Passion to purpose | Daily News

Passion to purpose

Her passion for social service work stems from an early age. She was driven to embrace every opportunity she got to learn and get involved with projects and societies which dealt with matters close to her heart.

Her work recently gained international recognition as she was presented with the YWPA award. She was the nominee from Zonta Club II of Colombo. She competed against nominees from countries like India, Bangladesh and Nepal to clinch the award.

“I am so grateful for the Zonta International YWPA programme as it really encourages you to go the extra mile and recognizes your work in the field of social service and advocacy. It is such an honoru to have been chosen amongst other brilliant girls from around the world who all share similar values and have a common goal of making the world a better place. Being an international recipient of The Zonta YWPA award has given me an opening to start in my own small way and I am super excited,” Tehani Chandrasena enthused.

The YWPA is open to all young women between the ages of 16 to 19 years. Tehani’s application for the competition was sent online. Everything was done virtually so she did not get the opportunity to meet the other nominees. However, she had read about them and have been overwhelmed by their brilliance.

Winning this award has given her the opportunity to pursue her higher studies as well as have the ability to provide a girl child with an education.

“In addition to this it has given me a platform of recognition for my work over the last few years which I am extremely grateful for. This award and the prestige that comes with it is something that will open many doors and for that I am beyond excited,” she added with a smile.

Queried about her passion for social service work and Tehani says that this type of work consists of meaningful encounters with people from all walks of life. She had been involved in several social service projects with her alma mater Asian International School, Z Club of Colombo and the Interact Club of Colombo.

“I find that there is great joy in helping others and being committed social justice. During my year as President of the Z Club, we had a club strength of 65 members and initiated a total of 13 projects,” she said.

“One of the most significant ones is assisting the Liya Diriya Project which is a community-based women’s association that works for environmental sustainability and the betterment of society by producing reusable bags from unbleached cotton and upcycled fabrics. This project took place in Digana where Dolomite mining was what most of the men in the village did as a source of income. The Liya Diriya project is one where the wives in this village decided they need a source of income too and so the entrepreneurial nature of these women came through producing the bags and therefore becoming the breadwinners of their families,” she explained.

While at AIS Tehani and her team worked with a designated elder’s home and raised funds for the Amitsu Children’s home. She had also volunteered at the Anti-narcotics Association of Sri Lanka and take great pleasure in working towards creating awareness on national initiatives.

“The best part of these projects is getting to know people from all parts of life. It is a constant process of learning and unlearning. For me there is joy and excitement in all the small moments. I love meeting new people especially those whose work is in line with mine as there is a common goal that we can collectively strive towards,” she elaborated on what excites her about her work.

Tehani draws her inspiration mainly from her mother, Dinushka Chandrasena. A renowned entrepreneur, she had started her own media company over 18 years ago. She has been an unwavering figure and Tehani’s utmost pillar of strength.

“She leads by example and has taught me so much. She has made me appreciate even the little things and never take anything for granted. She taught me to always keep God at the center of it all, and whatever I do, to do it in love, in excellence and with a full heart. She taught me to always be optimistic and have faith even when faced with obstacles. Her life and her journey is what inspires me every day!” she explained adding that her aunt, Dinesh Chandrasena, is also a well know fashion designer.

Besides community care, Tehani also adores dancing. She had been performing on stage ever since she was five years.

“I watched Barbie’s “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and told my grandma “I want to be like that”. She then enrolled me at the Deanna School of Dancing where I began my dancing career. It was here that I got the privilege of getting to know and be taught by aunty Natasha Jayasuriya Rajapakse and aunty Natalie Jayasuriya - two phenomenal women who are talented beyond words and are two of my biggest inspirations. Dance has allowed me to express myself far greater than I ever could through words and speech. It is an art form that I feel even after 13 years of being in and out of dance studios I am still learning. Learning new choreography and performing on stage gives you the opportunity to become whom you are portraying and shed self-consciousness. The discipline of dance is also character building as sacrifice and dedication is needed to be the best you can be. I have also had the privilege of learning from Sandarangi Perera, Umeshi Rajeendra and aunty Sureka Buell who are all so amazing and have all pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me,” she said.

Tehani just started her university studies at one of the prestigious Seven Sisters Liberal Arts Colleges, Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, USA. She is planning to Major in International Relations and Gender studies.

Asked about her ambition and Tehani says, “There were days I wanted to be a teacher, days I wanted to be a lawyer and sometimes days I decided I wanted to be a princess! Nothing quite stuck (although I wish the princess part came through!) It was only when I was about 14 that I realized I was passionate about making a change. Only a couple of years ago I was in conversation with Shyalina (someone who has been a big sister figure for the past 5 years) and she told me when people asked her what she wanted to do in life her response would be “I want to save the world” This then made me realize that it was exactly what I wanted to do too. My dream is to one day set up an NGO of my own and work at the United Nations (you must ALWAYS dream big!)”

Her message to other youth is to absolutely love what they want to do.

“While it may be something out of the box and not what is ‘trending’; if it ignited a fire inside of you – go for it. I am blessed to have a family that encouraged me to follow my own path and even tread on dangerous waters. But eventually I believe that if it is your passion, you will pursue it and do well,” she opined.

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