Mirror Magazine
16th July 2000

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Nature: the battle continues

By Kesara Ratnatunga

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, and once again this year the Young Zoologists' Association (YZA) speaks volumes to us about mother nature through that most captivating form of visual art...photography. 'Young Eye on Nature 2000' is the ninth annual nature photography exhibition to be organised by the association.

The previous eight exhibitions captured the more visually appealing aspects of nature. However, 'Young Eye on Nature 2000' has a new approach. "This time we are not focusing on the beauty of nature alone, but more on the different aspects of environmental destruction," says Vice-President of the YZA's Environmental Action Committee, Uditha Hettige.

The slain elephant is one of the pictures that depict nature and the cruelty of manThe slain elephant is one of the pictures that depict nature and the cruelty of man

"Lots of our members go into the field all over the country and take pictures. Some of these photographs include rare scenes in nature which most people would never have seen before," says the Photography Group Instructor of the YZA, Asantha Sanjeewa. All these pictures have been pooled and the best photographs selected by a panel of experts, some of whom have been past members of the YZA. "Highest priority was given to pictures of environmental destruction, followed by photographs of rare species of fauna and flora to be found in Sri Lanka". Panoramic landscapes are also abundant in the collection of over one hundred selected photographs.

The Young Zoologists Association of Sri Lanka was founded in 1972 by the then Director of the Department of National Zoological Gardens and renowned nature lover, Mr Lyn De Alwis. It was formed with the intent of creating a group of energetic young people equipped with an extensive Imageknowledge of the principles and applications of ecology and natural sciences. It has membership close upon 1000, and the members' ages range from 14 to 35. The YZA also conducts educational programs on nature for its members. With over 100 school branches as well as branches outside schools, it contributes in no small measure to the country's need for education on bio-diversity and environmental conservation.

In keeping with the focus on environmental destruction, a series of thought-provoking photographs exposing the harsh realities of how forests and ecosystems are being destroyed in the name of 'human development', the brutality with which elephants are mercilessly killed and mutilated in order to fuel commercial enterprises , bear an important message.

A special feature of the exhibition will be an hourly audio-visual slide presentation which will "take the viewers into a soothing world of nature disturbed by the cruelty of the law of the jungle". A CD-ROM containing the entire collection of photographs in digitised form will be available at the exhibition. Facilities to get high quality prints of the photographs will also be made avilable to those of you who would like to take home a momento or two.

The opening ceremony will be held on July 19, and the exhibition will be open to the public from July 20-22 at the British Council auditorium.

The plight and beauty of the natural world which has been wonderfully captured by the young members of the association, is a tribute to their impressive photographic abilities and is well worth seeing. Not only for its aesthetic value but as an eye-opener to the realities of the world we live in. As the young zoologists say, "we promise more than an exhibition, we promise an experience of a lifetime".

A hero for today

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

"If you're in the shallow end of a pool, you can sit on your bum, but if you're pushed into the deep end, then you've got to swim to survive", 28-year-old Dilshard Wijesekera tells me.

I have just a mere inkling of the courage he has had to muster to learn this truth, and already I am overawed.

Eleven years ago, as a 17-year-old Royal College schoolboy, Dilshard suffered a tragic accident on the rugby field when the scrum collapsed on him, which has left him permanently paralysed below his shoulders. But one cannot call him handicapped. "I am the same person I was before the accident, there is less I can do but there is also more I can do", he tells me ambiguously.

For him a typical day consists of getting up at about 7 a.m., taking a shower, reading the newspaper, and completing any assignments he may have to hand in. In the afternoon, he goes to bed and generally spends the rest of the day there, where he watches TV, listens to the radio and reads.

Does he miss the simple pleasures of life like going out with friends and chatting on the phone? "It's all a matter of riding over time and getting used to your situation. Friends still drop in which I find surprising after all this time," he says.

Speaking to Dilshard one cannot help but like him. Quiet and affable, it is his calm acceptance of the cruel blow that life has dealt him that strikes one. To him, his every achievement seems like 'no big deal', whereas sitting in front of him, my sense of awe increases every minute.

Is he angry at his fate, that there are things he now can't do and will probably never be able to, does he ask 'why me'? No, he says. "I have learned to concentrate on what I can do instead of what I can't. As for his fate, 'one could always ask, "why not me"? These are questions which don't really have any answers", he says.

Since his accident, Dilshard has taken up painting, a hobby he never had any interest in earlier. He paints holding the paintbrush in his mouth. He also writes articles for sports magazines. And for someone who claims he was never particularly bright, graduating on top of his class at the Open University with a first class degree in Social Sciences, is a definite triumph. 'It's a goal I set for myself. I subconciously challenged myself. I even handed in all my assignments on time', he tells me modestly. 'I did it not just for myself but for others like me. To prove that people like me can do things as well and even better than others'. And then he says something that touches me. 'I now understand the kind of struggle women have to go through to prove themselves equally capable of a job as a man, and I know it's not easy'.

Other than for his weekend classes at the Open University Dilshard rarely ventures out. He is helped into the university building and remains there until classes finish. 'It's too much of a hassle to leave the house, so I'd just rather stay inside and not be a bother to anyone.

In Sri Lanka the disabled are marginalised. For 48 years after independence, the country did not have any legislation regarding the rights of the disabled, and while it is there now, it is just a piece of paper. If more thought was given to the disabled like making common places accessible with the use of ramps and so on, we would all be able to participate more actively in society' he pointed out.

Dilshard is just like any other guy his age. He loves sports, especially cricket and rugby, works on his computer with the aid of a mouthstick, watches TV and listens to the radio a lot. But he also has an understanding of life in a perspective few people have. He doesn't worry about his future or dwell on his past. 'If you start worrying, there's a lot of things you can worry about. The past is gone, the future may never be, it's the present that you have to make the most of'.Not many people can live through such tragedy without breaking in some way. As such, Dilshard's refusal to rail against the fates and his determination to win, makes him nothing less than a modern day hero.

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