Bright students from poverty and conflict affected areas can now win an opportunity of studying in private schools in Colombo, Kandy and Galle.
Thanks to a ‘Learn and Lead’ scholarship programme launched by Sri Lanka’s network of regional business chambers, Business for Peace Alliance (BPA) these students can now study for their Advanced Level exams in these three cities.
The programme will also ensure that the students are taken care of and well provided for in the big cities.
Accommodation in the hostels of participating schools will be arranged for while clothing, books, stationery, medical care and insurance will also be provided.
The students will have special coaching in extra curricular activities, leadership development and psycho-social support.
Each student will also be appointed a guardian who will see to their needs. Special arrangements have been made to ensure that guardians do not take over the role of parents. An agreement between the parents, guardian and participating school clearly define the roles and boundaries.
Mentoring programmes will be carried out by human resources professionals in the private sector while a programme to develop mentoring skills among the students of the participating schools to complement the Learn and Lead programme has already commenced.
Learning to walk
The pilot phase of the project saw the BPA chambers of the Anuradhapura, Badulla and Trincomalee promote the programme in these districts where over 250 students responded.
A special orientation programme was held recently for the 21 short listed candidates who met with representatives of the Steering Committee, heads of leading private schools, guardians and mentors.
This would be the first batch. Due to funding constraints only six of them were enrolled in private schools in Colombo.
Three boys have been enrolled at S. Thomas’ College, two girls at Ladies College and one at Methodist College.
There are three other students, two boys and girl, who are awaiting conformation of places.
"This is just the beginning. The costs are very high and the regional chambers and a few individuals have provided the funding, it is not enough, but this is just the pilot stage," Manique Mendis, Secretary General/CEO, Business for Peace Alliance said.
"Many organisations have their own CSR projects. But there can be better results if we work together to make a better tomorrow for these bright students who come from difficult regions in the country. All they need is a chance," she said.
She said, however, that it was imperative that priority be given to quality and not quantity.
"We will continue to raise the necessary funds and next year we will select the next batch of students. It’s going to be a long term commitment on our part," Mendis said.
While breaking down the barriers of geographical divides, the BPA said in a statement, that it hoped Learn and Lead would bridge the barriers of race, religion, class and creed that are the root causes of the conflict and poverty in our country.
The BPA has undertaken to spearhead the initial operations and set up a Trust Fund and will monitor students’ welfare.
According to the Concept Paper, 50 students from Jaffna (all Tamil students), Mannar (Tamil), Vavuniya (Tamil and Muslim), Trincomalee (Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim), Ampara (Tamil, Muslim), Batticaloa (Tamil, Muslim), Anuradhapura (Sinhala), Polonnaruwa (Sinhala), Puttalam (Muslim, Sinhala), Badulla (Sinhala, Tamil) and Monaragala were to be selected for the first phase based on their performance at the Ordinary Level Examinations.
Education standards of the district, income level of families and the effects of the conflict (loss of parents, displaced etc) will be other criteria, apart from the Ordinary Level Examination results, which will be weighted to award merits when selecting the students. Each district will have a district-specific system in this regard.
Gender balance will be strictly followed in selections.
National Steering Committee
A National Steering Committee was formed headed by Former Under Secretary, United Nations, Jayantha Dhanapala and Mahen Dayananda, Chairman Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, as its Vice President, to guide and monitor the progress of the programme.
The steering committee meets once a month, the Island Financial Review learned, and with so many eminent members in its fold no doubt the future of Learn and Lead will bring better tomorrows to many of our children already torn by poverty and conflict.
Other members of the Steering Committee; Dr Hiranthi Wijemana, Adviser, Child Protection Authority, Rotarian Thariq Thulba, Governor, Rotary Movement, Rev Dr. Theodore Warnakulasuriya, Senior Lecturer Open University of Sri Lanka, Rev, Dr. W. Wimalaratne, Senior Lecturer, University of Colombo, Dr Devanesan Nesiah, Member Presidential Committee on Human Rights, Deshabandu Jezima Ismail, Chancellor, South Eastern University, Mohamed Halith, Attorney –at-Law, Ms Anushya Kumaraswamy, former Group Director, John Keells Holdings, Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, Seceretary General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, SCOPP, Ms Manique Mendis, Secretary General, Business for Peace Alliance, Dr Markus Mayer, Country Director, International Alert and Dr David Ponnaiah, Warden St Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia.
The members of the National Steering Committee will market the programme to the business community and to individuals willing to sponsor students and take the ‘Learn and Lead concept to the boards of private schools, the Concept Paper states.