Rtr. PP Thakshala and the Headache of University Sub-Culture
by Rtr. Afrah Bahaudeen
Fast forward a year from the official inauguration of our Rotaract Club, and we witness the undertaking of the club under a new President with her own vision and challenges to boot. Juggling studies and extra-curriculars is no easy task for any university undergraduate, no less is taking on the presidency of an organization that has been running for only a year. One understands this kind of leadership to come with its own unique kind of challenges, which is exactly what Rtr. Past President Thakshala Tissera faced as the second person to take on the helm of the Rotaract Club of the University of Colombo, Faculty of Arts.
On top of having to lead a team in continuing to carry out the goals of a fledgling club tottering on its new-found legs while tackling the challenging environment of local higher education institutions, she was also a debater and a hockey player for the university. Her involvement in extra-curriculars helped her understand the inner politics that come with being a part of an organized group within the confines of campus. However, Rtr. Thakshala recognized the absence of it in the Rotaract Club, which was what motivated her to join as a first year student. Even on her appointment as President, her vision for the club is understood to have been outlined around providing a neutral space for students to interact and work together to achieve common goals. “My principal vision for the club was that it should provide a much needed platform where students of the faculty at different stages of their degree and various backgrounds could socialize, network and have the freedom to organize and participate in a wide variety of extra-curricular activities without fear of any sort of discrimination”.
According to her, being the President of the club for the year 2011/2012 was ‘a balancing act’. She came to understand that the initiation of a new student organization in a politically charged university environment calls for diplomacy. What intrigues me about Rtr. Thakshala’s experience as a current member almost ten years later is the absence of such tensions (I’m assuming) in the running of the club and its activities. She says, “You had to not only comply by both Rotaract regulations and the faculty/university ones, there were also the unofficial but very real power plays in the faculty’s student politics that you had to engage with in a diplomatic way. Since the Rotaract Club was new, many students (particularly those engaged in student politics) saw it as an alternative student political party. As president, this meant taking a more pacifist stance on student politics to ensure that the club and its members were not put in danger, than I would have as an individual”.
Although Rtr. Thakshala tells us that she can hardly be expected to evaluate her own tenure objectively, the achievements of the club that year truly speak for themselves. The club had only been functioning for two years, yet it received a District Citation as well as awards for Rotary Change Maker, Best Reporting Club and Best Installation. We also received Recognition for the World Down Syndrome Day celebrations and the Inter-Rotaract Basketball Tournament (IRBT). Our club emerged champions in the women’s category at IRBT and Rtr. Sudharaka Attanayake was awarded Rotaractor of the Month of December and the Spirit of Service Award. Rtr. Thakshala’s experience is certainly interesting to read about ten years on, especially as an undergraduate of the same university and a member of the same club that she was a part of. She recognizes the importance of reaching out to faculty members for mentor ship and advice, as it was something that she had not known at the start of her degree programme (and something most of us are too shy to do). Through it all, Rtr. Thakshala came out of this experience with a new understanding of leadership, “I learnt that a good team is far more important than a leader”, something that each of us can take away from, especially as members of a club like ours.
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