Her Majesty The Queen recognises Sierra Leonean volunteers with Commonwealth Points of Light award

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as Head of the Commonwealth, has today recognised Bala and Sharmila Amarasekaran, representing Sri Lanka, as the 167th recipients of the Commonwealth Points of Light award in honour of their exceptional voluntary service founding the ‘Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary’ to protect chimpanzees.

Husband and wife Bala and Sharmila are passionate about protecting wildlife, and first began supporting chimpanzees in 1985, when travelling through a village 150 miles from the capital of Freetown and coming across a weak baby chimpanzee tied to a tree in need of medical help. After buying the chimpanzee, and naming him Bruno, they soon began to rescue other chimpanzees, and created the ‘Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary’ to provide a permanent home for their growing family of wildlife. Now the sanctuary welcomes thousands of visitors every year, including over 2,000 school children, to educate them about the protection of chimpanzees. The sanctuary focuses particularly on rehabilitation, conservation, and research following the dramatic decline in the chimpanzee species in Sierra Leone from 20,000 to around 4,000.

As part of the legacy of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London 2018, Her Majesty The Queen – as Head of the Commonwealth – is thanking inspirational volunteers across the 54 Commonwealth nations for the difference they are making in their communities and beyond, by recognising one volunteer, or a pair of volunteers, from each Commonwealth country every week. By sharing these stories of service, the Commonwealth Points of Light awards celebrate inspirational acts of volunteering across the Commonwealth and help inspire others to make their own contribution to tackling some of the greatest social challenges of our time.

Simon Mustard, British High Commissioner Sierra Leone said:

“Bala and Sharmila have created something truly unique and special with the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. It serves as an inspiration to many in Sierra Leone, the Commonwealth and beyond. Their Commonwealth Points of Light award is richly deserved and I hope will highlight their tremendous work to an even wider audience.”

Bala said:

“I am extremely gratified by this award. Biggest honour goes to Team Tacugama for their commitment and support given to me over the years. We have gone through a very rough and painful year due to the Covid pandemic and this award will certainly boost everyone’s morale.”

The Commonwealth is a diverse community of 54 nations that work together to promote prosperity, democracy and peace. The Heads of Government meeting brought together leaders from all the 54 Member countries to reaffirm common values, address shared global challenges and agree how to work to create a better future for all citizens, especially young people. Voluntary service is a vital part of this agenda, which is why Her Majesty The Queen has chosen to recognise outstanding volunteers across the Commonwealth in this special way.

– ENDS

For more information, please contact Katie Hannam Katie.hannam@fcdo.gov.uk

Notes to Editors:

ABOUT THE COMMONWEALTH POINTS OF LIGHT AWARD

1.         The Points of Light awards recognise outstanding volunteers every day of the week – people whose service is making a difference in their communities and whose story can inspire others to creative innovative solutions to social challenges in their own communities and beyond.

2.         Points of Light began in America under President George H. W. Bush and today over 6,000 US Points of Light have been recognised. The scheme has the support of all living US Presidents.

3.         Since 2014 the UK Prime Minister has been recognising a daily Point of Light from the UK, with over 1,500 volunteers now recognised.

4.         Commonwealth Points of Light is a continuation of this programme with a special series of awards recognising inspirational volunteers throughout the Commonwealth, coinciding with the UK being the Commonwealth’s Chair-in-Office of for the next two years. One volunteer from each of the 54 Commonwealth countries was recognised in the days leading up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April 2018. Following the success of this programme, Her Majesty The Queen decided to continue this work and award one volunteer from each Commonwealth country every week.

5.         More information, including details of other Commonwealth Points of Light recipients, can be found on the website: www.pointsoflight.gov.uk

 

About the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

In April 2018 the UK hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, where leaders from across the Commonwealth gathered in London and Windsor. With the theme of ‘Towards a Common Future’ they will work to create a more prosperous, secure, sustainable and fair future for the Commonwealth’s 2.4 billion citizens, particularly its young people. For further information visit www.chogm2018.org.uk or follow on Twitter @commonwealth18.

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