24th September 2000
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Living in the firing line

The Thawalama Development Foundation is on a mission to build 
bunkers to help safeguard the villagers of Weli Oya
By Sumedha

The Thawalamawewa is situated in the Yan Oya basin. The basin is occupied mainly by a Sinhala population and forms the wedge between the landmass of the northern and eastern provinces. The possession of land is the key to any success in a separatist struggle. Devoid of the possession of land in this strategic area of the Yan Oya basin, the gateway to the east from the north is denied to the LTTE. 

Therefore the LTTE in its effort to ethnically cleanse this strategic area constantly subjects the villages in Weli Oya at the northern end of the Yan Oya basin to raids and attacks. If the Sinhala people of Weli Oya continue to remain in their villages it would be difficult if not impossible for separatist terrorists to link the north with the east to achieve their proposed Eelam.

Though the villages in the northern end of the Yan Oya basin are intact, 23 ancient villages situated in the Gomarankadawala area in the southern end had been abandoned due to LTTE threats and attacks in November 1999. It was during this month that Weli Oya was attacked by the LTTE using guns they had captured from the Army. These attacks on the Weli Oya villages resulted in a mass exodus to Padaviya. We were able to witness the confusion that resulted due to these attacks during our visit on November 12, 1999. While at the Chaitiyagiriya temple an alert Army Commando suddenly shouted for us to take cover when he heard the sound of an artillery shell pick up. We immediately ran for cover to an abandoned pond below ground level that was the safest place in the absence of an underground bunker. Three artillery shells fell in the adjacent paddyfield in quick succession, but no one was hurt.

It was on this day that we of the Thawalama Development Foundation decided to fund the construction of underground bunkers in Weli Oya, if and when the people decided to return to their homes from the refugee camps to which they were now rushing. With the readjustment of the forward defence line closer to the Weli Oya settlement, more than 60% to 70% of those who were displaced as a result of the November LTTE artillery attack, returned home. However, a similar exodus cannot be ruled out if another LTTE attack is staged unless underground bunkers are built on a priority basis to prevent such an eventuality. 

We called upon the patriotic Sinhala organisations and citizens here and abroad to consider contributing towards a project to construct underground bunkers for the protection of the Weli Oya Sinhala villagers.

A project proposal was prepared by the 223 Brigade Commander. The total cost of the project was approximately Rs. 6.5 million for the construction of 622 underground bunkers in the settlement. The cost of a family underground bunker was estimated at Rs. 10,000 and nine larger underground bunkers were to be built for the five schools. Each of these bunkers was estimated to cost Rs. 30,000.

It would be difficult if not impossible for the Thawalama Development Foundation based in Colombo to implement such a large project single-handed. We therefore requested that an organisation named the Weli Oya Development Foundation be established in the project area to assist us in this endeavour with Kuda Halmillewa Ratnasara Nayake Thero of the Chaitiyagiriya temple as its president. This organisation is presently successfully implementing the project at grassroots level in Weli Oya with the finances we provide.

Visiting Weli Oya on August 23, 2000 to ascertain the progress achieved, we saw that at Janakapura, construction work on 15 family bunkers had been completed with the funds so far provided. Though a further 30 family bunkers have to be constructed at Janakapura we have yet to receive the funds required which has been promised by expatriates living in the Middle East. 

At Athawatunuwewa construction work on 18 family bunkers had been completed with the funds sent in by the Sri Lanka Association North West UK. Two larger bunkers were under construction at the Athawatunuwewa village school. We have already received the necessary funds to construct the nine bunkers necessary for the five schools from the Buddhist Village Trust Sri Lanka based in the UK. This same trust also funded the construction of 17 family bunkers at Kalyanapura 1. The construction work on all these family bunkers at this village too had been completed.

It was at Kalyanapura that we were made to realise the tremendous value of our timely action. Villagers pointed out to us several craters near their houses where artillery shells had fallen on August 18, at around 4.30 in the evening. They told us that on hearing the sound of the artillery shell pick up, all the villagers had rushed into the newly constructed family bunkers carrying their children with them.

They had hardly reached safety when the first shell exploded in the compound of Herath Banda. 25 shells followed before the bombarding ceased. No villagers were hurt thanks to the bunkers. The destructive power of the artillery shells was clearly evident to us from the banana trees that had been ripped to shreds and the deep gashes the shrapnel had cut on the barks of hardwood trees. It was Herath Banda's wife who said, "had it not been for the bunkers, that shell attack would have taken the lives of many of us."

The forgotten people of Weli Oya who are indeed the true guardians of the unity and the territorial integrity of our motherland for posterity need help. 

While we living in the unaffected areas of the country sleep soundly in comfortable bedrooms the families of Weli Oya spend their nights cramped up bunkers for the sake of survival. 

Those who would like to help could send in their contributions to the Thawalama Development Foundation Account No. 1650068648 at the Peoples Bank Headquarters Branch, Colombo. 

Residents in the UK could send in any contributions to Account No. 80005700 at the Bank of Ceylon London Branch, 1 Devonshire Square, London EC2M 4DW, post code 40-50-56.

Point of view

Would you judge a book by its cover?

By Yvonne Broughton,NSW, Australia
When I travelled from the Bandaranaike airport recently, the sights and sounds of Sri Lanka greeted me afresh as they would a foreigner. Having been away from Sri Lanka for ten years in Australia, I now understand how an outsider sees our country.

I was overjoyed to see Sri Lanka's beauty again and to taste real spicy food. But I was also saddened to see so many people struggling with their daily lives. There is one other thing that has also struck me forcibly. That is, the way Sri Lanka's people decide upon their leaders.

I have now seen politics through different eyes. Australia's political system, like many electoral systems in the developed world, places great emphasis on transparent processes and detailed policies. The system of electing leaders is simple but it is what lies beneath the decision that makes the difference.

For example, one method of examining policies and people, which is very popular of course, is debate (often televised) between the political leaders. 

Here, the population has many opportunities to observe the particular qualities of each candidate. Thus people make their decisions based upon careful consideration. 

They are able to look far below the skin of a person. People in shops even, will freely discuss each leader's qualities, and they may even happily agree to disagree. Considerable thought assists each person to challenge their own views, so that when the time comes to make a decision they know much more than the personal presentation of a potential leader. 

They have had plenty of opportunity to digest the widely available policies and manifestos of each party, and to examine the track record of each leader. They know who will keep their promises and who will not. The point is, their decision is made on the basis of detailed analysis.

So that leads me to wonder - what do Sri Lankans look for in a leader? I find I have arrived at a time when Sri Lankans have some crucial decisions to make in this regard.

From my observations in my time away I believe there are three helpful ways to think about such a choice.

Imagine you were hiring a new worker. Or, if you have a company, imagine you were selecting a new manager. Or, imagine you have to be away from home for a while, and had to choose only one of your sons to manage your affairs while you are away.

Think now, what are the qualities you would look for? For you, this simple decision is very important. Not only that, however, you also know that it will affect the fortunes or affairs of, not just yourself, but many other people.

Imagine one of the people you have to choose between is charming and attractive, with a charismatic smile. Then, on the other hand you have another person who seems quiet and serious. Would you make your choice right then and there without any further thought? Of course you would not! You have too much at stake of personal importance.

You know that if things go wrong you will be in a dire situation. So what do you do?

You find out about each person's skills and qualities and how they will match up to the task at hand. You know that a smile is nice - but you also know that a smile alone will never keep the company books, or get the work done, or look after the family.

So you check each person's credentials. And exactly what are the qualities you are looking for? 

Honesty is important. You will want to be able to check that what they do is good, productive and beneficial. 

Experience is also very important. You need to know - do they know what they are doing? 

Can and will, they really do what they "say" they will do? Experience is the only way you can be sure of this.

When you have dug a little further into each person's background you weigh your choices carefully. You find that the person with the charming smile is sadly unsuited to the task as they lack certain critical skills. Whilst you think that this person is nice and you might enjoy their company you are looking for somewhat more than this. 

You make your decision and appoint the one who at first seemed quiet and serious - safe in the knowledge that everything is in good hands. This person has exactly the skills and experience you were looking for to get the task done. 

You know that they have done it well in the past with an unblemished record of honesty and hard work, and that they have achieved excellent results in the past.

Now, I think that is an easy concept everyone understands. The analogies make perfect sense. But if the picture is broadened to the current elections, there seems to be a completely different way in which Sri Lankans examine their choices.

Having had a chance to observe from a distance, I find I am amazed at the way in which Sri Lankans think about the issue of political leadership. Yet what should be so different?

I notice now, through fresh eyes, how much Sri Lankans like a smile and a friendly wave. Strangers are always welcome. Sri Lankans certainly have a reputation as friendly people. My Australian brother-in-law has a tourist guidebook that describes Sri Lanka as the land of smiles. That's very nice if you are a tourist.

It is something to be proud of. But is it enough to run a country? Smiles and waves will not grow jobs nor put food on tables. Yet why is it that so many Sri Lankans seem to be looking no further than this to make their decision on their political leader? That is what I do not understand. Nowhere else in the developed world is this the case.

Bear in mind, political leadership is about much more than politics. It is about the whole economy of an entire nation! Each and every person is affected. 

A smile, however, only reaches those in the same room at the time. They may go away feeling happy but this soon evaporates when they get home and realise that life has not changed for the better.

I am amazed at how Sri Lankans consider this important decision of political leadership. Would you just give a person a job on the basis of charisma? Of course not. A smile is such a narrow criteria. It won't run a country let alone a company or even your family.

Having seen what the world outside Sri Lanka is like, I know that this country has yet a long, long journey to travel. The developed world moves at speed, embracing the future. Modern economies have access to more wealth than most Sri Lankans could possibly imagine.

Education and technological advancement are the keys to the cutting-edge modernity of the Western world. Sri Lanka must take the opportunity to be part of this exciting global future.

Yet I am worried for the future of Sri Lanka when I see how so many people seem bent upon looking no further than skin deep. If a life of backward-looking hardship is what you want for this country then that is the way to make your choice.

But I would say this: think carefully about the three analogies of the worker, the manager or the son who will look after your house. Remember: You can miss a goldmine if you are too busy looking for the tinsel.

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