ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 9, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 15

A little place full of love

A Sri Lankan mother and son, now privileged citizens of Monaco talk about their life in the tiny principality

Monaco, to many of us, is a reminder of Grace Kelly, the beautiful American film star who married Prince Rainer and became Princess Grace. It is to us a remote place, but visiting their family here recently were two people from that tiny principality who, by virtue of their having resided in Monaco for over ten years, have been granted the status of “Privileged Citizens”.

Chintha Senanayake went to Monaco 15 years ago when she married a Sri Lankan working there. Her son, Shanka, aged 11, was born there and is perhaps almost as much a native of Monaco as are the Monagesques, the name by which the indigenous people are known. Apparently, the immigrant population outnumbers the Monagesques who would be around 2000, while the expatriates number about 3000.

Chintha and Shanka

Monaco is a tiny place of little more than five square miles. It borders France. Chintha told me that the road right behind Shanka’s school, belongs to Monaco on one side, but is French territory when you cross over to the other side! When an accident occurs, the police of both countries are called in. It is very much a multi-cultural society and the most admirable facet of life in Monaco, say both mother and son, is the way that other people are respected and given worth, so that harmony prevails. Racist attitudes or colour discrimination is unknown. Shanka has felt at home from the time he started nursery school at age four. There aren’t any other Asian boys in the school he attends, but many different nationalities are represented.Chintha works for a Lybian oil company known as the Tamoil Petroleum Company where again, the staff comprise several different nationalities – Sri Lankan, Greek, French, Italian etc. “The Monagesques are family-oriented.

There is a feeling of ‘community’ and I find it a good place for a single parent to bring up a child,” she says. (Chintha and her husband are divorced). Chintha also stressed that although Monaco is an affluent country, the people are sensitive and caring about less developed parts of the world like Africa and Asia.

All the boys and girls in Shanka’s class, for instance, knitted scarves earlier this year.“It was so funny to watch Shanka knitting away,” said Chintha with a smile. The scarves were sold and the money raised went to a fund for the children of Sudan.

Shanka’s class of 18 students raised 230 Euros from their scarves and the rest of the school had their own fund-raising projects.
Chintha and Shanka both take part every year in a national fund-raising project called “No Finish Line” initiated by Prince Albert and his sister, Princess Stephanie. The idea is for citizens to walk or jog as many kilometres as possible, earning 1 Euro per kilometre. It’s not a race, each person can do it in his/her leisure time, walking so many kilometres one day and a further number the next day, and so on. There is an office that keeps a record of each person’s endeavours and a tag mentioning the distance covered is given to every participant, to be worn on the leg. Shanka, who is a keen participant in this annual event, received an award from Princess Stephanie last year as the youngest participant who had walked the furthest for a worthy cause – that of bringing poor African children with heart ailments to Monaco for treatment.

“The late Prince Rainer suffered from a serious heart condition and as a consequence Monaco has one of the best-equipped and most up-to-date cardiology units anywhere. People from all over the world – even from Sri Lanka (although I don’t know how they can afford it!) - come to seek treatment there.”

Chintha’s colleagues and friends in Monaco were quick off the mark in responding generously towards tsunami-relief in the South. She came here in 2004 and used their donations to join with some Sri Lankans who were building houses and replacing lost fishing boats. Money from Monaco also helped to set up and fully equip a Children’s Cancer Unit in the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital. A Montessori School in Keula near Hambantota which had been washed away and was re-located in the premises of the local Buddhist temple, was provided with new equipment through money raised by Chintha and friends who also undertook to pay the salaries of the two teachers for two years.

Together with friends in Monaco, Chintha established a “Hippocrates Fund” to sponsor five medical students in Ruhuna for five years. Shanka who was keen to do his bit, initiated the construction of a children’s playground called the Siddhartha Park in Sigiriya.

While Shanka obviously enjoys coming to Sri Lanka and basking in the warmth of extended family – I sensed that both he and his mother are not sorry, either, to return to the cleanliness, order and peace that life in Monaco provides.

By Anne

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.