Clark U. senior receives $10,000 stipend from Davis Projects for Peace, helps cattle farmers and leopards coexist in Sri Lanka


Sanjiv Fernando '15 (left) shakes hands with W.P. Piyadasa, a cattle herder who received one of the mesh enclosures. Sanjiv Fernando '15 (left) shakes hands with W.P. Piyadasa, a cattle herder who received one of Fernando's leopard-proof mesh enclosures.

Clark University senior Sanjiv Fernando received a $10,000 grant from Davis Projects for Peace which he used to fund his self-designed conservation project “Mitigating the Human-Leopard Conflict in Southeast Sri Lanka” this summer in his native country.

With funding from the Davis Foundation and support from Clark’s LEEP initiative, Fernando spent the summer just outside of Yala National Park, an area known for having the highest density of leopards in the world, building and installing leopard-proof mesh enclosures for Sri Lankan farmers to protect their cattle. The enclosures helped provide income security for 12 farmers by keeping their animals safe, and, in turn, protected the endangered Sri Lankan leopards from being killed in retaliation.

“A lot of the theory I learned in Ecology was critical in forming an understanding of the conflict and also proved useful when implementing solutions to combat the issue,” said Fernando. “It was rewarding to be able to apply classroom theory to enforce real-world solutions.”

Fernando said that the experience made him feel closer to his home country of Sri Lanka; he spoke mostly in Sinhala while carrying out his project, allowing him to “significantly improve [his] command of the native tongue.”

Fernando, who is passionate about wildlife, said he designed his project to allow him to continue the work he did last summer while interning with the John Keells Group and their initiative “Project Leopard.”

“I have left behind a system that safeguards the livelihoods and incomes of cattle herders, and have helped cattle farmers embrace the ecological and commercial importance of the leopard, an animal they once considered a pest,” said Fernando.  “Overall, I have created a platform that fosters peaceful coexistence between humans and leopards.”

Fernando said that this opportunity has provided him with the experience and skills he needs to succeed in his career, and says his project represents “the first major achievement in what hopefully will be a long career dedicated to protecting endangered species and preserving their habitats.”

"We are pleased to once again help young people launch some initiatives that will bring new energy and ideas to improving the prospects for peace in the world," said Philip O. Geier, Executive Director of the Davis United World College Scholars Program which administers Projects for Peace.

Fernando is a member of the Class of 2015 at Clark; he majors in environmental science and policy and minors in French.  He plays Club Tennis and Club Volleyball and is a member of both the International Students Association (ISA) and the South Asian Students Association (SASA).  Fernando will serve as a Peer Adviser for Week One 2014 (first-year student orientation). He hopes to take advantage of Clark’s Accelerated BA/Master’s Degree Program before embarking on a career in wildlife conservation.

Fernando is a 2011 graduate of the American International School Dhaka (AISD).

Other Clark students who have received funding from Davis Projects for Peace in the past include:  Melat Seyoum ’15 in 2013 for “The YWCA Critical Dialogue Program in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia;” Bonginkhosi (Petros) Vilakati '13 in 2012 for “Recycling for Peace-Swaziland;” Amanda Mundt ’13 in 2011 for “Lekol Dete for Restavek and Free Children in Les Cayes;” Anuj Adhikary ’10 and Joseph Kowalski ’10 in 2010 for “The Energy for Education Project;” and Chelsea Ellingsen ’10 in 2009 for her project “Seeds of Change.”

Davis Projects for Peace invites all undergraduates at the 91 American colleges and universities which are partners in the Davis United World College Scholars Program to compete for these grants. A total of 127 winning projects were selected and awarded $10,000 each for implementation this summer.

Beginning in 2007, on the occasion of her 100th birthday, international philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis chose to celebrate by committing $1 million to Projects for Peace.  Now in its seventh year, the Davis Projects for Peace continue to support and encourage today's motivated youth to create and test their own ideas for building peace.