ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 2, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 14

Many milestones of an educationist

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

‘Challenges and Opportunities’ will be launched shortly to coincide with the establishment of the Dr. Uvais Ahamed Education Foundation.

The Foundation will focus on a specific target group – children who have passed the OLs but are unable to do the ALs. “It would be a stepping stone and the assistance will take different forms – funding to take part in seminars, tuition fees, funds to buy books etc.,” explains Dr. Ahamed, adding that otherwise these children fall by the wayside.

All the proceeds from the sale of Dr. Ahamed’s autobiography will be channelled to the Foundation.

The telephone rings and a hesitant voice asks: “Oya kathakaranne Uvais Ahamed Sir da.” When the caller is told that it is so, the words flow out from the other end of the line. “You are the one who got me the job as a teacher. My father is dead now. I have just been appointed a Principal and it was today that I got a telephone. Yours was the first number I rang. A daughter and a mother in a humble home far away always give thanks to God for the good deed that you did so long ago.”

By that time Dr. Uvais Ahamed has not only left the Ministry of Education after a long career but also Sri Lanka to work abroad. The call comes when he is on home leave. This is the essence of the life story of teacher, Principal, Director of Education and finally international civil servant Dr. Uvais Ahamed, now written up for all to read.

Through ‘Challenges and Opportunities – Autobiography of an International Civil Servant and Educationist’, Dr. Ahamed dwells more on those who helped him become what he is today through a career spanning 50 years rather than those whose lives he has touched.

The girl who called him while on home leave had been assisted by him in getting a teaching job a long while before that. Her father was an attendant in a hospital and they were in dire straights. Though she had passed her examinations she was unable to get a job and that’s when Dr. Ahamed came into their lives.

“As a young person I realized that society was not an encouraging or enabling society,” says Dr. Ahamed, hastening to add that society was not as bad then as it is now. “I yearned for an education and wanted to become somebody in this world. But there were several constraints, with people discouraging me. I took it up as a challenge and with the grace of God, abiding faith in myself and the help of some who did stretch out a hand I’ve achieved my goals.”

Little bits of information from the autobiography give an insight into his life, drawing out episodes from 50 years of experience.
Born into a respectable Moor family, his education was interrupted only after he sat the Ordinary Level. “We had all the necessities. My father was -------

But after the OLs, he became aware of the financial difficulties faced by his father, who was the sole breadwinner, having to see to the schooling of his younger siblings. Not wanting to be a financial burden on his father, prompted him to seek a job as an “uncertificated” teacher. His parents only gave him permission to do so only after securing a promise from him that he will not give up his studies.

Dr. Uvais Ahamed

“For me, I saw it not as the end but as the beginning,” says Dr. Ahamed. Starting his teaching career in a small school, the path to the top as a respected educationist and civil servant was not an easy one. While there were the petitions and allegations that he was affiliated to one or the other of the main political parties, Dr. Ahamed had a clear vision where he was heading and in his quest he was undeterred.

Hard work always pays, has been his motto from the very beginning when as a junior education officer appointed to the Chilaw region he would visit even the remotest schools whereas most education officers would stay in rest houses or hotels and summon the headmaster of the school to meet them there with the school’s log book. Of course, they would still claim the compensation for transport.

As young as he was, Dr. Ahamed was not reluctant to give up his precious holidays for the betterment of the school system. “All of us need to be an enabling influence because the young are easily disillusioned when they feel their potential has not been realized. Then there is frustration,” he says castigating teachers who “save their energies” during school time so that they could indulge in tuition after school hours and earn quick money the easy way. His advice to all those in the important sphere of education is that they must never forget that they are the trustees of children. When chosen, after a fair interview to go to the United Kingdom on a British government scholarship, Dr. Ahamed got the first taste of the poison pen, when a subject clerk at the Education Ministry showed him a petition against him charging that he would not be able to work in Sinhala areas on his return from the UK as he didn’t know Sinhala.

What the petitioner did not know was that Dr. Ahamed was a gold medallist in Sinhala oratory who had even beaten the Ananda College medallist at an oratorical competition. Each chapter in the autobiography depicts the numerous milestones in his life and deal extensively on his work in Asia, Africa and the Pacific, when he crisscrossed continents as a UN consultant and being appointed to such incredible positions as member of the International Jury on the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Finally it was back home, where he guided the destinies of Zahira College in Colombo and also the Sri Lanka College of Journalism, “an excellent institution which needs to be developed more and more”. In the same breath, he adds a word of caution. “Such institutions must have people without personal agendas. Many institutions are set up with laudable objectives but crash due to personal agendas.”

Many are the people, from various strata of life, who have influenced him in his long and celebrated career and for Dr. Ahamed as he looks back on 50 years, “it was a journey begun in January 1957, a big journey started in a small school”. The secret lies in working hard whatever the job entrusted and never-ever taking a short-cut.

Top to the page

Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.