It was that time again -when women who have excelled in their respective fields are honoured for their sterling contributions to society. The Zonta Woman of Achievement Awards, a grand biennial celebration was held on Sunday, May 25 at the Galadari Hotel. President of Zonta Club 1 Colombo (which has made the award ceremony a [...]

Sunday Times 2

Peace and reconciliation shine on Zonta winners


It was that time again -when women who have excelled in their respective fields are honoured for their sterling contributions to society. The Zonta Woman of Achievement Awards, a grand biennial celebration was held on Sunday, May 25 at the Galadari Hotel.
President of Zonta Club 1 Colombo (which has made the award ceremony a success for the past 12 years) and Chairperson of the Woman of Achievement Award 2014 committee, Professor Chandrika Wijeyeratne was happy to note that Zonta’s project for this biennium is “building bridges- peace through women”. This she feels is a project that would promote the process of national reconciliation.

The Chief Guest for the glamorous evening was Attorney General Palitha Fernando PC who said he was delighted to be a part of the occasion. “Women should not only be respected, but are in fact the livewires of today’s society,” he said.

The 2014 winners

The event also saw the felicitation of Zontian Mano Muthukrishna- Candappa whose brainchild the award system was and Dr. Srikanthy Handy who funded the “Building-Bridges” project in memory of her father, Dr. G.R. Handy.

Representing the panel of judges Professor A.H. Sheriffdeen on a lighter note disclosed that the judges had no choice but to arrive at an unbiased decision given their areas of expertise! He did however, suggest a different category for applications of disabled persons.
The need for broadening the award seemed not to have escaped the Club’s attention because for the first time a “special award” category (see box) was introduced. In a nod to greater inclusivity the call for applications went out also in the Sinhala and Tamil media.

The Zonta winners for 2014:

The Zonta award for Education went to veterinarian Professor Mangala Gunatilake who works with the Department of Physiology in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo. Her tireless efforts in conducting the first international certificate course in the study of laboratory animal science in collaboration with the Utrecht University of Netherlands was a first for the country and for the Asian region. She has represented Sri Lanka at international assemblies and in 2013 instituted a certificate course in the University of Colombo for Basic Medical Laboratory Technology.

Heading the Centre for Dengue Research at the University of Jayawardenapura, Dr. Neelika Malavige’s research has led to an international patent and been published in prestigious international journals. A pioneer in establishing viral immunology research, she was a Commonwealth Scholarship winner, has a doctorate in Immunology from the University of Oxford and is a member of the Royal College of Physicians (UK). Dr. Neelika was recognized under the category of Medicine.

The award under the category of Science and Technology went to Professor Sagarika Ekanayake. A recipient of the Dr. C.L. De Silva Gold Medal for research she was adjudged the Best Researcher 2009 by NASTEC. Currently a professor of Bio Chemistry at the University of Jayawardenapura, she has been published in prominent journals and has a BSc- Chemistry special, M.Phil and PhD from the University of Lundt, Sweden.

Anoja Wijesekera went from lecturing in Economics in the Universities of London and Leeds to challenging work in Afghanistan earning her the Zonta Award under the category- Child Development and Welfare. After joining the UNICEF office Colombo in 1980 she led an all male staff during the regime of the Taliban in Jalalabad, enabling access to health and basic needs for numerous women and children. She worked with the anti-state activists and her book “Facing the Taliban” tells of her experiences.

From making chewing gum from scratch during her schooldays at Holy Family Convent, Indira Kulatilake who received the Zonta Woman of Achievement Award for Industry and Entrepreneurship, had to fill big shoes when she inherited a business. She rose to the challenge and even ventured out in to the printing business creating Universal Labels (Pvt) Ltd. She was one of the first Sri Lankan women to be recognized as a ‘Leading Woman Entrepreneur of the World’ by the Star Group USA.

Champika Dodanwala who received the Zonta Award in the category Banking and Finance is currently the Assistant General Manager Finance of Seylan Bank. She is a Fellow of the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants (UK) and a member of the Institute of Bankers, Sri Lanka. She has also been recognized as the “The Woman of The Year in Finance” by the American Biographical Institute in 2008.

Asanthi Gunaratne who won the Zonta Award for Management is Company Secretary of the Capital Maharaja Group. An attorney-at-law with a Masters Degree and a Diploma in International Relations she started out as a Human Resource Manager for the Group and has made significant contributions to shaping strategies and their work with the children of Singithi Sevana Orphanage.

A Fulbright Scholar with a Masters in Law in Human Rights and Women’s Rights Shyamala Gomez received the award for Social Change and Empowerment of Women. Shyamala has been a Visiting Researcher at Harvard Law School and is now the Country Director FOKUS Women.

Justice Eva Wanasundara was the first head girl in the co-ed school of Dharmapala Vidyalaya Pannipitiya, the second woman to join the Attorney General’s Department in 1979 and the first woman Attorney General.After her appointment as President’s Counsel in 2007 she also went on to become the first woman Solicitor General. She was a joint winner of the Zonta award for Law.

Sharing the Zonta Award for Law Indira Samarasinghe, President’s Counsel has contributed in numerous ways to the publishing of legal writing since joining the Legal Draftsmen’s Office in 1979. She plays an active role in the Bar Association’s activities, the Law Society and the Sri Lanka Women Lawyer’s Association.

The first woman architect to join the University of Moratuwa in 1975, Shiranee Balasuriya who won the Zonta Award for Architecture is the woman with the highest qualification in Landscaping in Sri Lanka – she holds an M.Phil in Landscape Architecture from the University of Edinborough. She is a Chartered Architect, Chartered Landscape Architect and a senior consultant at the Department of Architecture- University of Moratuwa. She also serves as a consultant for the Lotus Tower project.

Currently working for CML-MTD, Shanika Cabraal who was recognized with the Zonta Award for Engineering, graduated with honours for both her Bachelors and Masters in Engineering from the University of Melbourne. Since returning from a scholarship internship at VicRoads in Australia she has been contributing to aspects of safety and efficiency. A part of the Young Constructors’ Forum, she also devotes time to the CSR project of building a hydrotherapy facility for disabled war heroes
Better known as the “Queen of Sri Lankan Hip Hop”, Ashanthi de Alwis has been signed on to international record label-Universal Records. She has made her debut in the international music scene with her album “Rock the World”. Winning numerous awards, heading her own school of music and production house, Ashanthi won the Zonta for Creative and Performing Arts.

Having established and nurtured many national and international water management bodies, Kusum Athukorala who received the Zonta Award for Environment is now Trustee of the newly formed National Community Water Trust of Sri Lanka. She has also linked many CSR initiatives with water management projects as chair of NetWater & Sri Lanka Partnership. She is a recipient of the International Water Association’s International Women in Water award.

Sunela Jayawardena who won the Zonta for Travel and Tourism is an Environmental Architect whose work promoting indigenous and vernacular housing has made for internationally acclaimed case studies. Completing over 75 projects both in and out of Sri Lanka, her work and publishing have brought much recognition and tourists to the country. Having studied in the prestigious Pratt Institute New York, Sunela worked in the US and has served on boards and initiated organizations to promote responsible and sustainable tourism. She believes vernacular design that preserves culture is the future of Sri Lankan identity.

With the record for the highest goals by a player in the Netball World Cup 2011 in Singapore, Tharjini Sivalingam, captain of the Sri Lanka Netball team won the Zonta award for Sports. Tharjini has been national captain since 2004. Holder of a BA Hons degree in economics from the University of Eastern Vantharumulai she hopes to continue her service to the country in terms of sports management.

Joint winners for inaugural special awards category

The Zonta Woman of Achievement Awards brought in another category for the first time this year. The inaugural Special Award had joint winners Deshabandu Manique Gunaratne and Melanie Stephens who despite their limitations challenged themselves to persevere.
Born with sight, Deshabandu Manique Gunaratne was sight impaired at the age of 30. Representing Sri Lanka in many regional and international bodies for the differently abled, she is an IT professional who uses her knowledge to further that of other differently abled persons and in lobbying for the rights of the disabled

Melanie Stephens who lost her sight due to medical negligence, is now a motivational speaker and has launched a book and website in the hope of inspiring others. Recognized as the Best Operator in 2007 and even for her sporting abilities- she won Best Athlete & Champion 1996-1998 at the National Sports for the Disabled competitions, and was a Chess Champion. Winning the Louie Braille Championship for English Writing and Reading Melanie lives by the words of Og Mandino “I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars”.

The Outstanding Recognition award was awarded to Anoja Wijesekera for her service in Afghanistan for the benefit of women and children.

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