Empowering young women to succeed | Sunday Observer

Empowering young women to succeed

There is a global trend which is recognizing and positioning women to take the mantle of responsibility and reach the topmost echelons in life. In order to lead, one must display certain key leadership competencies. Leadership is not simply making others follow you; its foundation should be to create another prudent leader. Since 1913, the National Cadet Corps has guided and encouraged young female students to actively engage in leadership development camps. Today, the NCC can be proud of having 9 girls’ battalions in Sri Lankan schools. These girls will progress to take responsibility as young women in society. The girls are now engaged in their annual assessment camps at Rantembe, off the serene Randenigala hydro power dam. They will compete from October 1 – 9 to receive the coveted De Soysa Challenge Trophy.

I set off from Colombo accompanied by Colonel Nissanka Wijekoon to gain some insight into this cadet program. Rantembe is an 80 kilometre drive from the heritage town of Kandy. After travelling the final stretch of the dense forest, where elephants can be sighted, we reach the famous NCC Camp. Over the decades these training camps have produced top corporate leaders and gallant military officers.

The massive camp includes a parade ground, accommodation units, kitchen, stores and laundry. There were 600 female ‘sea’ cadets aged 15 to 20, due for assessment by naval instructors. The place was a hive of activity with schoolgirls in clusters engaging in various training drills.

The Camp Commandant Colonel Palitha Mendis explained, “Rantembe NCC is a unique training camp, as we train boys and girls from across Sri Lanka. We plan in advance to provide them with transport, accommodation, food, and other facilities, and the allocation of instructors and assessment boards coordinating with the Ministry of Education, Army, Navy, Air Force and Police- as cadets represent these services via their school platoons”. Attending NCC camps is inspiring and fun, and is a super place to make new friends.

All NCC instructors receive cadet instructions themselves. These teachers play a crucial role in bringing their platoons of jubilant students to the camp. I spoke to the lady coordinating officer of NCC, Colonel Yamuna Hettiarachi, who is like the “camp mother” making sure that the girls have everything they need and giving them a secure environment. Having spent many years with the corps Colonel Yamuna said, “We are happy these girls are eager to be assessed.

They train and practise at school, and when they reach Rantembe they wear their uniforms for the first time. We enhance their teamwork aptitude and encourage them to take responsibility.”

This is an achievement for many, especially, the rural students who are exposed to staying away from home, perhaps, for the first time. The girls under the supervision of seniors (who have attended 3 of these annual camps) must be up and ready by 6am. On some days they engage in physical exercise, clad in white dress.

They have to clean and prepare their “billets” (accommodation area), 24 students can stay in one billet.

The platoons are assessed on various skills including, map reading, first aid, basic rope knots, obstacle course (which increases self confidence), management, communication skills and prevention of drugs and narcotics. The girls must eat together at the large “mess” which teaches them to be punctual.

At the end of the training and assessment camp they will receive a certificate, which according to Colonel Mendis is a good document to be presented at an employment interview.

Throughout the year during assessment 38 exceptional platoons are selected to compete for the De Soysa Challenge Cup, which was first presented in 1913, by the Hon A.P.R de Soysa.

We caught up with two students to find out how cadeting has influenced their lives. Kavishka 19, from Prime Ministers College, Panadura, is a senior cadet, who aspires to be an accountant in the future. She said, “Cadeting has given me the ability to face challenges. I am able to care for the other girls in my platoon. It has given me recognition in my school and I enjoy these training camps”.

Hailing from Anuradhapura, Dilmi Premathilake is another senior student cadet, who declares, “My aim is to be a lawyer and I also wish to enlist at KDU (Kotelawela Defence University). Since my cadeting days at school, I have developed into a person with positive thinking and can make right decisions”.

These two girls are a reflection of hundreds of other rural schoolgirls for whom cadet leadership development has become a solid foundation from which they can move forward in life.

In their rural male dominated environment these young women will set the pace for other females to take up responsible roles in society and realize the importance of education combined with teamwork. One area they were lacking in was their fluency in the English language, which must be improved by their schools.

These rural cadets must be allocated good English teachers at their schools, as they will get the chance to represent Sri Lanka at future international cadet events. The annual camps are also attended by vibrant students from schools in Colombo, who will aggressively compete for the Trophy. After a long day of lessons and drills the girls enjoy their dinner and return to their billets and its “lights out” at 10pm.

This year, the De Soysa Cup sessions will be witnessed by foreign cadets from SARRC countries. Local cadets get a chance to visit these countries on exchange programs. Thus the NCC has made a silent, yet, magnificent contribution in forming the next generation of women leaders.