Overcoming huge odds to pursue her dreams

Born in Sri Lanka, Dilakshana Yogarasa has always wanted to pursue tertiary education and ultimately wants to be a doctor. However she’s overcome more obstacles along the way to study than most people encounter in a lifetime.

When she was just 12-years-old, Dilakshana’s father was killed in the civil war raging in her homeland. In 2009, she and her family escaped by boat for Australia, only for the vessel to run out of fuel leaving them stranded at sea.

“It was a traumatic experience for us as we weren’t sure if we were ever going to see land,” she recounts. “But staying in Sri Lanka wasn’t a choice either, as we feared for our lives. When we were stuck in the middle of the ocean, a few people jumped off the boat to find the shore but they never returned.”

Dilakshana, her sister and mother were eventually rescued by the Australian Navy and placed in a detention centre.  When they were released into the community 22 months later, Dilakshana’s challenges continued.

“Settling in a new country wasn’t easy,” she says. “A strange place with a different culture and people speaking a foreign language I couldn’t understand.

“Starting school was another major struggle. I didn’t know English and it was hard to find friends. I remember on the first day, I was sitting on a bench outside my class with tears running down my face and feeling helpless.

“I realised then I had to leave the past behind and step into this new life, take on the challenges and make the most of the opportunities in front of me. I had to be strong and work hard to support my mother and be a role model for my younger sister.”

It was this fighting spirit and a desire to make something of her life which resonated when Dilakshana was introduced to Fairway UWA as a Year 11 student.

Fairway UWA is an access and support program for Year 12 students facing difficult circumstances. It offers academic, financial and personal support throughout their final year of secondary schooling and during their undergraduate studies at UWA.

When she was accepted into Fairway, Dilakshana attended a four day residential camp before she commenced her Year 12 studies. This helped to boost her confidence and gave her the chance to ‘get to know many people who remain my close friends to this day’.

A series of masterclasses, WACE revision courses through Academic Task Forceand Saturday English Classes helped her prepare for WACE exams. Now at UWA, she is supported through an alumni-funded scholarship. She is studying for a Bachelor of Sciencemajoring in pathology and laboratory medicine.

In November last year Fairway UWA will hold a graduation ceremony to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of 2017 cohort. A record 99 Year 12 students from across WA received certificates at the event.

“Our university offer rate is 97 per cent,” Dr Umneea Khan, Manager of Fairway UWA says, referring to students who participate in the program.

Fairway students at UWA have an overall retention rate of above 90 per cent which is exceptional given that over 40 per cent of the students are the first in their family to pursue tertiary education and 75 per cent of them come from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds.

For Dilakshana, Fairway provided the ‘support and motivation’ she needed at a crucial time in her life and she’s now doing what she can to pass on that encouragement to others.

“I’m working as a volunteer for Fairway UWA.  I hope I am a positive role model and mentor to Year 12 students and new university students,” she says. “It’s a way I can give back to the program that opened so many doors in my life. Fairway is very special to me!”

Fairway is just one of the programs generously supported by UWA graduates and friends through the Alumni Fund.

From April to July, UWA students will be calling alumni as part of the annual appeal to raise support for students with stories like Dilakshana's. 

To help students facing barriers and hardship make it to UWA, click here to donate or email [email protected]

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