3rd February 2002

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That Familian spirit

As HFC approaches its centenary, Kumudini Hettiarachchi walks down the corridors of her old school 
It all began on Septuagesima
Today, February 3, Holy Family Convent, will step into its centenary year with an inter-religious ceremony, followed by a Mass at 9 a.m. The chief celebrant will be the Bishop of Chilaw, Rt. Rev. Frank Marcus Fernando.

February 3 is significant for HFC, because that was when way back in 1820, on the Sunday known as Septuagesima before Lent, God appeared on the Host during a service, to the Sisters of the Holy Family Order in Bordeaux, France. One nun who had closed her eyes in veneration of this miracle had heard the words, "Honour and esteem of men are but smoke. I am who I am". That is why HFC was founded on February 3, explains present Principal Rev. Sr. Canice.

The Convent school: a view of HFC's gracious exterior: Pic by M.A. Pushpa KumaraThe Convent school: a view of HFC's gracious exterior.  Pic by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

The beginnings were humble and nomadic. The roll had only about 28 students - girls and a handful of boys - and even they had to be collected, more or less by force, by a nun doing the rounds in a buggy cart. The year was 1903.

Without a permanent abode, starting a school was an onerous task - the task as detailed by the then Archbishop of Colombo, Dr. A. Coudert for a handful of nuns who had come south from Jaffna to open a convent school for the education of girls of Colombo South. Undaunted, this little band of pioneering nuns, led by Rev. Mother Celeste Marchall began their mission with zeal. 'Clock House' _ named after the large, quaint dummy clock adorning the wall of the front verandah-down Lauries Road became the first home of 'Holy Family'. Many moves later from one dinghy house to another, Mannix House, Choice Villa in Clifford Place, and Park House near Melbourne Avenue, the story well and truly begins, when the nuns put down roots at the Retreat.

'Refreshing Breezes', as this seaside school's magazine is aptly named, chronicles those early years thus: "The first scholars of varying ages had to be brought to school by the nuns themselves in a buggy cart! And many of the scholars contrived to get seriously ill when they heard the jingle of the bull's bells at their gates. How glad they must have been when one fine morning the nuns woke up to find that 'Baby' the bull had been stolen."

Bull or no bull, the steely will and fervent prayers of the nuns paid off. The early years were those of great hardship and money troubles. But the Sisters never wavered and as they lived in hope and prayer, the numbers grew. They had to seek more permanent quarters. "Legend has it that Mother Ambrose, who had taken over as Assistant and Bursar went out on her daily 'collecting missions' clad all in formal black, bearing a black umbrella, seated in the depths of a rustic rickshaw and never returned empty handed. The rickshaw man was a friend and on 'good days' received more than his fare from the little 'store' she usually obtained," to meet the earthly needs of the small community of nuns and the convent school, according to 'Refreshing Breezes'.

February 1, 1908 saw the straggly wanderings of Holy Family coming to an end. The final 'Retreat' had been reached. It was a five and a half acre block of land, scattered with bungalows and dotted by palm trees in Bambalapitiya, wedged between Galle Road and the beautiful Indian Ocean. 

Leafing through the yellowed pages of the school's history, the first 'girls' provide a wonderful insight on what HFC was then. "HFC in 1911 was one long length of hall. There were no divided classrooms; only the teachers' desks and chairs separated one class from another. Away at the upper end was a raised wooden platform or dais: the dreaded Form, with a few steps leading up to it. The Principal sat at her desk on this dais and kept her sharp eye upon everyone and everything. The worst thing was that when a girl was punished the whole school knew about it. For she had to get on top of the form and stay there for the duration of the punishment; shamed and humiliated in front of all. Few girls disobeyed the rules in those days. 

"It would have been impossible to work in those open classrooms with the noise we have today and so we usually sat with our fingers on our lips and so we learned to keep silent and concentrate."

A boarder had this to say, "Instead of the slice of bread we got for tea on weekdays, there was a bun on Sundays. We preferred the bread, so in derision Sunday was called 'Bunday'! We had hearty appetites of course and a favourite topic of conversation was criticizing the plain, wholesome fare in the refectory."

The early days were days of trial and error. Those were the days when there was no uniform for Familians. Another Old Familian recalls ".........we just wore coloured dresses at 'midi' length, with long sleeves and collars. I sewed up the first uniforms designed like those of English schoolgirls - blue pinafore over white long sleeved blouse. But these were too hot for the climate. Later came the present pleated and belted white dress with collar and little made up tie". 

Ninety-nine years later, what a far cry Holy Family is today. This convent school has stood the test of time and emerged as a colossus not only in academics but in its pursuit of excellence in all fields of sports, drama, dancing etc. 

To me the greatness of HFC lies not only in its builders and moulders including the nuns and teachers, but also in the numerous students who have passed through its portals not only to achieve high positions but to become good women playing their diverse roles in society.

As I trudge the familiar corridors and grounds of this stately school, no longer as a giggly teenager, but as a mother holding my little girl's hand, the nostalgia overwhelms me. Memories flood in from the recesses of my brain. The poring over books, the whispered secrets, the debates, the annual sportsmeets held at St. Peter's College grounds, with the nuns keeping a wary eye on us and the Peterites being confined to their classrooms by the priests, the pranks played on unsuspecting teachers, the sadness and laughter, the trials and triumphs. The solitude and tranquillity of the austere but beautiful chapel with its white marble and green stained glass........all these treasures of a wonderful girlhood gone by.

But most poignant of all are memories of a fine mix and blend within the walls of this community school where there were no barriers of race, religion or status. No child was identified as a Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher. Christian or non-Christian, rich or poor. No one knew who paid the fees and who did not. Everyone was equal in the true spirit of Holy Family.

As my little girl speaks of the Green Hall or how she saw the sun-dappled sea in all its splendour from her classroom, or trooped to the chapel with her friends, I know the Familian spirit lives on for the 3,000-odd children for whom HFC is a second home. 

And though for me the "College days are over and the deep clear bell call rings its summons never more" the values of Holy Family remain, the same values that will continue to shape the destinies of thousands of young ones.

No stone unturned!

Beautiful stone ornaments for gardens and homes have been lined up for sale outside the Vihara Maha Devi Park, attracting the attention of many passers-by. 

Their creator is W.K Nanda Kumar (44) of Nagoda, Kalutara who describes how he tested the quality of the ornaments for one year before introducing them to the market. 

The painstaking craft requires much skill as it does time and Nanda Kumar said it took him six months to make the six pieces which are presently up for sale.

Nanda Kumar who starts work about 5 a.m. each day, says he will be pricing the stone ornaments according to the time consumed for each creation, valuing his labour at Rs. 500 per day. The most intricate creation will cost about Rs. 12,000, he said.

The raw materials which go into the creations include stone, steel, wires and binder gum added to cement.

With the aid of the Ceylon Technical Association, Nanda Kumar has been able to display his creations at the Millennium Exhibition in Panadura.

"Seeing my creations, a gentleman from America said that he would like to take these back to his country and a gentleman from the museum came and took photographs saying this was a unique craft," Nanda Kumar said, his face lighting up with pride and delight.

Explaining why he has selected this vocation, Nanda Kumar said, "Even if one does a job it will be limited to 8 hours. This I can do for l6 hours because I am doing it at home." 

By Laila Nasry
A beautiful gold necklace encrusted with diamonds lies seductively nestled in the satin. Illuminated by soft lights, it invites a much closer look. And then you visualise it snug against your throat complimenting different outfits in your wardrobe. 

"It's 22 karat gold," a voice interrupts your reverie. " You weigh it in your palm, while your mind weighs the pros and cons of investing Rs.40,000 on a piece of jewellery. If only there was a guarantee that this was pure 22 karat gold worthy of your life savings... 

But now there's no need for doubt. Assaying and hallmarking jewellery assures just that. 

Assaying is the determination of gold, silver and platinum jewellery content in precious metal jewellery both for reasons of quality control during manufacture of the product and, particularly, for ensuring that the finished product meets the standard of fineness (precious metal content), according to Peter Raw, Consultant to the World Gold Council in his report. 

Rowe states that assaying is frequently associated with hallmarking which is the application of a series of marks unto precious metal jewellery which show that the jewellery has been tested at an official Assay Office and found to conform to one of the legal standards of fineness appropriate to that country. 

Hallmarking which first began in the UK is now accepted in many countries around the world including Sri Lanka and falls in line with internationally recognized standards of fineness. For example, gold jewellery is recognized at 22, 18, 14 and 9 carat levels (respectively 916, 750, 585, and 375 parts per 1000). 

Assaying and hallmarking comes to Sri Lanka at a time when almost 90% of the gold is underkarated. Though underkarating was pronounced illegal by the National Gem & Jewellery Authority Act of 1993, it is a method frequently resorted to by small time manufacturers in search of more than marginal profit. The fact that there is no evidence of karatage conformity and no manufacturer's or retailer's mark on the jewellery ensures that the underkarated pieces are rendered untraceable. 

Although Sri Lanka possesses an Assay Office in the Gem and Jewellery Authority with the facilities for hallmarking- (fire assay facilities for gold stamped with the symbol of a lamp, titration method for engraving on silver the symbol of a mask and an AAS machine for platinum-the PT symbol), these are grossly under-utilised. From an estimated 1.5 -3 million gold jewellery manufactured, the number of gold items assayed in 2000 was 3,451, down from 7,153 in 1999. Silver items amounted to about 500 and platinum 100 annually.In 2001, amid 7,000 items of gold were assayed.

The main aim of The Gem and Jewellery Authority which facilitated the introduction of hallmarking into Sri Lanka was to protect the consumer. A series of programmes was arranged for all the top jewellers in the country. 

It's pointless having ten branches if you can't give the customers quality jewellery," says Anura Eliyapura, Managing Director of Raja Jewellers, the first jewellery store in the country to adhere to standards prescribed in hallmarking. "It's an assurance about the product," he says. 

"We can hallmark our own jewellery but we prefer not to, in order to maintain a degree of independence," Mr. Eliyapura said. "The service at the Corporation is very good. We have absolutely no practical difficulties like losing items or them getting stolen. We send the jewellery to them and get it back in two to three days." 

However acquiring the certificate of Assay is not an easy process. "It took us almost a year to put things in place." At first the craftsmen resisted the change for it involved additional work. The high soldering standards, perfect weightage of the metal used, etc. took some time to get used to. "We had to tell them and tell them over and over again about standard procedures etc., until they finally accepted it," recounted Mr. Eliyapura adding that it took more energy than money with the labour force. "Things had to be done to perfection but now the work force has adapted well to it." 

Hallmarking jewellery gives customers an assurance that what they purchase is gold at a genuine stipulated weight.

It also enables further jewellery transactions if one chooses to trade in a piece of jewellery for another. "A piece which has been assayed would be accepted in any part of the world, because the standard is guaranteed," says Mr Eliyapura. Further for pawning purposes, a standardised item would be advantageous. 

Manufacturers currently over-karat for export to ensure that the product will meet foreign market requirements. This will not be necessary if they were to follow assay standards which will stand as a means of assurance for the quality of a piece. 

Mr. Eliyapura was also of the view that assaying generates jobs. " You need more gemmologists, stone setters, supervisors etc. Easily the job problems can be solved within the industry."

The only disadvantage as he sees it is that the process can be cumbersome. "You have to keep track of what you send to the Gem Authority, keep records in your office, file the assay reports etc. Other than that it's a very good system." 

Currently a proposed clause requiring all jewellers to mark their jewellery and prosecution for underkarating (and any other forms of deception) lies before Parliament due to be ratified. Hopefully, it will bring to an end the age old adage 'all that glitters is not gold."

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