A monk in a pick-up heading for the Wanni

The only Buddhist monk serving in the Department of Social Services, Ven. Rahula Thera’s current mission is to work with the Internally Displaced People

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi, Pic by Athula Devapriya

The small temple in Depanama is closed and with his meagre earthly possessions he is off to the Wanni to carry out what he has been doing in the other parts of the country.

“I will guide the internally displaced men, women and children on how they can seek government assistance, what procedures they have to follow to get pin padi, wheelchairs if they are disabled and spectacles if their sight is impaired,” vows this Social Service Officer.

But this Social Service Officer is no ordinary man – he is a follower of the Buddha. “The urgent need right now is for me to work not only in Vavuniya but also among the internally displaced people,” says Ven. Warapitiye Rahula Thera, 58, who stopped by the Sunday Times office on Monday on his way north in his brand-new green pick-up, bought with a government loan. The loan is to be deducted from his salary. Having volunteered to serve in the north, he had just taken up his appointment and was headed to Cheddikulam, without an inkling where he would take up lodgings.
Ven. Rahula Thera.

“During the day I will be working among the humble people and at night I will lay my head down in a temple there,” he says, explaining that he will also work to make the Uthuru Vasanthaya programme a success.

Ven. Rahula Thera is the only monk serving in the Department of Social Services. Usually, many monks believe that it should be from gamen pansalata (from village to temple) but his motto is the other way round – from pansalata to gama (from temple to village).

His beginnings were very much from the village, and when asked from which village, he smiles, “from the same village as the President,” in Hambantota.

It was as a young lad of 10 that he joined the Beralapanatara temple in Deniyaya, as a samanera, leaving his home where his parents were farmers. He was a diligent pupil, not only learning the Buddhist precepts but also gaining entry to the University of Peradeniya to secure an Arts degree.

With a yearning to engage in social service, he joined the School of Social Work and with a diploma in hand sat the examination and was chosen as a Social Service Officer. Having served at the Maharagama, Kotte, Kaduwela and Ratnapura Divisional Secretariats, he was at the Western Province head office when he felt the need to work with the IDPs and sought a transfer to the Department of Social Services in the Northern Province.

A member of the Siyam Malwatu Nikaya, he worked in the Western Province, having as his base the Temple of Social Service at Araliya Uyana, in Depanama, Pannipitiya, named due to his passion for his work.

Asked how he will communicate with the people in the north, Ven. Rahula Thera says he knows a smattering of Tamil, as he had learnt the language while teaching the tiny-tots the Sinhala alphabet at Raigam Watte in Ingiriya. “The people there are Tamil-speaking, so I picked up enough of the language to pass the Tamil competency examination,” he explains.

With usage, I will improve, he says, while taking the wheel of the pick-up, adding that as he has no driver he will have to drive the vehicle to the north himself.

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