An exclusive, one-on-one interview with Shiranthi Rajapaksa
Making a Difference
By Ayesha Zuhair
In the First Lady of Sri Lanka, what greets the public eye is the unflinching image of a devoted wife, dutiful mother and glamour queen. But hidden beneath the glitzy outlook one also finds an opinionated educationist, social worker and – perhaps – even a management guru!
A professional in the field of child psychology and pre-school education, Madam Shiranthi Rajapaksa views education as being of paramount importance as “educated individuals are able to contribute better to the development of society.” She explained, “I think education is particularly important for women because they play a more central role in nurturing children and it is the children who represent the future of any country. Indeed, the hand that rocks the cradle, rocks the nation.”
Her belief in education propelled her to establish six pre-schools which are located in Colombo, Beliatta, Ranna, Walasmulla, Tangalle and Weeraketiya. As Founder of the Carlton Pre-schools of Sri Lanka, her aim is to provide future generations with a strong foundation to further their knowledge in a well-disciplined, balanced environment. Developing the consciousness of children is also focused upon as Madam Rajapaksa believes that a sense of responsibility to one’s society needs to be instilled in children from a very tender age. “Trying to do so later, would be quite difficult,” she said.
These pre-schools enrol more than 600 students each year and provide gainful employment for qualified teachers. Each year three staff members of the pre-schools are selected and sent for overseas training on scholarships. The First Lady makes it a point to visit the schools as frequently as possible to monitor the progress being made. “I enjoy this tremendously as I am particularly fond of children,” she smiled, adding that such visits afforded her a deep sense of achievement and fulfilment.
Born in Badulla to late Commodore E. P. Wickramasinghe and Mrs. Violet Wickramasinghe, Shiranthi spent much of her formative years in the hill country. As the only daughter, she was doted on by her parents and two brothers, and grew up in a contended family atmosphere.
Having schooled at Holy Family Convent (HFC), Bambalapitiya, she opted to follow a Diploma in Child Psychology and Pre-school Education, also at HFC. At school, she excelled both academically and non-academically, having been an active netball, hockey and tennis player who won numerous awards for her sporting prowess. After qualifying in 1983, she was introduced to Mahinda Rajapaksa who was fast gaining recognition as an up-and-coming lawyer.
She attributes her up-bringing as the main contributory factor to her ability to multi-task effectively, together with the education received. “I feel that those who have had happy childhoods are better able to manage their tasks, fulfil all their responsibilities and still not lose their balance. That’s why it’s important to give children a pleasant family atmosphere,” she reflected.
“It’s also about proper planning and time management. I try to arrange my schedule in such a manner that nobody feels neglected,” she remarked. During the weekends, specific time is allotted for the family as well as her personal errands. Whenever possible, she says she takes time out to read material related to education, children and health, with a view to keeping herself abreast of developments in the fields concerned.
Shiranthi Rajapaksa, who represented Sri Lanka at the Miss Universe pageant in 1978 said that she chose to take part in the pageant with a view to promoting Sri Lanka’s image in the international arena and also due to the support extended by her parents. “My father in particular always encouraged me to value myself and do what I thought was best for me,” she said.
Speaking further, she lamented that Sri Lankan women were in the habit of neglecting themselves after marriage, and even more so once they have children. According to Madam Rajapaksa, women should make greater efforts to up-keep not just their appearance, but also their health and personal development.
As she put it, “I believe that women must look after themselves and be aware of their image – both in public life and in personal life. That is vital for happy relationships. In my opinion, their behaviour should be in conformity with societal norms, traditions and values but that should not hold them back from progressing in life. Progress is possible within a culturally acceptable framework.”
“I also believe that women should be independent and learn not to criticise other women. Women must be supportive of each other and not resort to backbiting,” she contended, adding that such women were best ignored.
Speaking about her three sons, who are all Thomians, she asserted that they have integrated well into society and had friends from all the different races in Sri Lanka. She explained that Namal, their eldest son was studying law in the UK while Yoshitha, the second has set his eyes on the Navy. On why he chose to join the Navy, Madam Rajapaksa explained that it was a decision made by Yoshitha himself, in consultation with his parents.
“My husband was very happy with the decision Yoshitha made,” she revealed, adding, “The fact that my father was a naval officer, too was a major source of inspiration.” Their third son, Rohitha was likely to take up medicine since he had shown an inclination to the sciences at school.
In addition to education-related work, Madam Rajapaksa initiated the Siriliya Saviya Foundation earlier this year in a bid to empower rural women. War widows and the economically disadvantaged are the focal points of this programme under which nine training centres to impart IT and sewing skills have been set-up. These centres are located in Tangalle, Beliatte, Ratnapura, Galnava, Anuradhapura, Ragama, Makola, Pilimathalawa and Kandy, while plans are underway to create such institutions in other parts of the country as well, including the North and East.
The project does not stop at training women: it stretches well beyond that to provide opportunities for either paid employment or self-employment. “When a girl has completed the period of training, we either try to place her in a suitable workplace or we give them financial aid to start a small-scale business. Approximately 1,000 females have benefited under this programme,” she elaborated.
Having originally started the programme using her personal funds, donations started coming in from concerned individuals and organisations on hearing about the work being done. Even foreign countries have now volunteered to extend both financial and technical assistance to the projects currently being handled by the Foundation.
Asked what had prompted her to get involved in such endeavours, she said, “I love to help people in anyway I could, especially the poor and children irrespective of caste or creed. I think that may be a result of both my up-bringing and my husband. From a very young age, my parents have encouraged me to lend a helping hand wherever possible. My husband too has always supported my work. I feel that if every one of us works to make a difference in whatever small way, then Sri Lanka certainly has a bright future.”
Women at Work
via… Daily Mirror
Posted on December 20, 2006, in Sri Lanka and tagged Blogroll, Cricket, Mahela Jayawardene, News and politics, South Asia, Sri Lanka, Topix, Uncategorized, Word Of Wisdom, World News. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.