This week’s Student Feature Friday is Junior Ashani Kurukulasuriya whose maturity and compassion for others is truly remarkable. When it became clear to Ashani that the school did not yet have a club to meet her needs, she partnered with a recent graduate from Harvard University to establish a chapter of Vision:Global Health at HHS. “VISION stands for Vision Impairment Screening and Intervention for Optical Needs…provide glasses to people in lower and middle income countries, promote vision screening and awareness, and support a clinic in Ghana” (http://thehub.college.harvard.edu/org/harvardcollegevision160927/home).
In addition to creating the club at HHS, Ashani and other members will be presenting at the Harvard Global Health and Leadership Conference this April. She is excited to attend the conference to learn more about food insecurity and human trafficking and how it affects local communities. Although the club is just beginning, they are already working with nearby food pantries to see what needs exist and researching speakers who can bring awareness to concerns about human trafficking.
Ashani just attended her first meeting of a seventeen week program with Youth in Philanthropy (YIP), which “…is an experiential leadership development program designed to empower and educate local youth to become our community’s next generation of philanthropists–those who give their time, talent and treasure for the common good” (https://yipmetrowest.org). This program will further develop her passion for community service and provide opportunities for her to learn more about obtaining grants and funding for causes that she feels strongly about. When asked about her future, she has many interests spanning from nutrition to global health to public policy. There is no doubt that the leadership skills she is cultivating and the path she is creating for herself will have an impact on the local and global communities for years to come.
Q: Your work to establish a Vision:Global Health Chapter at Holliston High School is very impressive. Why does this mission resonate with you?
A: The driving force behind my interests was to provide a welcoming platform for myself, as well as others students, to convey our thoughts and ideas on how to pioneer solutions to real world problems. Through our weekly meetings, the club has the potential to shape students into innovative, globally aware, and goal-oriented members of society. When I initially reached out to Mr. Paul Lewis, a recent graduate who started the VISION Program during his freshman year at Harvard University, he had mentioned that the main mission of this club was to foster a sense of community and service for those who are underprivileged. As soon as I became more acquainted with the chapter and its overarching theme of bridging the gap between the inequalities in global healthcare delivery, I knew it was something that I needed to bring to Holliston. The mission resonates with me because I want to further my interests in global and public health throughout my entire life and pursue a career in the field. I also think that by presenting at the 2019 Harvard Global Health and Leadership Conference with my chapter, I will be able to advance my passion for the subject and learn more about what we can do to be civically minded leaders and better citizens of the world.
Q: What do you think is the most important message about Global Health that others need to know?
A: A common misconception is that healthcare is about receiving medicines and being able to go to the doctor’s office; while that is true, many people do not realize that healthcare also encompasses having steady access to food, mental health services, parks and recreation, and many more facilities that provide individuals with a sense of security and well-being.
A critical and under-appreciated aspect to global health is its interdependence on proper nutrition. It is important for others to become aware of the struggles some people face in order to receive the basic necessities that many of us enjoy on a daily basis. As we become more aware, I think we become more empathetic and more inclined to find ways to curb global health issues. For example, the members of my club have discovered that adequate nutrition is still a critical unmet need that impacts both physical and mental health in our local communities, therefore, they are working hard to find ample solutions to help lessen the inconsistencies.
Q: What leadership skills do you hope to strengthen or gain through your work with Vision, Youth and Philanthropy and as a class officer?
A: I am very grateful to have been given the opportunities to work on various aspects of my leadership abilities. I feel as though I have truly strengthened my networking and communication skills through my role as a class officer and as president of the Global Health Society. Discipline is a skill that I am actively trying to work on. I think being disciplined is a key factor in the overall success of not just a good leader, but a good person. I hope to learn more about my own, as well as other types of leadership styles, as I participate with the Needham Youth in Philanthropy program over the course of the next seventeen weeks.
Q: You speak about feeling lucky that you found something you love at a young age. What advice do you have for others who haven’t yet found their passion?
A: I think everyone is destined to find their passion at one point or another, I was just lucky enough to have my life experiences spark certain interests in me at the time that they did. Finding one’s passion should not be left to serendipity. For those who are still exploring their passions, working with a personal mentor could be invaluable. I would strongly advocate that gaining guidance, insight, and even inspiration from a mentor is a strategy to help better define one’s passions.