An exceptional being who sees the beauty in life, Stephanie Siriwardhana

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Stephanie Siriwardhana is a truly inspiring humanitarian. She is a multi talented individual who seeks to accomplish herself in a variety of fields. Instead of simply testing the deep waters she prefers to plunge herself into those deep murky depths in order to constantly challenge herself in life. She graduated in June 2011 from Concordia University, Montreal with a Specialization in Journalism and Communication and with a minor in Political Science. There onwards she represented Sri Lanka in the Miss. Universe Beauty Pageant 2011 after winning the local competition. She is not only an accomplished singer but also excels in Latin dancing as well. Moreover, she is a highly active social worker who executes several charity projects in order to help those who are marginalized from the society for various reasons. She has also set up the Stephanie Siriwardhana Foundation which works to Empower, Inspire and Educate women, youth and children.


1. Can you tell me a little about yourself? You are a multi talented person so how would you describe yourself?

Well, I believe I’m a passionate person who is extremely curious about many things. I really enjoy getting involved in lots of different things. I’d also like to consider myself an optimist as I normally have a very positive outlook towards life. I believe in the magic in life! Lol I also have to say that I’m someone who really loves to eat!

2. What are you working on these days?

Well, right now I am working on setting up a transitional shelter for sexually abused young girls, where they can get psycho-social counseling, vocational training and loads of love from my foundation (the Stephanie Siriwardhana Foundation).  I really want to complete it by the end of this year. I’ve been working on it for quite a while and now I’m much closer to realizing it!

Also, I host events and have done things like the Sri Lanka Premiere League, Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting, Youth Forum opening ceremony, corporate events and TV shows like the Sirasa Superstar. I’m also helping out at a new concert, “Shreya Ghoshal” which is presented by Hiru TV and Studio 48. In addition, I am working on some music as it has always been a secret passion of mine!

I do quite a bit of social work and projects which work mainly with youth empowerment, prevention of drug abuse among youth as well as women’s affairs, specifically with sexually abused young girls. People consider me as a model but the truth is I’ve only walked about three or four times and they were all mostly for charity events and of course the Miss Universe Pageant lol!

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3. What motivates you in life to work in so many different spheres?

Well I grew up with my mom and dad who always encouraged me to constantly do whatever I love and am passionate about. My mum always told me “Steph have the courage to try out different things in life and have the courage to be different!” So the best way to see whether it works for you is to throw yourself into the sea and try to swim….or drown trying lol. At the end of the day if you put yourself in a position where you ask yourself the “what if” questions and wonder how things would or could have been different “if” you had pursued something you love doing or had the courage to do something differently, these questions can even kill you. So in my opinion it’s always better to simply do it. That way even if it doesn’t work out for you, you won’t feel any regret because you actually took the chance to do it.

I think this outlook towards life took a sudden boost within me when I had a very close life and death experience when I was 21 years old. It really showed me how brief and fragile life can be and the fact that it is always better to have little to no regrets when you reach the time of your death, because it is honestly the worst feeling when you’re there in reality. I think many people don’t do various things they are passionate about simply because they are scared. So one question I’d really like you (the reader) to ask yourself is, “what would you do if you were not scared?”

I mean, the possibilities are endless. Do you want to be an artist? Do you want to be a musician? Do you want to be a Nobel Peace Prize winner? Do you want to be an actress? Do you want to be a Grammy Award winner? I truly believe all these things are possible and accessible. Life is full of possibilities and I firmly believe that any goal is reachable. So don’t be afraid and do what you love (even though it might seem impossible) and who knows, you might end up being pleasantly surprised!


4. From your university days you were highly involved in extracurricular activities and social activism. So what bought you from that sphere to beauty pageants? 

It was my Mother who initiated it! I had just graduated and arrived to Sri Lanka on a holiday. I have been a dancer since I was 17 and was part of a troupe for San Tropez. So, we travelled around North America and the Caribbean performing. As a result, when I was visiting Sri Lanka I started teaching a few classes. One day, when I came back home from a class my Mother was like, “Guess what I did!” and then she exclaims, “I entered you in the Miss. Sri Lanka pageant and you got selected into the top 100!”

I’ve always considered myself an academic and now I am actually embarrassed to admit the fact that, when my mom said that, I had also believed in the social stereotypes about beauty queens.  However I’ve realized through my journey in both the local and international Miss Universe pageant that it is not the case at all. They are so much more than what the media portrays them to be. Most of them are such intelligent and driven women who are also socially responsible. It takes so much dedication, sacrifice and hard work in order to be where they are and regardless of their other achievements, all we see is them blowing kisses and waving. So that’s precisely why these stereotypes exist. However as I’ve mentioned before they are so much more than that!


5. Can you tell me about some unforgettable experiences which you can share with us, when you represented Sri Lanka at the Miss Universe pageant 2011?

Every moment was memorable. When I actually won in the local pageant I couldn’t believe it because I really did not expect to win. I was still clapping when they said my name and I felt so humbled by the whole experience.

During the international pageant I met all these girls from so many different countries. As I’ve studied political science I saw the geopolitics working out even at something like a Beauty pageant. It was very interesting to see the dynamics and I certainly loved every moment of it. It was a fabulous experience as it was held in Brazil and as a dancer, I love Samba. It’s so hard to really pick one amazing moment because there were so many of them. However if I really had to, meeting all these girls is definitely the best experience.


6. What are your personal interests and favorite leisure time activities?

It is actually very rare that I have any leisure time but when I do have some I’d like to watch movies or read a good book. I think I haven’t been doing enough reading because of my busy schedule these days. I actually have a whole bunch of amazing books which I got from Switzerland because I just came back from the World Economic Forum Annual meeting which was held at Davos-Klosters and still haven’t opened most of them!

7. Can you tell me about your experience at the World Economic Forum Annual meeting 2015?

It was a huge event and I felt really honored to be selected as one of the 50 youth worldwide, part of the global shapers community, to participate. I got to meet so many fabulous people like the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway, CEO of Google and Yahoo and the world’s first female astronaut whom I was sitting beside at dinner! The creator of the internet and Wikipedia were also both there. I facilitated a session with the crown princess of Norway HRH Princess Mette-Marit and one of the projects which I am hoping to bring into the shelters is the Dignity project started by the crown Prince of Norway HRH Prince Hakoon. It was certainly an amazing experience!

I have never been a person who keeps pictures of idols in their rooms but I love Andrea Bocelli. So my heart was literary pounding when I actually got the chance to meet him and hear him sing!

I also met, from the hip hop group The Black Eyed Peas and he is a fabulous human being. He actually has a great program where he works with children in the neighborhood he grew up in and teaches them robotics, technology and coding etc.

I learnt a lot and I am the first youth from Sri Lanka to go to Davos and participate. All in all, it was a fabulous experience.

Also, I should mention the fact that I wasn’t expecting it! I had applied a few minutes before the deadline in a hurry so I never expected to get chosen. That is the beauty of life. I think the more you live your life to the fullest, these amazing opportunities that you cannot even imagine suddenly happen to you!

8. Who are your personal role models and those who greatly inspire you?

Firstly, I have to say my parents because they are such wonderful human beings who are so optimistic and truly believe in the miracles of life. They work hard, are dedicated and passionate about what they do, always function from a position of love and have always pushed me and supported me in everything I’ve done. They are the reason I am who I am today. Thank you mum and dad! I love them loads!

One of the people who has also really inspired me is Craig Kielburger from Free The Children. He started his own foundation at the very young age of 13. When he was 12 years old, he saw a picture of this courageous little kid by the name of Iqbal Masih who had escaped tragedy and had to choose between education or working. Then he actually took a plane India by himself, stayed with some family friends and saw the actual situation of children in underprivileged areas before he set up his own organization. This organization seeks to free children from exploitation, give them a proper education and offer them access to proper sanitation and health care. Currently, it is actively functioning in 47 different countries worldwide.

Furthermore, I have organized conferences in Canada and have worked with quite a few of the Nobel Peace Prize winners and great figures like the late Wangari Maathai who started the Green Belt Movement in Africa, (she was a woman full of love) Dr. David Suzuki who is a huge environmentalist and even Martin Luther King Junior. All these people have certainly inspired me so much in life!

9. What can you tell me about your near future aspirations?

I want to build the transitional shelter which I mentioned, release some music singles and hopefully get married in a couple of years. So these are my definite immediate goals.

All in all, I do not honestly plan things too much because I’ve learnt that, firstly things never really go according to plan and secondly when you keep the door open there are so many exciting things that can and do happen!!

10. You are a person who is actively working for women’s rights. Can you tell me some of the challenges you have faced in pursuing this, as a woman in Sri Lanka?

I think the biggest issue here in Sri Lanka is the fact that we need to have more conversations and openly discuss issues like gender based violence and sexuality because there is huge stigma attached to these issues. Many people feel if these issues are opened up and discussed openly, it would be a betrayal against our “culture.”  This is one of the main challenges I have faced.

I believe that we shouldn’t classify culture into one single compartment because evolving, growing and trying to improve something should not be considered as going against our culture.

This was one of the biggest challenges for me because generally everyone shies away from these topics as we are very conservative.

However, I’m happy that things have definitely improved a great deal because there is more freedom and understanding in order to discuss about such issues now.

11. So, what exactly motivated you to set up the Stephanie Siriwardhana Foundation?

When I graduated from university, I was already an activist in Montreal, Canada and I was very much involved in these issues.

Therefore, when I was selected as Miss. Sri Lanka 2011 suddenly everyone started paying more attention to what I had to say. Actually, when I was hosting Sirasa Super Star I had sneezed one day, got two slip disks and was bedridden for about three months. So, at that time I was having a conversation with my friend about how I have always wanted to involve myself and help out with such issues. After listening to all that my friend asked, “You know what, why don’t you set up your own Foundation? Just go for it!”

Subsequently, I thought my term for Miss. Sri Lanka was ending and I should do something worthwhile during that period. At that very moment I took the papers and signed them in order to register the Foundation. As I’ve said before I decided to go through with my mom’s advice of jumping into the sea and learning to swim. My dream is to help as many people as I can and women’s rights have always been something I am very passionate about, being a woman myself.

12. Today is the International Women’s Day. (As I conducted the interview on the 8th of March 2015). Is there a special message you would like to share with your fans?

I think there can never be a women’s movement without a man and that is one of the things we should always remember. Yes, we do live in a patriarchal society but it is only together that we can reach our goal of achieving equality.
~ By – Nelani De Costa ~

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