Sri Lanka Foundation Intl’ Recognizes Excellence Among the Sri Lankan Expatriates Around the World at its Prestigious Awards Show

The Sri Lanka Foundation (SLF) Awards Ceremony 2022 celebrated 25 exceptional Sri Lankans from over four continents. This one-of-a-kind event was streamed online live and hosted over 450 guests attending the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles on Sunday, November 13th, 2022.

For the Sri Lankan community worldwide, this event continues to be the most prestigious awards ceremony, which recognizes those in the Sri Lankan community whose work has had an essential impact on the lives of others.

In putting on the SLF Awards Ceremony, Sri Lanka Foundation hopes to show the community’s gratitude for the awardees’ creativity and outstanding achievements, increase awareness of their accomplishments, and, most importantly, inspire the younger generation to achieve excellence in their chosen fields. With this purpose at heart, it has been growing since its inception in 2003, boasting the most significant number of awardees celebrated, and with a tremendous demand for attendance that its live-streaming offer this year was essentially long overdue.

The opening remarks given by the SLF Chairman of the Board, Dr. Walter Jayasinghe, and the President/CEO, Dr. Dishan Jayasinha, instilled in the audience their deep commitment to the event’s purpose and set the stage for the outstanding awardees, which were to follow.

While the event centered on the awardees, the entertainment was as sensational as ever. The event began with a spectacular traditional welcome dance featuring Umendra Kahandawarachchi, Nirosha Wijegunasekare, and Akila Palipana from the SLF Academy of Performing Arts. Then, the elegant fashion show (produced and choreographed by Achala Weerasinghe, SLF Director of Cultural Affairs) featured stunning outfits created by the famous Sri Lankan designers Shanith Fernando and Hiran Wijesekara and beauty pageant title holders from the USA.

The entertainment continued with a stand-out performance from Talin Silva, an opera performance by the world-renowned soprano singer Tharanga Goonetilleke, and fabulous music by Tony Samara.

Most importantly, the event celebrated the following awardees in seven distinct categories:

For a lifetime of outstanding excellence and recognition at an international level Prof. Nimal Rajapakse, Prof. Ajit Yoganathan, Prof. Asgerally Fazleabas, Prof. Patrick Mendis, Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi, Prof. Tissa Illangasekare, Dr. Yasantha Rajakarunanayake, Venerable Henepola Gunaratna, late Desmond De Silva, and late Donald Karunaratna received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dr. Hasini Jayatilaka and Prof Sharika Thiranagama received the Exceptional Achievement Award for their exemplary achievements in their field.

For their outstanding performances, Amith Boteju, Talin Silva, Rukshan De Silva, and Hiruni Wijerathna received the Outstanding Performance by a Young Professional Award.

For their ongoing exceptional growth and achievements in their profession Dr. Sumudu Herath Mudiyanselage, Dr. Zainab Ifthikar, and Mathew Abeysinghe received the Rising Star Award.

For his excellence in community service and role model Ashley Ashan Palipana was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Junior Award.

The Srimerican of the Year Award was presented to Keith Ranga for his contribution to the betterment of the Sri Lankan community.

The President’s Award was presented to Priyalal Kurera for his exceptional philanthropic services to the Sri Lankan American community and his motherland, Sri Lanka.

The Outstanding Community Service Award was presented to Prof. Deepthi Jayasekare and Prof. Dushyantha Jayaweera for their life-saving support extended to our communities worldwide, especially during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

As you know, the winners were nominated by individuals just like you. You can visit our website for more information on how to nominate a well-deserved Sri Lankan expatriate who has made a difference to humanity.

SLF Int, USA 2022 Srimerican of the Year Award Keith Ranga for his Excellence as an Artist, Humanitarian Services and Community Leadership

Keith Ranga was born in Sri Lanka and emigrated to the U.S. in 1992. He attended the college of De. Mazenod in Kandana, Sri Lanka. Keith Ranga began his acting career at 14 years old in an independent movie in Sri Lanka followed by two additional before moving to the U.S.

Keith Ranga has made a measurable impact in the past 20 years of his life with his dedication to the Sri Lankan American community as a passionate advocate to provide his humanitarian services and promote culture.

In 2006 he was elected to be the President of the Sri Lanka America Association in Southern California. He immediately stepped in to his role by evaluating the needs of our community and established a net working system with his executive committee to reach out to families that needed assistance in professional or personal matters. By providing this service he connected with so many families in Sri Lankan community and provided very valuable services.

In 2006 Keith Ranga organized the very first Cultural Show for Sri Lanka Independence Day collaborating with the Consul General of Sri Lanka, about 100 performers took part which was witnessed by hundreds of foreign diplomats and a large crowd of people from our community. He planted a very valuable seed that day to lay the groundwork for something that developed and expanded in to an annual event to celebrate Sri Lanka Independence Day. 
2006 Keith Ranga took the leadership to organize the very first “Parade of Lanka” at the Santa Monica Promenade which was hosted by the Sri Lanka Foundation International, USA which was viewed by over hundred thousand people. In 2007 Keith Ranga coordinated the very first “Ranwan Reyek” production to introduce the Sinhala Cinema to the new Sri Lankan American younger generation. These productions provided an opportunity to many young Sri Lankan American kids to be involved in Los Angeles. Also in 2007 he organized the Tea Expo collaborated with the Sri Lankan Consulate office in Los Angeles to promote Sri Lankan Buddhist Temples in Los Angeles, supported many Sri Lanka social and cultural events by volunteering his services.

2017 Keith Ranga took the leadership to showcase the “Parade of Lanka” in the Rose Parade route in Pasadena at the Sri Lanka day which now has become the main attraction of the Sri Lanka Day anticipated by the local community. 2018 he took the leadership to organize the 70 years of Independence Day event held at UCLA. In 2019 Keith Ranga cast as a lead actor for two upcoming Sinhala productions which will be shown in Los Angeles. He also took a role as a producer and has brought many actors over to US and offered accommodation, food and transportation to provide opportunities for them to be successful in a foreign country.

He has received the following Awards, “Young Sri Lankan Artist Award 2018” presented by the Los Angeles Ranwa Reyek Foundation for his extraordinary contribution for the Sri Lanka Cinema, “Promoting Sri Lanka Culture Appreciation Award” presented by the Sri Lanka Foundation International in Los Angeles for his valuable services in organizing and conducting the “Parade of Lanka” on Sri Lanka Day 2017, “Leadership Award” from the Sri Lanka America Association in 2013, “Certificate of Appreciation” presented by the Consul General of Sri Lanka in 2011 for his services rendered towards the community, Certificate of Appreciation presented for his excellent leadership qualities by the Sri Lanka America Association in 2005-2006 , Top “Salesman of the Year 2017” by Colonial Life Insurance Company.

Keith Ranga has truly inspired people to become more involved in the community, reached out to those who are not as privileged as others and share his talents with those around in order to make a positive change in our community and to the entire world.

SLF Int, USA Outstanding Community Service Award SLF Int, USA Prof. Deepthi Jayasekera For his Excellence as an Infectious Disease Specialist in Covid Guidelines, Vaccines, Therapeutics and Community Service

Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Dr Deepthi Jayasekara attended Ananda College, Colombo from 1970-1982. He was a College Prefect, a member of Ananda orchestra (Ananda Udawa) in vocals and violin, a Boy Scout and a member of English/Sinhalese debating teams. Having graduated in 1982 with highest Advanced level results 4 A’s, he received the prestigious Thomas Amarasuriya academic award and a Mahapola academic scholarship for medical school.

Dr Jayasekara graduated from the prestigious Colombo Medical Faculty, University of Colombo with honors in Human Physiology and pharmacology. He played music for the medical students’ band called “Medix” which topped Sri Lankan music charts many times. He subsequently completed his internship at National Hospital of Colombo in General Medicine and Surgery. Dr Jayasekara migrated to USA in 1995 to pursue a post-doc research fellowship in HIV and clinical pharmacology at UCSF (University of California, San Francisco). While conducting research and juggling a young family, he applied and got into an Internal Medicine residency at USC-Los Angeles County hospital in 1997. He pursued a fellowship in Infectious Diseases 2000-2002;, published and conducted research in HIV, Tuberculosis and CMV retinitis at USC.

Presently Dr Jayasekara works as a consultant physician and Infectious Disease specialist at Emanate Health hospitals (Queen of the Valley and Inter-community), Arcadia Methodist, San Dimas and Kindred hospitals. Additionally, he is in a partnership of multiple Infectious Disease doctors called Foothill Infectious Diseases Group and Infusion Center in Claremont, California. He also serves as a regular member of leadership committees and has been championing hospital protocols such as sepsis, pneumonia, Covid-19 vaccines and treatment protocols over 20 years. Dr Jayasekara and Foothill ID specialists have been involved in the care of over 25000 patients with Covid-19 per hospital statistics during the 6 waves of the current Covid pandemic. He was chosen to deliver the first ever educational webinar to the hospital staff on Covid-19 vaccines in Nov 2020 before the MRNA vaccines were rolled out. He’s currently the chair of Internal Medicine at Emanate hospitals and the chair of Infectious Diseases at Emanate and San Dimas Hospitals.

The Emanate health organization honored him with a prestigious award for the work he has done with the pandemic in June 2022. Dr Jayasekara has thus far authored 10 newspaper articles on Covid-19 in Los Angeles, providing much-needed insight of the ongoing Covid policy changes and new therapeutics and vaccines. A regular CME speaker for the doctors and hospital staff on various subjects related to ID, Dr Jayasekara has delivered over 100 Continuing Medical Education (CME)lectures on subjects like Sepsis, Covid-19, New antibiotics in the pipeline, HIV, Diabetic infections, Transplant-related infections, hospital-acquired infections and more recently Monkeypox 2022 epidemic. He is also on speaker panels of few pharmaceutical companies like Allergan, Melinta, AbbVie, Tetraphase pharmaceuticals on various new antibiotics and on advisory board of probiotic company, Ferring. Dr Jayasekara is quite passionate about teaching his medical students from Western and Touro medical schools in California while serving as a clinical professor. He has published many scientific papers with those universities and Emanate hospitals especially during Covid period. Furthermore, he has delivered many academic lectures at various Sri Lankan organizations in Colombo such as Sri Lanka Medical Associatiom (SLMA), College of Physicians, College of Surgeons, College of Microbiologists, Faculty of Kotalawala Medical faculty, Nawaloka hospital critical care etc.

Dr Jayasekara is an active member of professional Sri Lankan organizations like SLMANA West, Ananda OBA West (ACOBA) and Sri Lanka Foundation and is currently serving on the boards (BOD)of those organizations. He served as the President of Ananda College Old Boys Association (ACOBA) West and Vice President of Sri Lanka Medical Association North America (SLMANA) West a few years ago. He is currently the Medical Director of Sri Lanka Foundation International, USA and has conducted many educational webinars on Evolution of Covid-19 pandemic, Covid vaccines, new Covid-treatments, CDC protocols etc. Spearheaded many charity projects related to Covid-19 pandemic including projects related to Colombo National hospital, IDH, and many outstation hospitals in Sri Lanka helping them in purchasing many equipment including much-needed ICU beds, ventilators, BIPAP and High Flow respiratory machines, surgical consumables etc. He also collaborated a landmark scientific paper with the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka which helped Sri Lankan Covid task force during many waves of Covid pandemic that devastated the country.

Dr Jayasekara is quite passionate about travel, Cricket and Basketball and is also known in our comminity as a vocalist and a multi-instrumentalist (violin, Piano, Keyboards, and drums) playing for few bands like Medix, Heartbeat, Emanate Hospital band etc. He lives in Glendora, California with his wife Roshani and their 2 children Arindra and Avishka. Arindra is a second-year neurology resident and Avishka, a recent graduate from USC Neuroscience and health policy.

SLF Int, USA 2022 Outstanding Community Service Award Prof. Dushyantha Jayaweera For his Excellence in Research and Clinical Work in HIV/HCV & Covid-19 Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Work

Dr. Jayaweera received his M.D. degree from Sri Lanka and trained in medicine in Sri Lanka, Great Britain, and Loyola University of Chicago. In 1992, he came to the University of Miami after serving as senior registrar at Birmingham University in the United Kingdom.

He began his work in Miami on HIV and infectious diseases and worked with the inner-city minority population infected with HIV while there and helping others. He believes that “we must place others’ interests above our own,” which makes a better place to live and benefits all. His focus has been on research that is centered on understanding the factors that impact communities of color and minorities, which have been long ignored, and finding solutions to improve their health outcomes. Even his research has pivoted depending upon the needs of the community. He was frequently teaching and speaking about HIV prevention and education in inner-city black churches.

His passion has been working in disaster relief. His first international mission was to Honduras when hurricane Mitch devastated the country in October 1998. The University of Miami sent a team with Dr. Jayaweera, and they provided medical care and delivered essential items such as medications donated by the University of Miami to the people in Tegucigalpa and La Lima. They spent a week helping the population affected by banana plantations in La Lima and saw hundreds of patients each day.

In 2010, Haiti was affected by an unprecedented earthquake with More than 50,000 homes were destroyed, another 77,000 damaged, and 220,000 people died. The University of Miami sprang into action and led the medical mission called “Project Medishare,” supported by some of the health systems in the US and donors. Dr. Jayaweera was there on the second week of the medical mission, setting up the field hospital and sleeping in makeshift tents. He was the chief medical officer, managing a large operation of 200 healthcare workers where thousands of patients were treated daily for trauma and other medical conditions. They set up two operating rooms and an ICU in a field hospital. As the International Director of the Rotary Club of Dade Land and Pinecrest Rotary (from 2002-2014), He was responsible, with other members, for providing community service in many countries. He raised funds for Nepal after the earthquake in April 2015. They raised close to $ 20,000.

As a member of the Rotary club his main contribution was to disaster relief in Sri Lanka after the Tsunami in December 2004. After the tsunami, it was found that the OBGYN unit at Galle hospital was completely destroyed. Dr. Jayaweera and the Rotary Club of Pinecrest and Dade Land collected money from all the Florida clubs and, with matching grants from Rotary International, donated close to $200,000.00 to the hospital to buy all the equipment for the clinic. He visited Sri Lanka and made sure that all the activities planned were executed as designed. Furthermore, with the help of Palmer Trinity School in Miami, he helped to repair a school in Galle, Sri Lanka. Even this year When COVID pandemic affected Sri Lanka, he started working with the Colombo Medical School and other leaders in Colombo to come up with plans to obtain essential items for patient care in Sri Lanka. He worked with SLF very closely in fund raising and education. He managed to work with the Sri Lanka diaspora in FL to raise funds for COVID relief efforts and these were transferred via Rotary club.

In 2012, he was appointed Associate Vice Provost for Human Subject Research, overseeing the activities of the ethics committees and serving as a liaison between these committees and senior institutional leadership. He spearheaded the accreditation of the university’s human research protection program by the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs in the US. He was also instrumental in the creation or revision of a variety of policies and practices to increase compliance while partnering with investigators to address their concerns.

Dr. Jayaweera was appointed as the Executive Dean for Research and Research Education for the Miller School of Medicine in September 2015. He was the Associate Vice Provost for Human Subject Protection prior to this appointment. Dr. Jayaweera has over 20 years of experience with HIV and serves as the Director of the HIV/HCV co-infection clinic. He has received grant support from the National Institutes of Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and the National Science Foundation. Dr. Jayaweera has led and continues to lead numerous industry-funded trials on HIV and HIV/HCV confections and has published more than 100 peer-reviewed research articles and 120 conference abstracts while maintaining a clinical practice and serving the UM research community. Additionally, he serves the larger South Florida community as an AIDS educator and is a senior faculty member of the AIDS Education and Training Center. Dr. Jayaweera has been involved in emerging infections. He started working on HIV at the beginning of the pandemic and hepatitis C in 2000, Zika in 2018 and COVID 19 in 2020. Over the last 20 years, he has received research funding for all these diseases. He was the principal investigator for the University of Miami funded by the NIH on the Janssen vaccine, convalescent plasma for inpatients and ACTOV-6 platform studies.

SLF Int, USA President’s Award Winner 
Priyalal Kurera For his Excellence in Exceptional Philanthropic Services 
to the betterment of the Sri Lankan community

Emperor Marcus Azuelius of Rome honored his Greatest General of Rome, the “Spaniard” – Maximus Decimus Meridus with “Coat of Arms” for his great victories for Rome. Roman Gladiator Maximus was born on 4th August 152 AD. The name Maximus and “Coat of Arms” has been carried on continuously by his descendents after his death, for 256 generations. The present direct descendent Maximus Priyalal Kurera was also born on 4th August in Portuguese named Capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo in 1952. Maximus Priyalal always does the “Maximum” in whichever project he handles. Married to Lasanthi of the “Fernando” Brigade, He sired two great warriors Devinda and Thivantha who are doing great, in their respective field of professions. Maximus Priyalal and family conquered the American Spirit at the age of 28 when they set foot on this land of Opportunity in 1980. Priyalal, albeit did not lose the Sri Lankan “Touch” and “Sense” as he was, closely involved with all heritage “Islanders” and their activities like a duck to water. He obtained a degree from Cal poly Pomona and was an IRS agent for the next 30 years and started two Montessori schools with Lasanthi. He is blessed with 5 grandchildren.

The Sri Lankan Community in the early 90’s was yearning for cultural entertainment to be called their own. Priyalal with his close associates and cultural maestro Ananda Markalanda brought in the first batch of Lankan Singers and Dancers in collaboration with Sri Lanka America Association to plant the seed of Lankan culture in So Cal. Many moons after, Sri Lanka Foundation started its own “Sri Lanka Day” in bringing in beautiful Sri Lankan talent in So Cal to the fore. The Serendib style culture was showcased at real time with some outstanding Choreography as seen, in the domain of classical arts in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Foundation brainstormed and wanted a different dimension to the “Sri Lanka Day Pageant Parade” at the World Famous Rose Parade route in Pasadena with decorated floats depicting the culture of island paradise. The only gladiator, who could conquer the enormous task with pin point logistics, was none other than Maximus Priyalal Kurera. He marshaled his troops, visited Temples, motivated other organizations to give that spectacular value addition with some riot of color, decorative floats depicting the culture and the beauty of Sri Lanka to the great amazement of the spectators who’s spontaneous reaction was “Wow”.!

Another project which he gave his full commitment was to the “Ranaviru Housing for Soldiers” spearheaded by Dr Mohan Kumararatne. Priyalal was the Chief Tax Collector, meeting and convincing the community, to dig deep into their pockets in helping the deserved soldiers who were, at that time fighting for Lanka’s Sovereignty in the jungles of Wanni. A thumping US$ 256,000 was collected. The Housing Project was later opened in Anuradhapura. When it came to a stalwart of the Community in dire straits, suffering from Cancer and his family helplessly looking for some consolation, Maximus Priyalal took up the challenge and organized a fund raising dinner at his palatial home in Walnut and was instrumental, in handing over $25,000 collection to the then President of Thomian Alumni of Los Angeles, to be handed over to the recipient. Priyalal is a unique personality who always tries to help individuals in distress and is considered to be a true Son of Sri Lanka even living thousands of miles away from the Indian Ocean.

A Christian by birth, Priyalal Kurera was one of the leading donors in designing, obtaining all approvals from the city council, getting the license of a General Contractor, using his workforce in constructing the La Puente Buddhist temple. He is very much involved in Buddhists activities and is a friend of almost all the Venerable Buddhist priests of Southern California. His latest project is to get the “System Change” in the land of birth and lead a “Committee of Seven” in trying to bring some sanity to the highly corrupt political set up by bringing in educated and honest politicians to Sri Lankan Parliament. General Colin Powel once said quote “A dream doesn’t become a reality through magic; It takes Sweat, Determination and Hard Work” unquote. It’s that Gladiator Maximus Priyalal Kurera who is rewarded with the “Presidential Award “from the prestigious Sri Lanka Foundation.

SLF Int, USA Outstanding Achievement By A Young Professional Hiruni Wijerathna for Her Excellence as the Fastest South Asian Marathoner and Champion in Long Distance Running

Hiruni Wijeratha, South Asia’s fastest female marathoner, a 29 year old, Sri Lankan-American Champion, a long distance running athlete who has kept the Lion Flag flying high victoriously before the world many times.

Born in Kirulapone, Sri Lanka, Hiruni attended St. Bridget’s Convent, where she began her journey as an athlete. Even though her athlete career blossomed in the U.S, her gleaming desire was to compete as a Sri Lankan athlete. In order to represent the Sri Lankan Sports Selection Committee, she ran her first Marathon in which she shattered the previous national records. Today, she is the South Asia’s Fastest Female Marathoner. She is also the first Sri Lankan to qualify for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athletic Championship.

Marathoner Hiruni Wijayaratne clocked 2 hours 43 minutes and 31 seconds in the Eugene Marathon when she crossed the finish line as first female and 11th overall in the 2017 edition of the Marathon. Doing so, Hiruni Achieved the qualification standards for the IAAF World Championship Marathon which is 2:45.00 .She was the first and only female athlete to qualify for the world championship in 2019 from Sri Lanka. Hiruni who lives in USA, moved thereafter spending first nine years of her life in Sri Lanka. She has been running Marathon for several years. Hiruni is now the fastest female marathoner in Sri Lanka as well as in South Asia. She holds these both records with the timing of 2:34:10.

Hiruni Wijayaratne, who currently takes credit for multiple National records in the long distance and marathon form of running, road and track, is a professional athlete residing in the USA. However, she fully represents Sri Lanka in all professional meets and in such an event, Wijayaratne has managed to achieve another milestone in her career.

Although there are no competition or tracked records kept on  Road Running competitions, the new timings recorded by Hiruni will renew her Personal Best Timings as well as challenge a track record that has stood for 16 years.

Hiruni is a fierce competitor. She holds 10 National Records for Sri Lanka, a marathon personal best of 2:36, and a passion for chasing her goals and helping others do the same. It doesn’t stop there, Hiruni brings her game to the office too, where she has taken over as the Business Development and Sales Lead, but she does so much more than that.

Hiruni is also one of the best world-class coaches, and enjoys answering questions and sharing her experience as both coach and athlete to inspire others to achieve their dreams.

SLF Int, USA 2022 Rising Star Award Winner Sumudu Herath Mudiyanselage For his Excellence in Civil Engineering, Machine Learning in Homogenization and Design of Technical Textiles for Space Structure

Sumudu Herath Mudiyansalage is a student of Royal College, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Soon before his school graduation in 2010, he was ranked second in the country for GCE AL examination in physical science stream. After he completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka, he was awarded a prestigious Cambridge Trust Scholarship to pursue his doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge. Further, he bypassed the Master’s degree requirement due to his exceptional performance in Bachelor’s degree.

He received the Gold Medal for the Most outstanding graduand in both academic and extra-curricular activities of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Moratuwa. In addition, he was awarded the Gold Medal for the first rank in Civil Engineering where he achieved a record-breaking GPA of 4.12(/4.20) which remains the highest in department history. At the same convocation, he received 11 more awards for all-round excellence. Some of his awards during his life at University of Moratuwa include: Dean’s List for obtaining Grade Point Average (GPA) above 3.8 in all academic semesters; National Prize for Enterprise Strategy (E3) in May 2012 CIMA exams (World rank 95); National Prize for Corporate Reporting (P2) in June 2013 in the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) exams (World rank 7), Poh Scholarship recipient (out of 40,000 students).

Sumudu’s doctoral thesis contains his original research works of machine learning in homogenization and design of technical textiles for space structures at the University of Cambridge. His collaborations with NUS, Singapore and Cambridge, UK has led him to publish his works in high impact internationally peer-reviewed journals and conferences. To date, Sumudu is a co-author of more than twenty such scientific publications. Sumudu currently is a visiting professor at the TU Darmstadt where he looks at novel ways of simulating material systems using various statistical techniques.

He is very involved with the Sri Lankan community by: volunteering as a mentor for undergraduate students on their research and career prospects, advisor on foreign higher study opportunities for budding engineers from Sri Lankan Universities, mentor of the Sustainable Education Foundation (SEF), a non-profit organization to improve the quality of education in Sri Lanka.

SLF Int, USA 2022 Rising Star Award Winner Mathew Abeysinghe “Swimming Star” For his Excellence as the Greatest Swimmer and the most Accomplished Athlete

Matthew Duncan Abeysinghe, born 19 March 1996 is a competitive swimmer who has represented Sri Lanka at numerous international competitions. Abeysinghe trained under his coach and father, Manoj Abeysinghe, with Killer Whale Aquatics, until his departure for higher education, where he resumed his training at Ohio State University in the US. Abeysinghe is regarded as the greatest swimmer and one of the most accomplished athletes Sri Lanka has ever produced.

Abeysinghe started swimming when he was three years old alongside his older brother, Andrew. He has been quoted, saying he started swimming merely for water safety, not to compete. Over the course of his career, Abeysinghe has achieved numerous accolades, including; international medals, national records, national championships, and several national awards. Abeysinghe is considered the greatest athlete in South Asian Games history. He is also the most decorated; winning a total of 14 gold medals, two silver medals, and one bronze medal. In Freestyle, his most proficient stroke, Abeysinghe holds all of the national records except for the 200m Freestyle, which belongs to his younger brother, Kyle. He also holds the South Asian record in the 100m and 200m Freestyle events.

Abeysinghe’s first time representing Sri Lanka was at 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India. There he broke the national record in the 400m Freestyle, previously held by Julian Bolling and became the youngest male swimmer to be selected to the national team. Later on that year, he competed at the 2010 FINA World Swimming Championships in Dubai. In 2011, Abeysinghe represented Sri Lanka three times; at the 2011 World Aquatics Championships, the 2011 Youth Commonwealth Games, in the Isle of Man, making it to the finals of the 400m Freestyle, and Asian Age Group Swimming Championships, where he won the silver medal in 100m Freestyle. In 2012 Abeysinghe competed at the 2012 FINA World Swimming Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. The next year, Abeysinghe competed at the 2013 Asian Youth Games, where he won the bronze medal in the 100m Freestyle, becoming the first Sri Lankan to win a medal at an Asian Games event.

In 2014, at the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics, Abeysinghe competed in the 100m Freestyle. After setting a national record in prelims, he advanced to the semi-final, where he raced amongst the likes of future Olympians; Duncan Scott and Kyle Chalmers.

Later on, he represented Sri Lanka at the 2014 FINA World Swimming Championships in Doha, Qatar. He also competed in the 2014 Asian Indoor Athletics Championships in Seoul, Korea. In 2015, Abeysinghe competed at the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia. Early on in 2016, Abeysinghe was struggling to reach the Olympic qualifying time in the 100m freestyle. Finally, in Hong Kong, Abeysinghe was able to achieve the “B” qualifying time, becoming the first and only Sri Lankan swimmer, and one of few athletes, to achieve this feat up to that point (his younger brother, Kyle, managed to surpass this mark later on). Abeysinghe competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, alongside fellow swimming star, Kimiko Raheem. He competed in the 100m Freestyle, with a time of 50.96, slower than he had previously swum in Hong Kong. He placed third in his heat.

In early 2017, Abeysinghe moved to the US to attend Ohio State University. There he resumed training, after a prolonged leg injury in late 2016. At the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, Abeysinghe was a part of the 4×100 Freestyle relay for Sri Lanka. Alongside him was his younger brother Kyle, Akalanka Pieris and Cherantha De Silva. Together, they became the first Sri Lankan team to make finals at the Commonwealth Games. At the Games, he also competed in the 50m and 100m Freestyle, qualifying for the semi-final in the latter. There he competed against the likes of Cameron McEvoy, Chad Le Clos, and Benjamin Proud. He also became the first Sri Lankan to break the “50-second” barrier.

Matthew continued his glory at the South Asian platform winning 7 gold and silver in the 2019 South Asian Games held in Kathmandu Nepal.

SLF Int, USA 2022 Rising Star Award Winner Dr Zainab Ifthikar For her Excellence in Philanthropic Endeavors anD Academic Achievement

Zainab Ifthikar is passionate about medicine, and through her ongoing efforts, she wants to serve many underprivileged communities across the world. Moving to Saudi Arabia (where Zainab was born), she and her family have not forgotten their Sri Lankan roots. They constantly support the country at any time of need, through their organization, the MEI Foundation. She was only 16 year’s old when she launched an awareness program on acute kidney diseases prevailing in the North Central Province of her native country, Sri Lanka.

Ifthikar fell in love with the magnificence of human biology. She says, “the adrenaline rush of understanding the mind-boggling intricacy of how we function is just inexplicable; like finally, everything made sense in the world.” She is also a people’s person, and enjoys interacting with others, expanding her network, and helping those around her. Hence, she wanted to choose a career that would both fuel her knowledge whilst also merging her people skills and interest in community service.

Even after joining medicine, she continued to be an active person by partaking in all college activities. This was possible because of her medical school- Alfaisal University, and its unique structure. They provide medical students with an unmatchable range of extracurricular activities through the Alfaisal Medical Student’s Association (MSA). Zainab has participated in several MSA activities over the years; most recently serving as the director of Med Times (2021-2022), the esteemed Alfaisal College of Medicine magazine, which is made from cover to cover by their medical students.

In 2015, Ifthikar published her first book about poverty, titled “Poverty Is Not Passivity,” intended to bring out the emotions that lie behind the turmoil of poverty. Her second book was published in 2019 titled “Panacea Is Possible” and was directed towards water contamination in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka.

She founded the MEI Foundation in 2016, an NGO based in Kandy, with the vision to motivate, encourage, and inspire individuals to join hands in uplifting the underprivileged. Ever since, she has been doing small projects solely supported by her parents, family, and friends. She wishes to continue doing her philanthropic endeavors alongside her profession. 
In July 2021, Ifthikar was selected as the winner of the “Women’s Achievement Award 2021” by McKinsey & Company (a world-renowned consulting firm based in the US and operates in over 65 countries). She was selected for the award based on her two published books as well as her community services through the NGO she founded in Sri Lanka.

Ifthikar was also one of the master of ceremonies for her medical school graduation, carrying forth the honor of representing the batch at the ceremony held at Alfaisal University College of Medicine, Riyadh in May 2022 under the distinguished patronage of HRH Prince Turky Alfaisal.

Zainab intends to pursue a a career in Internal Medicine, whilst continuing her passion for writing and community service.

Med Times at Alfaisal University is headed by a Sri Lanka intern – Colombo Times

SLF Int, USA Outstanding Performance By a Young Professional Award Winner Rukshan Henry De Silva for his excellence as a Principal Planner, Building Communities and the Environment.

Rukshan De Silva, The Waterloo alumnus, was named Australian Young Planner of the Year, recognising emerging leaders for outstanding contributions to their field. Among Rukshan’s many achievements, Planning Institute Australia lauded his commitment to innovation in the workplace, his collaboration with communities and government planners, and his volunteer contributions, including strategic land use planning in Peru and involvement with PIA’s National Settlement Strategy Team. 

Rukshan currently works as a principal planner at the New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment, where he’s leading the design of Australia’s most extensive ski town.

Rukshan has always been a community man — volunteering his time to give back to his community in any way he can — something that’s continued since his elementary school days. Growing up, he was also very creative and interested in design. Put design and community together, and that’s the sweet spot, so designing communities for a living was the perfect fit for him.

The University of Waterloo’s co-op program was a standout and a strong influencer on his decision to choose Waterloo. Of course, it helped that his elder brother was also studying at Waterloo at the time, but co-op was why he decided on Waterloo too.

He had four co-op terms and cherished each of them very much – a mix of public sector and private sector, and one that he went on to work at full-time as soon as he finished his degree at Waterloo. That said, my first co-op was particularly special – he interned at a design firm called Hassell in Sydney, Australia, which was an exciting overseas experience for a second-year planning student. He wrote all my final exams early, allowing him to spend a month travelling across the country and four months of exciting urban design work. He loved Sydney so much that I decided to move back in 2017. It’s been two years (and counting…), and he loves each day even more than the last.

Rukshan was fortunate to have had the exciting opportunity of volunteering as an urban planner in rural Peru on two missions over the past two years with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities through their Sustainable and Inclusive Communities in Latin America program. The program aimed to empower and strengthen the capacity of four rural regions of Peru and Colombia that were influenced by mining activity. While mining had resulted in much foreign investment in these areas over time, economic benefits were unevenly distributed, and communities near the mines experienced a range of social, environmental and political consequences. His role was to provide peer-to-peer technical assistance to municipal politicians and planners in these communities to assist with capacity building, knowledge sharing and experiential learning. The experience was nothing short of rewarding for him and something he will always cherish. 

He doesn’t think there’s a single answer to this question, and that’s because every community is different — they have different values, needs, and aspirations for how they want to grow in the future. So, as planners, we need to understand what makes each community unique instead of applying a cookie-cutter approach — the local character of a community and the story of its past are absolutely part of its future.

That said, planning provides people with choices — choices for where they live, work, play and shop; options for what types of homes they live in; choices for how they move. And by providing these choices as urban planners, we’re really in a position to impact people’s lives positively. We want the communities we plan to be livable, accessible and socially inclusive places for everyone, regardless of age or ability. We also want our communities to be healthy, environmentally sustainable and resilient to climate change and economic downturns. And we want our communities to be adaptable to a future that we’re not always able to predict. 

But with that growth comes a demand for planners. It’s our job to manage that growth — not only how much we grow, but how we grow. We must consider how growth is sustainably distributed across our communities and how that growth is supported by investment in infrastructure, public transport, affordable housing, parklands, social infrastructure, and the like. We must ensure that our communities remain livable as they grow. I know I’m biased, but it’s an exciting future ahead of us, and planners are leading the way into a new frontier.