Sayanthan (Sai) Ravindranathan is a Strategist at the Ontario Renal Network and a Studio [Y] Fellowship Alumni at the MaRS Discovery District. He has a B.Sc. (Hons.) in Integrative Biology and Psychology from the University of Toronto, and an M.B.A. in Health Services Management from McMaster University. Sai has a history of volunteering in the diaspora community including at the University of Toronto Tamil Students Association. He left Sri Lanka when he was four years old and is excited to return after 25 years to volunteer his time.

Sai will be placed in the position of Leadership Facilitator for more than two weeks under the Associateship Program with the Church of the American Ceylon Mission to help strengthen leadership programs for boys and young men at the St. John’s Boys School in Urani, Batticaloa.

We asked Sai to share some of his thoughts on his upcoming experience as he heads out to Sri Lanka.

When I was four years old, my mother, sister, grand mother and I left Jaffna to find safe haven in Tamil Nadu, India. My father had left for Canada two years prior as a refugee. We were reunited in Toronto when my father was able to sponsor us. In 2008, before the height of the war, I had a layover in Colombo but did not leave the airport due to the war’s escalation in the North and East. More than 25 years since my departure, I now have the unique opportunity to go back to my place of birth and give back.

I feel humbled and privileged by the opportunity to make a contribution to my community abroad. Although I was born in Sri Lanka, I spent my formative years in Toronto, and I am prepared for a culture shock. It will be interesting to see how this experience will shape my idea of identity. I am excited to walk the streets of my parents’ youth and experience for myself what they routinely reminisce about.

In thinking about how I want to approach my assignment as a Leadership Facilitator for rural youth surrounding Batticaloa, I feel the best approach will be to utilize the principles of human-centred design to create sustainable leadership programming. I am by no means an expert on the needs of the youth I will be working with, so I feel it would be best to rely on the expertise of those already doing the work and to directly engage the youth in program design. I want to take this as a learning opportunity to determine how best to ensure continuity of services in the future.

Overall, I am very excited to go back home, be immersed in the culture, meet new people and make a positive contribution. I also think that my Tamil will improve vastly, which will help in arguments with my parents when I am back. Also, being a a part of’s first cohort, I hope to bring a critical lens to process improvement so that my experience can inform future iterations of this work.

Stay tuned to this blog to follow Sai’s work in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka this summer.

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