In the midst of war and poverty, many people may have trouble envisioning a better future for the world.
But College senior Sohani Amarasekera not only sees it happening, she’s on her way to making it a reality herself.
The Sri-Lankan Toronto native was recently recognized as one of Glamour magazine’s Top 10 College Women and featured in its October issue as “The Visionary.”
When asked why she received that label, she said that, “It’s probably because a lot of the work that I do is with vision.”
As a pre-med student majoring in biology and sociology, Amarasekera’s main passions and interests at Penn are researching vision and blindness and tackling questions like, “How can we use research methods and sociological findings on how we deliver healthcare.”
With these goals in mind, she became an active member of Unite for Sight, a non-profit organization that seeks to improve eye health throughout international communities.
It was through her relationship with the organization’s president, Jennifer Staple — a former Glamour Top 10 woman herself — that she was urged to apply.
And the encouragement paid off. At the New York reception graced by special guest Ivanka Trump, Amarasekera was bestowed the Beauty of Giving Award — a $2,500 donation to the charity of her choice, courtesy of L’Oreal Paris — for her ophthalmologic research work.
“One of the main reasons I came to Penn was to be involved in research,” said Amarasekera, who is a University Scholar.
After her freshman year, she worked with Unite for Sight in India, then went on to Sri Lanka after her sophomore year to start a vision clinic to treat a particular diabetic eye disease that is prevalent in the country.
Working in Sri Lanka was “comfortable” for her because her family traditionally visited her grandparents there once or twice a year. It was important to her parents that they held on to their culture, she explained.
What was more “eye-opening” for Amarasekera was her time in Bangladesh this past summer, where she did a sociological research project funded by the University Scholars program.
Seeing the sheer number of people that needed to be helped compared with the disparity of resources solidified the “take-home message” from each experience in South Asia.
“There’s still a lot left to be done” was her revelation, prompting her to think, “So, how can I bridge that gap?”
The vision clinic in her native country was one of her first answers to that question, offering quality eye care services for free to a destitute people.
Having parents as doctors meant pursuing medicine was always on her mind while growing up, but Amarasekera considers the women of Unite for Sight some of her greatest inspirations.
The fact that Staple formed the international organization as a sophomore in college was a major encouragement for Amarasekera to pursue her dreams as soon as possible.
She realized, “Even though I’m not a grad student, I can totally do something that helps people in another country,” adding that being in Sri Lanka and working with the clinic led her to believe she could make that possibility a reality.
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