She gave new life to many Mahila Samiti projects Subhadra Ratnatunga Amarasekera Gentle, unassuming Subhadra Ratnatunga Amarasekera made an immense contribution to the Lanka Mahila Samiti in her quiet way, from the time she joined it in 1980 to her passing away last June. She herself would have viewed this happy association somewhat differently, experiencing [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka



She gave new life to many Mahila Samiti projects

Subhadra Ratnatunga Amarasekera

Gentle, unassuming Subhadra Ratnatunga Amarasekera made an immense contribution to the Lanka Mahila Samiti in her quiet way, from the time she joined it in 1980 to her passing away last June. She herself would have viewed this happy association somewhat differently, experiencing fulfilment in developing her latent capabilities for meaningful social service.

Living in a rural atmosphere after her marriage for the past 70 years, she came to know the lives and needs of rural women first hand. After the loss of her husband and with her children grown up, she found in the aims and activities of the Mahila Samiti Movement an ideal way to expend her time, thought and energy in working for the progress of rural women and their communities through the hundreds of samiti established in as many villages in the country.

Her kindness, good humour, modesty and intense commitment to everything she undertook won the affection and regard of those she came to associate with at the parent association and rural samiti levels. She had willing co-operation from everyone in the various committees she served. A brief summary of the different aspects of her work will provide a glimpse of the invaluable contribution she made to the progress of the Mahila Samiti Movement and its impact on rural life.

The handicraft section which had been a main activity of the past had been experiencing somewhat of a decline. Subhadra gradually gave it new life, leading to astonishing progress. She got in touch with rural samiti members making handicrafts and encouraged them with new ideas and advice as to quality, variety and salability.

She made Wednesdays “buying days” at headquarters, spending the whole day with members of her committee in selecting and making immediate payment. Our handicraft makers had a steady income and our handicraft sales centre at headquarters experienced increasing supplies of attractive handicrafts, resulting in escalating sales and soaring profits.

The Lanka Mahila Samiti was a pioneer in the field of rural nursery schools, introduced in the mid-1940s by our founder members, Dr Mary Rutnam and Ms. Cissy Cooray. By the 1980s, some 130 nursery schools run by the samiti with a trained palika in charge had reached a state where many needed repairs and lacked equipment. Subhadra visited as many as she could in all parts of the country and obtained reports from the rest to identify their needs. Her brother and family in England regularly sent large consignments of articles donated by generous friends. The sale of these items provided the funds for sets of clothes, indoor and outdoor play equipment, first aid kits and necessary repairs where needed, much to the joy of the children.

Family support came again to the fore in the form of a donation by Subhadra’s eldest brother of an acre of land set in beautiful rural surroundings in the Gampaha District. The Freedom From Hunger Campaign in Germany helped to provide funds for a spacious centre, which now serves 16 mahila samiti in the area and includes a well-equipped nursery school and English tuition classes.

As one of the nine elected members who form the executive committee, which is the basis of the governing central board, Subhadra filled in turn the posts of general secretary, treasurer and finally president with immaculate responsibility. As secretary she would bring her lunch and spend each day attending to all necessary matters. As treasurer she would provide flawless detailed statements of income and expenditure to every member of the central board at its quarterly meetings. She filled the post of president with distinction, modesty and great acceptability.

The loss of Subhadra Ratnatunga Amarasekera has caused overwhelming sorrow throughout the Mahila Samiti Movement. But we should also rejoice at the exemplary quality of her life, her happiness in fulfilling the aims of our movement and her embodiment of our creed, especially the ennobling virtues of loving kindness, compassion, joy in others’ success and equanimity. May her example provide inspiration for everyone in the movement to follow.

The Mahila Samiti will offer merit to her at an almsgiving to be held at our main training centre at Malabe on September 11. May our dear Subhadra attain the blessed peace of Nibbana in the shortest possible time.

Anoja Fernando, Life President, Lanka Mahila Samiti

Thaththa, we will always remember you

Albert Edirisinghe (Ven. Ganegama Siri Devamittha Thera )

I received a call a few weeks ago letting me know of the passing of Albert Edirisinghe (Ven. Ganegama Siri Devamittha Thera ), whom I’ve affectionately known as “Thaththa”, a man of honesty, integrity, and giving heart.

My story of friendship goes back to 1974. I was a third year pre-law college student in the United States attending Hampton University, when I heard I had been selected as an exchange student with “The Experiment in International Living” to visit Sri Lanka.
Our trip began in Washington, DC with a dinner at the residence of the Sri Lankan Ambassador. From there we flew to New York and to Bombay. In Bombay something went wrong with the Sri Lankan aspect of two of our five airline tickets. I volunteered to stay in India and work on clearing up the ticketing error. Being stuck in Bombay was a bit stressful. We made new reservations and were able to continue to Colombo where I would meet my host family Mr. and Mrs. Albert Edirisinghe.

I expected to be more formal with my host parents, but they suggested I call them Amma and Thaththa. Later that evening, we attended a nearby “house warming” ceremony and as I entered the kitchen with other guests to get a plate of food, I noticed that it did seem a bit hot in there. Not having slept well in India, the heat in the kitchen and sampling the spicy food made me feel a bit light headed. I braced against a nearby wall …..but my knees wouldn’t hold me and I slid down.

People rushed to fuss over me, worried it was something serious. Thaththa helped me to my feet and said, “Jeff’s going to be okay, he just needs a little air”, which was correct. We walked on to the balcony and talked about my town and my family. Fresh air was just what I needed. This was my first day in Sri Lanka and I didn’t think I had made a good impression. I hadn’t done a good job of representing my family or my university. I feared I might be viewed as a stranger from a strange land, but in the Edirisinghe home I was accepted as a son. I was the son of a leading optician, who also happened to be Vice Counsel General of Nepal.

Thaththa’s youngest son Janaka came to the United States to continue his studies, and my parents became his parents. I was back in school studying chemistry, physics, and biology to earn a place in dental school. Janaka was looking for an engineering programme. We became roommates at North Carolina A&T State University, where Janaka graduated with high honours. And I was accepted to dental school at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry. Thaththa and Amma came to the States to visit their two sons ….. Janaka in his school of engineering, and me, my school of dentistry.

A few years later, Janaka was “Best Man” at my wedding in the States. Wanting this to be something special, I returned to Sri Lanka with my bride for the “Home Coming” Thaththa gave us. This was a great welcome back home, inviting all our friends for the function, which ended with a cultural programme.

In 1983, attending Janaka and Khulsum’s wedding in Sri Lanka was another highlight of my relationship with the extended family. My family, the Gaskin family, was the host family to the newly wedded couple in Greensboro, where Khulsum attended the University of North Carolina and Janaka worked for Southern Optical, one of the largest optical companies in the US. The bonding was even greater with the Edirisinghe and Gaskin families and it extends to the third generation with Thaththa’s grandchildren: Gihantha, Savinda, Tahire and Rahul, all having attended college in the United States.

Upon graduating, I returned to Sri Lanka as a volunteer on a dental mission where care was provided on a tea estate. We examined the estate children and provided care for the numerous workers on the estate.

My sister Denise visited during a Christmas holiday and my mother Frances came a few years later. Months passed, years passed. Then one day I got a call informing me that Amma had passed away. It was a sad time and even sadder as I was unable to return for her funeral.

I returned to Sri Lanka in 2002 with a dental team of United States Public Health Service dental officers to provide dental care at numerous sites throughout the country. Thaththa had entered the Buddhist order. I asked Janaka about taking a day trip out of Colombo to visit him. Visiting the temple in the south where Thaththa was living, I saw from a distance he was walking the meditation circle. Seeing me, he stopped saying, “It’s too hot out here for you; you aren’t used to this heat; come …let’s get you out of this heat….” He ushered me into the temple barely giving me time to remove my shoes to sit and talk under the rotating ceiling fans.

I wanted to tell him….I tried to tell him… how knowing him had changed my life …making me challenge myself more….to give more to my community……and the world. I had switched from the study of Law to dentistry to do just that….. But Thaththa wouldn’t let the discussion focus on himself, he wanted to know about me, and what I’d been doing.

Thaththa’s good work continues to be carried on by his children. Gamini through his optical good works and Rotarian efforts; Mangala through motherhood and optometry; Tulani through her role as a mother; Sharmali through her role as a mother and great accountant, and Janaka through his humanitarian efforts, reaching to universal understanding and peace work.

I’m going to miss Thaththa — his fine conversation, his love of Sri Lankan culture and his passion for doing the right thing ….right now. But he will not be far away because he will be looking over us always.

Dr. Jeff Gaskin

Charity nourished her character

Clara Josephine Amarasekara Pulukkodi

“Look after my daughter.”

This was the advice Marie Musaeus Higgins – ‘Sudu Amma’ – gave my father about my mother at their wedding. My mother was a teaching instructor at the Musaeus Training College at the time of her marriage. She would mention with due respect about Ms. Higgins, Peter de Abrew and Ms. Soysa, and invoke merit on them.

It was a cousin marriage – ‘avessa nekamata’. My father had donated a plot of land to the government to build a school for the children of the village at that time. My mother received her first appointment as teacher of the girls’ school established in that premises.
My father was the Village Headman of Kindelpitiya, a village lying on the border of the Bandaragama electorate.

At the time of retirement, after 35 years, my mother was the senior teacher. She taught arithmetic and Sinhala literature. Thousands of children of the village and surrounding villages learnt under her. She was popularly known as ‘Ralahamige Hamine’. She believed that arithmetic was the best test of one’s intelligence and trained her pupils with that objective. My two brothers and I received the best of her guidance to follow mathematics and science and pursue our respective professions – teaching, valuation and engineering.

My father was bed-ridden after a stroke and my mother was always by his side. She looked after him well, without disturbing our studies. She lived for nearly a century and this appreciation is timed to coincide her birthday — today.

For many years she had all three meals prepared in our ancestral home – ‘Ramyagiri’ for our three families. After retirement, she looked after our paddy lands and divided the proceeds from the harvest equally among the three families.

There was a paddy land donated to our village temple – Sri Maha Chethiyaramaya. Since our house was situated close to the temple, she always attended to any urgent need of the ‘dana’ to the priests and offered the ‘Katina Sivura’, during the ‘Vas’ period. The priests of the temple regarded her as their own mother.

Charity was the key feature in her character and she led a complete and noble life.

May she attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!

Ramya Sena Pulukkodi, Weer Sena Pulukkodi, Suseela Sena Pulukkodi

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