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30th August 1998

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Braving the rain hundreds participate in 9th SLANA health run against drug abuse: Nilika de Silva reports

It is fun

getting ready to runOvercast skies and rough seas were a backdrop to the 1998 SLANA National Health Run. But in contrast over a thousand bright faced people, ranging from six to seventy six braved this rainy Sunday morning and gathered at Galle Face Green to run against drug abuse.

The race was flagged off by Livy Wijemanne, President of the Sri Lanka Anti Narcotics Association (SLANA) on the dot at 7.30 a.m. "We believe in doing things on time," said one of the SLANA officials.

I was impressed. This was the kind of discipline seldom seen in our island home. And I realised that the Sri Lanka Anti Narcotics Association was an organisation with the commitment necessary to fight such a threat to the future of Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lanka Police Narcotics Bureau puts the number of persons arrested in 1997 for drug abuse at 1031.

This is also reflected in day to day life where almost every street in the City has its own 'kudukaraya' or 'druggi'.

Fact sheet No. 4 of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem held in New York from June 8-10, 1998 states that "annual illicit drug consumption is likely to involve 3.3 percent to 4.1 percent of the world population. In Sri Lanka this figure is around one percent.

"Ninety nine percent are not addicts, which means we have a very big market," said Dinidu Athukorala, Programme Officer, SLANA.

In the case of drug abuse, prevention is better than cure, and SLANA suggests healthy alternatives to keep people away from that deadly pastime. The National Health Run is one such alternative.

Begun in 1990 the event has been an annual event since then. Special Projects Co-ordinator, Manel Ellawela says;"The objective of this programme is to mobilise the community into taking a stand. And to promote a healthy life style."

More than 300 police officers were on duty to see that the Health Run went off smoothly. A first timer at the SLANA Health Run controlling the crowd a young reserve woman constable, W.B.N. Gunasekera commented "Actually it's good isn't it for people's health. All communities are also represented"

This was a noteworthy feature of the SLANA Health Run last Sunday, there was no so called "ethnic problem" in evidence. The natural blending of Muslims, Tamils, Burghers and Sinhalese, and even foreigners was very visible as people from all walks of life came together for the joy of running. The cause too seemed to be popular among many.

kids who took part in the eventYet among the kids it seemed to be an out and out case of pleasure and fun, as nearly every kid I asked said they had taken part "asavata."

Hirantha and Devinda aged seven are neighbourhood 'buddies' and had taken part last year as well. I heard one say in triumph "Remember last time I somehow over took you."

Six-year-old Stephanie Perera had completed the race but Rossita her mother who had followed her every inch of the way complained, "She never ran, she walked the entire race.

I felt sympathetic to this mother who had just walked 7 kilometres, which was the distance for the under 10s.

A poignant moment was speaking to Rajendra Kumara aged 14 who had lost his left arm in the Elephant House bomb explosion in 1996. But young Kumara was undaunted.

Two years later he was among those who completed the 14 kilometre run. He said he enjoyed running and took part in sports activities in school as well.

Ms. Nizam Deen dangling her nephew's sneakers stood talking to her sister Mrs. Raheem who had brought her sons aged 15 and 12 for the run. The boys had participated last year too.

Nimal a 43-year-old kitchen helper of a restaurant was a first timer at the National Health Run. Commenting on the weather he said "When it rains it is good, you can run."

Shanthikumara, a father who had brought his six children for the Run, said he had been a participant himself at the Run last year.

Lorraine Mabazza (53) works for an embassy. She enjoys running. "This is my second race. I ran a race in the US in May," she explained.

A grandfather, P.W.M. Wijeratne describes himself as being the father of 'half a dozen' children! Hailing from Gampaha where he has worked 'under the British imperial government as a policeman.' He gets up every morning at 3 O'clock and exercises for one hour he said illustrating his attitude to a healthy life-style.

The fair sex is equally keen on keeping their place on the track. Mallika Satchithananda, a retired government servant from Sri Lanka Telecom is now a Physical Education Teacher. I spoke to her soon after she finished the 14 kilometres run.

Basilio Lierenas a young man from San Diego California said "I like running. I do it in every country."Sarah Sanders from England a temporary resident in Sri Lanka said "I took part because it's a good cause and I enjoy running. I just do it for fun not for racing. To see so many taking part it's really brilliant." I think what was brilliant was SLANA's ability to bring such large numbers out on a day of grey skies and stormy seas and make them feel it was worth it.

The SLANA Health Run was sponsored by Lanka Dairies, AirLanka, American Express Bank, Hatton National Bank and The Sunday Times.

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