21st January 2001
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Hope for little lost souls

By Tania Fernando
A simple question like 'how old are you?' leaves little Malik Krishantha bewildered. Like most of the other boys in this orphanage, Malik seems to be unaware of where he comes from or any other detail that a child of his age would take for granted.

Be it to wipe tears of joy or sorrow or show them the correct path, children need parental love and guidance in their lives. While most children are loved and nurtured through childhood, there are the unfortunates who have been left with no one to care for them.

The story of 'Arun Shanthi Nivas', is how a family's tragedy became a memorial to a loved one and a Imagehome for destitute children.

Arun Manikavasagam was like any other 22-year-old living life to the fullest when tragedy struck. He died in an accident in May 1999. 

In his short life though, Arun had a passion to help underprivileged children and had always urged his family and friends to do the same. While studying overseas he had insisted that his parents help children not only by way of cash donations, but by visiting them and spending time with them, said Mr. M. Manikavasagam, Arun's father.

After his tragic death, his father decided that the money which had been kept aside for Arun's studies should be channelled to a worthy cause. Thus 'Arun Shanthi Nivas' came into being.

Situated in Wattala on a one acre plot of land, the orphanage is home to about 30 boys at present. There are five housemothers and a warden who take care of their needs. There are also many volunteers who visit and assist them.

Warden Ms. Rajeswari Kitnasamy said most of the children who come to them are filled with uncertainty about their future. Some who have been in other orphanages are worried as to whether conditions would be worse. So the caregivers' first task is to reassure the children. "We are here to love and protect them and give them guidance to go through life," she said.

The orphanage takes in children between five years and seven years. All those living there at present are below ten. To ensure there is no discrimination they are provided with uniforms to wear during the day.

In their formative years they are sent to an in-house nursery and thereafter to school. After they return from school, the children are allowed time to play, after which they have prayers. Then they do their studies, with a tuition master who helps them on a voluntary basis. Most of the boys can speak all three languages. 

While schooling, they are trained in a skilled job of their choice and once they turn 18, employment will be found for them, said Mr. Manikavasagam.

He has opened savings accounts for the boys, so that when they turn 18 they would be able to stand on their own feet and choose what they want to do with their lives.

Sujeewan, 4, was brought to the orphanage last month from the Nuwara Eliya, SOS village where his mother who is blind had entrusted him. Most children in the orphanage have been sent from the Child Care & Probation Department.

Anushka Mahanama who is studying in Year Five has been transferred here from a children's home in Mahara. He did not seem to know any other life than that in an orphanage.

The sad stories are endless. Pushed from pillar to post, from one home to another, most of them are looking for the missing link, security and love in their lives. Arun Shanthi Nivas is offering these little lost souls a home and hope for their future.

A hundred up - well played sir

By Uthpala Gunethilake
He was born in the first month of the first year of the last century of the last millennium. He lived to see the end of that century, and heartily greeted the beginning not of a mere century but of a brand new millennium. And the clock hasn't stopped ticking yet. 

How is that for an eventful life? Indeed, Mr. Lionel Jayasuriya who turns 100 on January 25 is a rare specimen, a miniature canvas reflecting the bigger picture of the last hundred years on the island.

Born in 1901, to a much more laid-back time than ours, in the 'village' of Veyangoda, Mr. Jayasuriya is the youngest of a Baptist minister's 13 children. 

"When my eldest sister married, I was too small even to be a pageboy. Now I'm the only surviving member of my family," he reminisces. The years have dulled his physical faculties -he is frail and unable to see and hear properly- but he suffers from no severe illnesses, and his memory, and spirit remain amazingly clear.

Having lived a full life, even at 100 he hasn't stopped earning titles; his latest is the 'oldest old boy' of Wesley College. Mr. Jayasuriya's life mirrors not only a lifestyle much different to our own, but a different country too.

"Life was much different those days, and certainly better," he comments. "There were no buses. The bullock-cart reigned. Once, when I was nine we came by cart from Bandaragama to Panadura- seven miles. We went up to Bolgoda Lake in the cart where they changed the tired bull. Then, with a fresh bull we pulled onto Panadura. That day, for the first time in my life, I saw the sea; I was thrilled!"

His family later moved to Panadura, and Mr. Jayasuriya studied for some time at St. John's College, Panadura, during its founding principal, Mr. Cyril Jansz's time. 

Later he entered Carey College where after his studies he joined the staff as a pupil-teacher, a breed that is no more. In 1917, at just 16, he joined the Government Teacher Training College and after training, returned to Carey as a teacher later becoming the Lower School headmaster.

Cricket and church, he says have been highlights in his life. "When I was at St. John's College I'd form a team and play against other schools in the area. Later I played for the second-eleven of SSC. I was a fast bowler-only fast but not very good! But once I scored ninety-nine not-out versus Nugegoda Sports Club and that was my best!"

However, his plans to become a skilled violin player suffered due to cricket. "I loved playing the violin till I gave it up for cricket! One day I went without practising the violin and my excuse was that I had cricket practices. My teacher said, 'Mr. Jayasuriya, either you give up cricket or give up this violin!' I gave up the violin. I was around 35 then." 

In 1949, he joined Wesley College where he taught till he retired. Upon retirement, in 1962, he returned to Carey College as master in charge of cricket. "When the foreign teams came to play here, like the Indians and Englishmen, I would take the boys at my expense to watch the matches," he says. 

He even got famous coaches like Brian Close to speak to his own team. Having also been a keen Scout Mr. Jayasuriya remembers how as a Senior Patrol Leader of the 12th Colombo Troop, he was among those selected to line up at the late Governer Sir John Anderson's funeral procession. 

He remained a pillar of the church all his life. "I was a member of the YMCA, active in the YMCA Forum. In 1937, I was part of a delegation that went to Rangoon, for a Student Christian Movement conference." 

Mr. Jayasuriya admits to being quite a Don Juan in his days. "I loved many girls!" he says, with a twinkle in his eye. 

"Every time I loved a girl I prayed that God would give her to me. But when she moved house, I would follow her for sometime and then fall in love with some other girl!" 

However there was one girl he didn't give up. "Her parents didn't want a schoolmaster for her; they wanted a doctor. But she and I carried on 'horen horen'! 

"Once she had to go to Nuwara Eliya. She told me which train she was taking, and she had a pass. I bought my ticket. Of course I had to pay first-class fares, but all the same I got first-class enjoyment!" The parents couldn't stop the two, and finally Mr. Jayasuriya married Nesta Kannangara, also a teacher. They had one daughter. Nesta passed away in 1997.

The couple lived in Mirihana and Mr. Jayasuriya recalls how during World War 2, they often entertained RAF soldiers at their home. 

He remembers seeing Ceylon gaining Independence in 1948. "It was a school holiday and we were all part of the celebrations. As part of it all the hostellers at Carey took a group photograph."

Some of his most memorable experiences are of the many class trips he took his students on. 

"Sri Lanka was one of the safest places and we could go anywhere in the island without getting into trouble_ Trincomalee, Anura dhapura, Yala and Batticaloa. 

In Batticaloa in 1951 it was raining heavily and the roads were flooded, and we had to push the bus. Later several of us went to hear the singing fish. We waited and waited but the fish didn't sing that day!"

Mr. Jayasuriya and daughter Kaminee now live in Moratuwa with Kaminee's cousin, Rev. Mervin De Silva of St. Emmanuel's Church. He is grateful to his daughter who looks after him, and says he spends his time listening to the radio when he can, but mostly, he says, remembering the past. And what does he think of the world today? "My word, we are living on top of a volcano!" he exclaims. " But, in spite of all that, I believe the world is still getting along under God's guidance."

"I take no credit for having lived to be a hundred. I just lived, taking days as they come," he says reciting a few lines by H. W. Longfellow,

"Tell me not in mournful numbers,
'Life is but an empty dream!'
... Life is real! life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal..."

Read the signals

Spin, to be effective, must be controlled. That goes for spin bowling as well as spin doctoring. Spin doctoring is the art of verbally dressing up a policy, programme or event to blow up its significance or engage in obfuscation or confusion when politicians and bureaucrats make a mess that hits, or threatens to hit, the fan.

It has been practised for centuries by society at various levels but mainly at the political. Rulers and governments hire people to do their spin doctoring which is modern parlance for this old habit. The spin doctors come in various forms, shapes and sizes- as press secretaries, hired hacks who appear as TV and radio interviewers to toss easy and well rehearsed questions in order to get well rehearsed answers, and so deceive the public. Deception, therefore, is as important an element of spin doctoring as hyperbole and damage control.

Unfortunately diplomats also find themselves involved, willingly or otherwise in this game. But the problem with spin doctoring is that, if it is not cleverly practised or is not in the hands of a seasoned practitioner, the spinner and those he is trying to serve, could, and often do, end up with plenty of egg on their collective faces.

So when diplomats try to put too much spin on developments which will become public before long, they run the risk of going dangerously out on a limb. 

The bashing of Tony Blair's "New Labour" government by sections of the media and the public, is partly because its spin doctoring has tried to make the achievements and policies of the Labour Government appear far more worthy of merit than they really are. Partly also because attempts to cover-up their foibles have only served to expose their own nudity. 

These are lessons our diplomats must begin to learn. As for our politicians it is too late for them to learn anything. They, like the Bourbons of France, forget nothing and learn nothing.

Take the case of the Aid Group - or to be politically and terminologically correct- the Development Forum - in Paris last month, attended by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and a clutch of ministers, with a media pack in tow.

After the Paris meeting she returned to London. One would have thought that President Kumaratunga would have spoken to at least the Sri Lankan media which is represented in London. But somehow she seems to avoid the local media, though she does not mind extending such courtesies, now and then, to the BBC. How unlike visiting Indian leaders who make it a point to brief the Indian media in London. Anyway I was told that the meeting was "very satisfactory" and that the President was satisfied.

If this was President Kumaratunga's personal assessment of the outcome of the two-day meeting then it is quite clear that it is an assessment that is more fanciful than real, to judge by the remarks made by donors and the inconclusiveness of the aid package. 

The fact that ministers and ministries came up with widely different figures is proof enough that they too were in the dark, very simply because the donors refused to commit themselves. Is this the first time it happened? If so what is the message? The truth is that the Paris meeting, for all the work that went into preparing for it and all the diplomatic lobbying , was a slap to the face of the PA Government. Western official sources I have since contacted noted the dissatisfaction of the European Union at not only the inaction of the government but what they felt was the definite attempt to embarrass the EU and other concerned countries outside the organisation. There is even talk in some media circles here that Chandrika Kumaratunga did not get an appointment with Tony Blair not because he was too busy, but to underline the British Government's concern about developments in Sri Lanka, especially with regard to human rights and the manner in which sections of the PA government behaved before and during the elections.

What happened at the elections can hardly be held up as a sublime example of how democratic elections should be held. It is easy for government spin doctors and other hangers-on to argue that all the intimidation, impersonation and electoral malpractices were restricted to three or four districts.

But that is hardly the point. What does matters to these countries to which Colombo turns for aid and assistance, is the importance of the people involved in creating mayhem and destroying the country's veneer of democracy. If ruling party politicians and their kith and kin are involved, if government machinery and transport are blatantly misused, then is the government ready to act against those concerned and ensure that the rule of law prevails? This is what concerns those countries to whom we eventually turn to for help.

In fact some of them believe the recent actions of the PA government are only a few steps removed from that of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe whose political antics have lost him friends even in Africa, which in the past ignored such buffoonery but is now increasingly embarrassed by it.

If our diplomats in Brussels have not already informed the powers- that- be in Colombo not to act so blithely towards Europe, let me add a word of caution. The European Commissioner in charge of external relations is Chris Patten, former minister in the Thatcher cabinet and later Governor of Hong Kong. Mr Patten is one who has some admiration for Sri Lanka. I know it because several times he has spoken to me about the talents of Sri Lankans and has even done so others at parties in Hong Kong.

Chris Patten is a man of strong beliefs and he stands steadfastly by them. If Mr Patten makes European Commission policy on external affairs and is probably responsible for some of the statements that have been made on Sri Lanka, it is time our leaders gave him an ear instead of taking lightly the Commission's remarks.

If Minister S.B Dissanayake who was in Paris to hear what the consortium thought about the Samurdhi antics, thinks he can treat the world community with the Olympian disdain he tends to show in Sri Lanka, it will soon come home to roost. Foreign Minister Kadirgamar can go round the world preaching the virtues of sovereignty. But if the government he serves wants others to replenish its empty bowl, then he and the cabinet-which is large enough to fill a 20 foot container- will need to pocket sovereignty and pride and understand that they will be judged by civilised political norms, not by the behavioural standards of the cave man. Sri Lanka is well and truly in the dock. And it will not be judged by a tampered bench but by forthright individuals. 

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