26th July 1998
To ride from Colombo to Hatton on the back of a CD 200 motor-bike may not be everybody's kettle of fish. But it could bring enormous "fun", as I discovered on a "not-so-bright", "not-so-gloomy" Monday afternoon.
The first few miles were a bit disconcerting, especially to "car-lubbers", used to being enclosed in metal and glass, to find lorries and containers and garbage tractors, moving within inches of their shoulders. Vehicles went so close past us that we could almost eavesdrop on the conversation of those inside three wheelers.
But once past Kaduwela, everything was smooth sailing. The road was good. Vehicles were few. I took in greedily all the scenery before me. There was a great difference between what I saw, and what I would have seen had I been inside a car, for there was no metal frame to enclose my view. There was nothing between me and what we were passing by.
Life on a Monday afternoon outside Colombo! Here and there, a house would have all its doors locked. But for the most part, they were open and often there would be an old woman or a man, seated either on a bench, a chair, or squatting on the doorstep, with a distant look in their eyes. They seemed not to be gazing into the future, but into the past. It was as if all life had drained out of them. They were like the sap of a grape, the shell of a coconut. Discarded. Waiting for death.
Philosophy apart, by the time we began to catch glimpses of the river at Kitulgala, my legs had begun to go numb. I yearned to stretch them out, to loosen my fingers from the metal bar I was holding on to. It was by then three-thirty, and there stood on the door step of most houses, a kid or a woman or both, drinking tea from huge mugs. The whole of Sri Lanka seemed to be drinking the hot brew at one and the same time. Except us. Relief came finally when the Kitulgala Rest House came into view.
But not for long! We were running rapidly out of petrol. The "petrol station" at Kitulgala had no petrol. Neither did the one at Ginigathena. With no other stations around, there was nothing else to do except to take the plunge and make it to Hatton. Knowing that the loneliest, the most deserted stretch of the journey lay in front of us, it was with trepidation that we left the Ginigathena town. But luck, for once was on our side. No mishaps till we reached Hatton.
Except for one. It began to rain. What at first seemed like small needles pricking the skin, within minutes turned into huge drops, the size of pebbles. We parked the bike and ran inside a bus halt, only to discover that being open on all but one side, the wind brought in the rain to drench us as much as it would have done had we been on the bike. My watch read four-ten. But outside, the time seemed to have moved faster. It was already dark; everything around us had a mournful, gloomy air. We decided to move on in spite of the rain.
The mist grew thicker and thicker. It was as if the gods were pouring out bags and bags of white American flour around us.
The idea gave me a fit of giggles. But to laugh was a mistake.
To have your mouth open meant to have it filled with rainwater. And what a sensation it was to have drops of rain falling directly on to your eyes. They fell onto the black spot they call the "pupil", they fell onto the white area, which I do not know what they call, they fell on to our fingers, and soaked into our denims. But thanks to the helmets and the anoraks, our heads remained dry, and the water could not run down our necks, as the saying goes.
The single electric bulbs shining from the roadside shops at Hatton did nothing to brighten the gloom brought around by the rain and the mist.
But the filling station had petrol. While a puny man hanging on to a thick rope with all his might pulled on a huge brass bell in a temple, we began the final lap home. Though the rain had increased we were now too wet to notice. Our thoughts centred round a hot bath and a steaming mug of coffee.
It was six-thirty when we reached one of the loneliest bungalows in an around the Nuwara Eliya district. Its brick walls, the volley of barking dogs and the grinning, puzzled face of Appu, our dear butler, was a heavenly sight. After four and half hours of riding we had finally reached home.
Would I do it again? Hachooose! (Caugh, caugh). Ask me another time folks!
By Chamintha Thilakarathna.
Eighteen year old Janaka Amaratunga of Isipatana College in Colombo is the President of a successful profit making company, 'Greenland (Pvt.) Ltd.' Running a successful Vesak greeting card business he is now exploring the possibilities of either opening another business venture or merging with another company (also run by school children) marketing agrarian products.
Janaka is not alone. He is joined by hundreds of students from all over the country. At Maharagama Central College, a group of Year 12 students are organizing a publicity campaign to compete with a book cover industry run by D.S.Senanayake College called 'Signet,' their main competitor. Union Child Company of Maharagama Central College has much to consider in breaking into the market for book covers and coping with the competition.
What am I talking about? Well, it's not child play but these young people are running companies and dealing with business issues like marketing, demand and supply. Eight schools around the island have established seventeen such companies dealing in varying fields from publishing books, book marks and book covers to greeting cards, producing bio-degradable agricultural products and even cultural dance troupes. Believe it or not made, produced, distributed and managed by students from ages of 7 to 18.
How do they do it? Well, Isipatana, Ananda , Nalanda, D.S.Senanayake, Southland College in Galle, Swarnamali College in Kandy , Anula Vidyalaya, Maharagama Central College students have successfully carried out several business programmes where they run their own companies and actually make profit at the same time.
The programme in Sri Lanka which is known as 'Young Entrepreneur' in collaboration with Junior International Achievement based in the US, USAID, has been in operation since March this year. Patrick Amarasinghe, President of Young Entrepreneur project says that the idea came to him in the 1970s when he visited a carnival in America where students were selling self-made products.
"When I queried how these studentswere doing it I learnt that there is a programme called Junior International Achievement whereby students are encouraged to start their own businesses to give them an idea of how companies work at an early age," Mr. Amarasinghe said.
Students are very enthusiastic about the new concept. They are not only taken up by the impressive roles of having to be directors, Presidents and shareholders of companies while in school but also by the income they get out of it.
"When the company is formed we raise the capital by selling shares of the company. Once the company starts to make profits, the share holders get their due payments with the growth of the company," said Janaka Amaratunga.
Although these companies last only for six months for regulatory reasons, it does not end there. Once the six months of a company is completed, the directors can either sell or close down the company altogether. Depending on the profit and deficit most companies are bought over by other student businessmen. For this reason, the project is coordinated at three stage the primary, middle school and upper school.
Seven year old Migara Gamage could be the president of a future company. At present he is learning the basics of running a full fledged company.
At the Maharagama Central College commercial competition is at its highest. The student run canteen and the school run canteen are at loggerheads for profits while the Sathosa shop inside the school and the student run stationery shop are also keenly competitive.
Similarly at Isipatana Vidyalaya at Havelock Town, competition among most business students is at its maximum with companies trying to merge for more profits while others battle to grab the consumer.
Upali Gunesekara, Principal of Isipatana Vidyalaya said, "This project has broadened the minds of the students." He said that students who were aiming to be doctors and engineers have now become interested in commercial enterprises and their functioning that they are seriously looking in terms of opening up businesses or doing marketing once they leave school.
Swarnamali College in Kandy has been one of the most successful. They have opened six companies since the launching of the project in March. Swarna Shakthi, Swarna Lanka, Swarna Ranga Cutral, Swarna Mushrooms are some of those.
While, 'Signet' company at D.S.Senanayake College runs an ice cream company, 'Meridien' of Anula Vidyalaya is an exercise book company, and Isipatana college is turning to a new sphere of producing hybrid varieties of vegetables in their school back yard.
In between board meetings and company conferences, the project has also helped students in their school work. "It has been easier for us to understand what we are being taught in school for commerce, economics and accounts, now that we do it in practice," said a student of Maharagama Central College.
Principal Siripala Wickremarrachi said, "At the same time, it has helped them grow in terms of confidence. They go to companies requesting advertisements and support, they discuss with other school companies and now they are made to think and act on their own in real commercial enterprises."
'Greenland' made a net profit of Rs.21,800 from greetings cards in May. And the M.C.C.Foods company is making an equally large profit with their sale of string hoppers, milk toffees, bread and curries, cutlets, patties etc.
The students are enjoying it and so are the teachers who are supporting them. Mr. Weliwita, Secretary of the YE programme said that this will help students in their future jobs. "They are working closely with Companies like Seylinco and Seylan which has been the main contributer for this project. We are extremely grateful to Mr. Lalith Kotalawala for the financial and other support that he has extended," he said.
It costs Rs.1600 for each student involved in the project. And in order for the project to be further expanded, it requires a cost of Rs 500 million. "We are trying to get support from the private sector. This will in fact, save companies from the training they are forced to give to new recruits. These children not only gain theoretical knowledge but also the practical know how at the same time, that they can walk into a company and start working straight away," said Patrick Amarasinghe.
At the same time, they have been linked with 100 other countries including those in the US and UK who are also members of JAI. "Our students can sell companies and products to student companies based abroad as well. Thus, they get a training in handling international business affairs as well," said Mr. Amarasinghe.
Undoubtedly, with the expansion of the Young Entrepreneurs programme, these youngsters will be job creators and not job seekers in future.
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