A former student was recently appointed the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Belarus, a country with a population of 10 million that shares its borders with Poland and Russia. Sanaka Samarasinha was appointed by Ban Ki-moon, secretary general for the U.N., in September 2012. The job for Samarasinha began Jan. 1.
“Sanaka is a remarkable Hornet doing remarkable work in the world,” said Roger Heineken, administrative officer for the Memorial Union.
His new job in Belarus will focus on preventing the spread of HIV and tuberculosis, strengthening the health system, improving education, creating a “green” economy, preparation for natural disasters and working on the prevention of human trafficking and domestic violence, among other issues.
“Sanaka is fundamentally kind,” Heineken said. “He is friendly and fun to be with. He has courage and is determined in character to make things better for people he will never meet.”
Along with his recent appointment, Samarasinha also serves as the U.N.’s development programmer and is the head of the population fund, UNAIDS. He also serves as the head of the U.N.’s Department for Public Information in Belarus.
During his time at ESU, Samarasinha was editor-in-chief of The Bulletin, served as a senator on Associated Student Government and was also initiated as Phi Delta Theta’s first international member from Sri Lanka, according to a press release. He started out as a psychology and journalism major and then transferred to Kansas University as a junior, where he graduated in 1991.
Before ESU, Samarasinha started college in Sri Lanka, but he wasn’t able to “engage fully as a university student” because universities there were mostly closed during that time due to political upheaval in the country.
“It was ESU that helped define how I would evolve through my undergraduate and graduate years,” Samarasinha said. “It was also the first time I had lived abroad, thousands of miles from my family and friends. It was a challenging time, but I found that most people were warm and welcoming.
“Those first years at ESU were when I learned to appreciate a multicultural setting and learnt to appreciate people for who they are and not just from where they come.”
Now, Samarasinha has lived in 12 different countries on five different continents and traveled to 70 countries around the world. He said before he worked for the U.N., he was accustomed to heavy travel. Traveling is the “best education in life,” he said.
“Experiencing other people and other cultures teaches you not only about the world, but also about yourself,” Samarasinha said.
As for current Hornets, Samarasinha said the best advice he can give is, “carpe diem.”
“Life is uncertain, but what you make of it today is what you will be tomorrow – both in fact and in the memories of those you leave behind,” Samarasinha said. “Take time to appreciate people around you – especially those who may sound and look different to you because if you let them, everyone has something they can share with you that will prepare you for life. And before you know it, the world will be your oyster.”