude our friend Ishika Lokuge from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for inviting us to be affiliated to the Pahansila Urbana-Champagne thereby providing us the opportunity to implemennt our wish to assist needy children in Sri Lanka by way of this scholarship. We would also like to thank our donors as well as the committee members of the Urbana-Champaign Chapter at the University of Illinois for their support and encouragement from the inception of our chapter. We would also like to thank the Toronto Chapter committee for making arrangements to create a Pahansila main web page and e-mail system.
The Sri Lankan community in Arizona [Tucson and greater Phoenix area] readily responded to our call and came forward to make our wish a reality. We ensure your trust and cooperation extended to us in this deed are not in vain. When you see and hear that the child you sponsored has gone from strength to strength, you will certainly be happy for what you have done. We hope it will give you mental fulfillment. You are our backbone. Thank you all very much.
The Principals, Teachers and Supervisors in various parts of Sri Lanka were very appreciative of Pahansila and readily extended their help and assistance. They are the live wires for the success of this program. We convey our sincere thanks to all of them.
Finally, we wish to thank our administrator, Mr. V.Subramaniam in Sri Lanka, who happily agreed to work with us, spending his time and energy. You have made our task much easier.
Thank you all very much !
If you need to contact us, please e-mail us at email@example.com or one of our office bearers.