Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Spearheading an education revolution

Reading Time: 5 minutesNSW Young Woman of the Year’s initiative has made a significant difference to underprivileged communities

 NSW Young Woman of the Year ceremony- Premier Barry O'Farrell, Lakshmi Logathassan, Katie Page CEO Harvey Norman, Pru Goward MP

“Education is a fundamental right. Unfortunately, in today’s world, it has become a privilege”. These profound words come from Lakshmi Logathassan, a second year law student from University of Western Sydney (UWS) and young woman on the threshold of adulthood. Always a high-achiever, Lakshmi has opted to dedicate her time to developing and implementing projects that provide access to education, promote the values of equality, and a fair go for all.

The daughter of Sri Lankan refugees who fled their war ravaged country over two decades ago, Lakshmi has made the most of the opportunities that this ‘lucky country’ meted out to her, and believes it is now her duty to do the same to others.

“Not many people have the good fortune of growing up in a country of freedom and equal opportunity”, she told Indian Link. “I am one of the lucky few, so why not make the most of my chance to help those less fortunate”.

Lakshmi was recently named ‘NSW Young Woman of the Year’ for her ‘Laptop Project’, an initiative to equip underprivileged communities with computers and IT skills.

In all, 239 nominations were received for the newly instituted NSW Young Woman of the Year and Community Hero awards, which ‘recognise inspiring young leaders and women who make their communities better’.

Lakshmi’s fellow nominees included Jennifer Star who started an education NGO Tara.Ed in India; Bee Orsini, an educator on youth homelessness; and scientist Kimberley Abbott, who set up a work and education program Roka in India, among others.

“Each story behind these wonderful women is particularly motivating, and I hope they will inspire other women across the state”, Minister for Women Pru Goward told the gathering at the awards ceremony.

“The calibre and achievements of the other finalists are really staggering and I was thrilled to even be named in the same league; so to be announced as the winner is such an honour”, Laksmi said.

“It is an unexpected recognition for the projects I have undertaken, and it further fuels my passion to keep working in this area”, she added. “As you may know, this is the first year the ‘NSW Young Woman of the Year’ has been awarded and the responsibilities that come with this honour are not lost on me. I am really eager to expand my work and engage with a whole new spectrum of amazing people”.

As School Captain of St George Girls High School, an academically selective school in Kogarah, Lakshmi conceived and developed the ‘Laptop Project’ to send government-funded laptops from graduating high school students to rural and remote schools in Kenya and Sri Lanka.

Barely two years on, what began as an idealistic school project has evolved into an inter-school initiative amongst several Sydney high schools. To date, 250 laptops have been donated, allowing thousands of students to gain access to a better education, and in turn, a world of possibilities.

“You may recall that since 2009, as part of education revolution programme, free laptops were offered to year 9 students”, Lakshmi explained.

“Although these laptops were very beneficial during high school, for many of us, they were quite technologically dated for our university studies,” said Lakshmi. “Several students already had laptops or desktops of their own at home as well. So this project was essentially designed to ensure that the laptops would find better use by giving them to students who did not have any access to technology and would, as a result, be considerably beneficial to them”.

The concept was met with an overwhelming response from schools across NSW and soon Lakshmi began networking with them to facilitate the project.

Currently, the project is in its third year running and is looking to continue well into the next.

Through NGOs and organisations working on the ground in Sri Lanka and Kenya and with her own team here in Sydney, the logistics of collecting and sending the laptops has gone quite smoothly.

Spurred by her success, Lakshmi has since helped spearhead proposals to collect funding from local councils for the ‘Laptops for IT Training Program’, to teach newly arrived migrants computer skills.

In December 2012, Lakshmi also travelled to war torn Killinochi and many surrounding regions that are facing a painstaking rebuilding process.

“I learnt that the government doesn’t fund a permanent English teacher in this region, considerably limiting the career and education prospects of the students, and it was a situation I felt that I could reverse”, she elaborated.

Working closely with qualified teachers, she devised and ran a 10-week English fundamentals workshop. “I was really inspired by the positive attitude of my students and their thirst for knowledge in spite of the despairing nature of their circumstances”, she recounted.

For this determined young woman, the seeds of community service were sown when she heard harrowing tales of her homeland.

Her Alma Maters, Homebush Public School and St George Girls have been equally inspirational in shaping her destiny.

“Homebush Public provided me with a vibrant and valuable foundation to my education. Many of the skills that I have gone on to develop were tapped here”, she fondly remembers.

Likewise St George Girls’ High School is an absolutely fabulous community for growing women, she believes. “It is a unique environment that embraces and encourages the wide-range of talents and aspirations of its students. The students have an infectious sense of motivation, drive and passion that definitely inspired me throughout high school and especially during my captaincy,” she added.

Lakshmi has continued this leadership tradition at UWS as well. As a recipient of the prestigious UWS Vice-Chancellor’s Leadership Scholarship, she was invited to join the Aspire program and The Academy UWS, both of which are exciting initiatives to encourage young leaders to think proactively about leadership and the various challenges and issues facing society.

Law and international studies are areas of study where Lakshmi’s interests and passion lie.

“I hope to one day specialise in international criminal law, become a human rights lawyer and work at the United Nations or in the Foreign Affairs ministry”, Lakshmi declared. “I want to make my contribution in this area of law by ensuring that the concerns of minorities are heard loud and clear on the international stage especially in circumstances where their rights are being denied”.

Lakshmi believes that “to want to use your skills to bring about positive change in the lives of others should be a fundamental instinct for all humans. To look the other way is what takes effort”.

According to Lakshmi, the efforts that she has undertaken “to ensure that the right to education can be exercised by students who do not have the opportunity to do so, is but a small, short-term effort. For real change to occur, governments must take charge of this issue and implement policy changes to ensure that all students have access to a basic education and equal opportunity. If this awareness can be achieved, that would be the biggest gift that we can give to future generations”, she asserted.




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