Pahansila Scholarship Project Inc. (Pahansila) is primarily aimed at helping the young Sri Lankan students of low-income families to excel in studies, sports, and extra curricular activities and grow up to be good citizens. Pahansila is a tax exempted Non-profit organization registered with Internal Revenue Services, USA, under the Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.
In the Urbana-Champaign Sri Lankan community there were a few individuals who were already assisting young children in Sri Lanka through personal contacts. From casual conversations we realized there are several others who would like to help in a similar manner, but found it difficult to coordinate the details in Sri Lanka. Moreover, given the fluidity and financial capacity of our community (being mostly graduate students ourselves) we realized it is practical to plan for a longer time span as a group. Initially we attempted to go through established sponsor programs but were not satisfied with their responses. As a result, we ventured out with our own scholarship project, "Pahansila". The response from the Urbana-Champaign Sri Lankan community was very heartening and allowed us to sponsor six students beginning in January 2003.
The literal meaning of the word Pahansila is the flame of the lamp; "pahana" in Sinhalese means the lamp and "sila" means the flame. The choice of the name is more about the cultural perception of what it means than its literal meaning. In Sri Lankan culture, light symbolizes knowledge and the darkness symbolizes lack of it. The goal of the Pahansila Scholarship Project is to help educate Sri Lanka's needy children hence bringing light into their lives.
As at September 30th 2008, there are 5 Pahansila chapters in three countries. There are 121 Pahansila scholarship recipients in 8 provinces in Sri Lanka. We disburse over Rs. 100,000 monthly, as scholarship payments. These funds are received from more than 90 donors living in 6 countries. We have more than 50 volunteers attached to Pahansila.
At the inception of Pahansila in 2003 at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, we identified two candidates from the list of dependents maintained by the Prison Welfare Committee at Bogambara prison. In December 2002 Ishika Lokuge (2002/03 President of SLS) met with the Superintendent of Prisons, Asst. Superintendent and Welfare Officer at Bogambara Prison, and with the fathers (inmates) of the students. Arrangements were made for the welfare officer to provide some monitoring of the students with input from the respective school officials. Most of the remaining recipients were identified through personal contacts, who provide the committee with periodic assessments of these children. At present we even consider applications sent to us by students as well as recommendations made by school Principals and teachers. All students are supposed to complete a Pahansila application form and provide supporting documents such as letters from school Principal, grama sevaka, copies of class reports, certificates, etc. to verify the information on the application.
Currently, under the Pahansila Scholarship Project students in Grades 8 and above receive Rs. 1000 (approximately $10) per month, deposited into a savings account in the child's name. Students in lower grades receive Rs. 500 (approximately $5) per month. We are planning to revise this amount for next year. In situations where two or more siblings are supported, each family receives an amount recommended by the supervisor of the project. The funds disbursed to primary and secondary school students are used to pay for additional coaching ("tuition") and to purchase school supplies. For undergraduate students a monthly payment of Rs.1000 or more will be made.
We maintain savings accounts in Sri Lanka solely for Pahansila Scholarship Project. The accounts are held jointly between a committee member and a volunteer in Sri Lanka to help administer funds. The committee submits biannual reports to all donors. These reports include a summary of financial transactions, progress reports from the principals/teachers and local supervisors of the students, letters from the recipients and their guardians, and a personal profile of each student. Donors are also encouraged to visit the students in person when visiting Sri Lanka.We commit to a full year of funding for each student, with the understanding that continued support is subject to availability of funds, and proof of students' academic performance and economic need. Ideally we would continue to assist each child through his or her formal schooling, given a satisfactory academic performance is maintained and documented for our review.
In addition to these direct projects, we facilitate a few sponsorships for individual donors. Besides laying out the groundwork to match donors and students, we provide any other assistance if required by either party, such as temporary fund transfers and facilitating communications. However, the committee is not responsible for monitoring the progress of students or regular maintenance of bank accounts for these indirect projects.
First Pahansila chapter was formed in early 2003 at Urbana-Champaign, affiliated to the Sri Lankan Society at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. In late 2003, Ishika Lokuge, PGCC member, started corresponding with the Sri Lankan student body at University of Arizona at Tucson, to establish a chapter of Pahansila Scholarship Project at their university. The reasoning was to facilitate expanding the donor list by having several chapters spread throughout the USA. Third Pahansila chapter in US was formed in 2006 as "US West" chapter. The most recent addition to Pahansila is the San Francisco chapter.
In order to expand Pahansila outside USA, we corresponded with a few Sri Lankans in Canada in August 2004. As a result Pahansila Toronto chapter was formed. The main responsibility of this chapter is to maintain the Pahansila website, e-mail domain, and construct a database. In 2006, our volunteers in Sri Lanka formed the Pahansila Sri Lanka chapter. The main responsibilities of this chapter include helping the chapters formed outside of Sri Lanka, with monitoring projects and helping with scholarship payment disbursements. However, in addition to volunteer work, there are several scholarship projects sponsored by this chapter.
While each chapter will administer its own projects, they will collaborate as a group to assist each other in times of need. Currently we are looking for other interested people in different states of USA and other parts of the world to form their own chapters.
Due to the significant expansion of the project and the growing number of Pahansila chapters, Pahansila General Coordinating Committee (PGCC) was formed in September 2004. Chandana Karunatilaka from Arizona chapter, Sanjaya Amarathunge from Toronto chapter, Ishika Lokuge and Ruwan Jayaweera from US West chapter, and Janath Peiris of San Francisco chapter currently serve on this committee. The main objective of PGCC is to ensure all chapters comply with the mission and goals of the Pahansila Project, carry out general operational work including informational and promotional activities, assist in coordinating activities between chapters toward mutual benefits, and to ensure the level of activity is standardized across the chapters. However this committee will not be involved in decision making of the Pahansila Regional Committees. Regional Committees retain the right to make their own decisions within the goals and aims of Pahansila.
We are conducting two special projects: Pahansila-Davis Educational Project to help Sri Lankan students to improve their knowledge in English and Mathematics through free tuition classes and a special scholarship project for tsunami affected students. At present we are collaborating with the United Nation Association of Sri Lanka (UNASL) to award four scholarships to the students identified by them.
We are always in search for kind-hearted generous people to sponsor needy children in Sri Lanka. You can either pledge to sponsor a child for one year (renewed annually upon your willingness to continue) or make a one-time donation for the project. You can sponsor a student in eighth grade or higher by pledging (an equivalent of) US $10 (or multiples thereof) per month. If these donors are willing, we also encourage a direct line of communication between the donors and the students, in addition to the documentation the committee receives from the students. All pledges up to US $10 (or equivalent) per month will be pooled into a common fund to sponsor selected students. However, we will attempt to match pledges of US $7-8 per month to individual students in grades 1 through 7, depending on our ability to identify suitable recipients at the time of receiving your pledge. Donations are collected monthly, quarterly, biannually, or annually at the donors' convenience. You will receive biannual progress reports and financial records from the coordinators.
You will be touched by the students' stories and moved by their heartfelt gratitude. The Pahansila coordinating committee greatly appreciates your help.
We are looking for counterparts in Sri Lanka to work with us in helping needy Sri Lankan students. The supervisors based in Sri Lanka are vital to the success of Pahansila Scholarship Project. They will assist the students to open bank accounts and act as our contact persons in documenting students' progress. The supervisors ensure that the committee receives a copy of the student's report, a letter from school officials documenting attendance and progress, and letters from student and guardian, every six months. The supervisors also make their own assessments and recommendations at the same time. All the details in these documents will be included in the biannual report and will help the committee make a decision in continuing assistance to each student. When a particular student is sponsored by specific donors, we also ask for the supervisor's help in having the student write a letter to the donor at least every six months. However, beyond helping the students open their bank accounts, the supervisors will not be responsible for any financial transaction.