19-year-old Zara Mathew, the recipient of the 2009 Young Women in Public Affairs award presented by the Zonta Club II of Colombo, is a young woman with a mission. Armed with a confidence, rare for a girl her age and a multitude of accomplishments under her belt, she appears to be an achiever in every sense of the word.
The Young Women in Public Affairs Awards is a worldwide programme of Zonta International, which recognizes young women for their commitment to the volunteer sector and dedication to the improvement of the status of women. The award operates at the Zonta club – at the district and international level - and is aimed at women aged 16–20 years. The applicants were asked to submit a series of essays and were then interviewed by a panel of independent judges.
“I was really happy to hear that I won,” smiles Zara. “I didn’t really expect it.” Over the years whilst schooling at Elizabeth Moir School, she demonstrated a range of skills as a prefect, house captain and captain of school. Zara also engaged in a variety of activities from debating, dancing and drama to swimming and other sports. Her passion for drama in particular, resulted in an opportunity for her to direct and produce a school musical in 2007.
Being an active member of the School Outward Bound Club which assisted neglected orphanages and those affected by the tsunami and a member of P.E.A.C.E. (Protecting the Environment and Children Everywhere), a non-profit organization, Zara was able to reach out to the deprived and give back to society in numerous ways. Her internship at the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) and work in the juvenile justice programme proved to be an eye opener, as going to the juvenile courts and witnessing their hearings provided a brief insight into the hardships faced by most of them and the trauma undergone as a result of their experiences.
When asked what drives her and propels her forward, she replied that she is fired by an undying passion to be the ultimate all-rounder. “I have different strengths and interests and I’m always willing to explore that,” she adds emphatically. Getting through life, one hurdle at a time, Zara derives inspiration from her mother, whose sheer grit in the face of adversity, she confesses, has been truly inspirational. Persevering through hard work and dedication, Zara has overcome numerous obstacles which have helped strengthen and mould her into the person she is today.
Geared with a scholarship to a Liberal Arts University in the USA, she leaves for university in September in order to pursue International Studies. Her plans for the future include gaining a career in International Relations and working in the service sector.
In a day and age where women strive to make their voice heard, this award comes as an immense source of inspiration and assists in empowering women. It encourages young women who demonstrate leadership skills and pursue causes for the betterment of society, to follow their dreams and lead the way. Nekhita de Silva from Holy Family Convent emerged as first-runner-up to the award, while Rochana Cooray of Visakha Vidyalaya was placed second-runner-up at the award ceremony held in July. - A. I, Pix by Sanka Vidanagama and Gemunu Wellage