A village reawakened

As winds of change blow across Hulannuge in the east, after the defeat of the LTTE, D.C. Ranatunga relates the efforts of a monk whose mission is to help the people pick up their lives

Hulannuge is a remote village between Siyambalanduwa and Lahugala on the road to Pottuvil . It is on the border of the Ampara and Moneragala districts. The village got its name from a huge nuga tree on a rocky hillock which used to create a screeching noise on windy days - thus the name 'hulan' (wind) 'nuge' (nuga tree).

The people of Hulannuge lived in fear during the days when the LTTE was active in the East. The villagers often left their homes at night and gathered at the village temple for safety. The temple is on a rocky terrain surrounded by jungle. "We were alert during the nights. We would light a lamp and hang it somewhere but group together elsewhere so that we could not be seen or noticed. We were extra vigilant whenever we heard a shout 'panno' meaning the 'koti' have jumped, from a nearby village," the chief monk in the temple, Kurundugolle Sarananda Thera told me reminiscing about those dark days.

The Thera gave leadership to the village at the crucial period. It was under trying conditions that he did so particularly after meeting with a serious motor cycle accident (he was on the pillion going for a 'dane') which forced him to spend three years at the Colombo National Hospital after surgery. He went back when fighting was at its peak. The 33-year old monk still gets about on crutches but is active and helping the people improve their living standards.

After the war the picture has changed. The people get about their business without fear. They cultivate the paddy fields and grow yams (mainly sorghum and cowpea), vegetables and fruits (pumpkins and water melon are the most popular crops). They sell the produce to traders who come in vans and collect it.

Ven. Sarananda Thera tries out his crutches on a recent visit to the National Hospital where he underwent surgery for the second time

The homeguards who helped the STF (Special Task Force) in protecting the village have been absorbed into the newly formed Civil Defence Force (CDF) and continue to be occupied. The men are being diverted towards agriculture and self-employment projects like brick-making. A 100-acre farm is being developed where they will grow yams and a whole range of vegetables. "It will be a cooperative effort. We are planning to grow a lot of popular varieties both for consumption by the villagers around and for sale to the traders, "sergeant Sagara said.

For 22-year-old Damith it's a new experience. "After I got through my O’ Level I applied to become a 'grama arakshak balakaaya' and was selected. That was two years ago. I still have the job and am getting around Rs.16,000 a month," he says. Most of the young men help their families with the monthly salary.

The women have been given employment in pre-schools. The village has a Kanishta Vidyalaya - a junior school with classes up to O’Level. "Neither parents nor the students seem to understand the value of education," principal Madduma Bandara says. "You can't blame them. After all they were badly affected by the war. They were fighting for survival. It will take some time to change their mindset." Hailing from the village itself, the principal is trying his best to encourage the students to make maximum use of the facilities available. There is a staff of 21 in the school. There are ten computers - an asset for the students to learn the first steps to IT.

While Madduma Bandara seeks Sarananda Thera's guidance about school work, the Thera conducts a Daham Pasala where around 125 students learn Buddhism. "I try to mould them to become good citizens. I insist on discipline - from the dress they wear to the way they behave in the temple." Being fully aware of the limitations of the parents, particularly where finances are concerned, the Thera arranges to provide the necessary facilities.

Through the contacts he has made during his stay in hospital in Colombo, he has already arranged for the free distribution of uniforms to the Daham Pasala children. He insists they should come dressed in white - the boys in shirt and shorts and the girls in the lama sariya. "I know they can't afford it, so I have arranged to get the cloth, stitch the uniforms and give them," the Thera said. When we were there, representatives from the Aganuwara Bauddha Sangamaya donated white cloth. The Thera was arranging a tailor to get the sizes and stitch them.

The Thera has also arranged scholarships for 15 students of the Daham Pasala from very low income families. Thirteen of them receive one thousand rupees a month. Two A’ Level students - one from Lahugala and the other from Siyamblanduwa - get Rs 1600 a month.

The monk who came from Welimada 12 years ago, put up a mud hut and lived there all by himself, has come a long way solely due to his courage and determination. "This place was surrounded by jungle when I came. I first occupied a dilapidated temple close-by but soon shifted here," he says showing the wattle and daub one room hut he built. The villagers rallied round, gave him 'dane' and looked after him. Today a separate 'avasaya' and 'bana saalawa' (also used for Daham Pasala classes) have been built. There is a 'budu-ge' and a bodhiya for the villagers to worship. Final touches are being given to the chaitya.

The hut is still intact. We were treated to typical village rice and curry meals there by the village-folk during our three-day stay. A most satisfying outing it was. As we left the youngsters were busy making 'Vesak koodu'.

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