Sir John Cox Scholarship winner 22 years ago Sandy De Silva is now executive director at Family Centre
BY TIM SMITH
Sandy De Silva’s parents never got to complete their high school education – but they certainly made sure their children did.
Growing up in a household that cherished the opportunity to learn, Dr De Silva applied for every scholarship going in pursuit of her dream of becoming a clinical psychologist.
She was ultimately rewarded in 1999 with the prestigious Sir John Cox Scholarship, worth $20,000, that enabled her to study for a doctoral degree at the University of Hartford to launch her career of helping people in need.
Dr De Silva, now a main player in Bermuda’s charitable sector as the executive director of Family Centre, appreciates the pathway created by her parents, Carlos and Maria Eduarda De Silva, who came to Bermuda from the Azores aged 14 and 17.
“My parents were both immigrants. They never completed high school,” she said.
“My mother was a house cleaner, my father worked in construction. We didn’t have the financial means to put us through university without acquiring significant debt.
“But our education was a non-negotiable for them. Just watching my brother, Roberto, be the first in my family to complete a university degree – it became the norm to me.”
Dr De Silva won a string of awards for her performance at Saltus Grammar School before claiming the Dudley and Deborah Butterfield Scholarship in 1995, the Heddington Insurance Limited Scholarship in 1997 and the Sir John Cox Scholarship, through the Bank of Bermuda, two years later.
“I was shocked every time I got an award,” she said.
“I literally screamed the house down. It’s where my happy dance was born.”
At that stage, her ambition was to become a clinical psychologist for the rest of her life.
“I loved listening to people’s stories, particularly the parts that make them unique, the parts that challenge them, the parts that make them special,” she said.
“I loved to help people as well. This was always a profession that I wanted to get into.”
Her first job in the field was at Family Centre, then she worked at the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute for six years.
She returned to Family Centre as director of counselling services and progressed through the ranks before becoming executive director when founder Martha Dismont retired last year.
“When an opportunity presents itself, you grab hold of it,” she said.
“There’s a part of me that thinks there’s a reason why that is granted to me, I’m going to trust the process, put both of my feet in and keep going.”
Scholarships remain hugely important in today’s world.
“Knowledge is power, knowledge is opportunity,” Dr De Silva said.
“The experience of just meeting other people with different perspectives to open your mind even wider is a huge asset to have in this world.
“You have to tell yourself you can do it, whether it’s a trade course at Bermuda College or anything else, everyone should aspire to learn beyond high school.”
Dr De Silva’s scholarship application was helped by her pledge to return to Bermuda as a Portuguese-speaking clinician – a service she continues to provide today.
But she said young Bermudians should be encouraged to spread their wings beyond the island.
“The world is bigger now,” she said. “I never thought about not coming home. My children do. That’s a healthy thing to do. Their world view is more expansive than mine was.
“You have to be realistic, not every Bermudian can come back home and fulfil their life passion and dream. They may give back to another community, or by providing some historical understanding, or by making the earth a healthier place. We are all part of one humanity living on the earth.”
Sandy De Silva’s top tips to impress the scholarship committees:
• Enhance your star qualities and make sure they are repeated throughout your personal statement.
• Show something unique that will help you stand out compared to the other many applications. What is different about your story or your background? It could be your family’s journey to Bermuda, or a trauma you have experienced and are willing to share. What sport, musical instrument or pastime do you love and what does that say about yourself?
• Explain how you are going to give back to a community – whether that’s Bermuda or any other community in the world.