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22nd November 1998

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The scholarship scheme started by Lalith Athulathmudali is a great boon to needy undergrads

The man behind the Mahapola

By Hiranthi Fernando

On November 26 this year, the sixty second birth anniversary of Lalith Athulathmudali will be commemorated.

Although it is five years since his tragic assassination, his name lives on through the achievements he made as a student, an academic, a professional, an orator, a leader and Minister.

Yet, it has been said that the greatest monument he left is his most cherished project, the Mahapola Scholarship Scheme.

Lalith: helped all communitiesThis scheme has grown from strength to strength since the Mahapola Higher Education Scholarship Trust Fund (MHESTF) was first created in February 1981, as a private trust with a personal contribution by Lalith. It has helped and continues to help thousands of youth to further their education. The first batch of 422 Mahapola Scholarships was awarded in November 1981. The very first student to receive the Mahapola Scholarship from Lalith Athulathmudali was U.D.G.N. Jayaratne, a blind student from a humble home in Mawathagama.

Although Jayaratne was born blind, he was a bright student.

His father was poor and his future may have been different if the Mahapola Scholarship has not come to his aid.

Today he has passed out with honours and is employed as a teacher, imparting his knowledge to numerous other students.

Dr. Sudantha Liyanage was another student who made good, thanks to the Mahapola Scholarship he received in 1984/85.

"After I had passed my G.C.E. Ordinary Level examination, my father passed away very suddenly," Sudantha said.

"We had a very hard time until about 1982/83.

"At my Advanced Level exam in 1981, I was unable to obtain the required marks to enter University.

"Due to the financial problems my family faced, I could not sit the exam the following year. We could not afford the tuition fees.

"In 1983 however I succeeded in gaining admission."

"With the financial problems we still had, the scholarship gave me the encouragement to pursue my higher studies. During the four years of my course, BSc. Special in Chemistry, I received the monthly stipend of Rs.350.

"I could not have managed without it. When the universities closed in 1987, due to the J.V.P. problems, I worked as a chemist in a private company.

"When the universities reopened, I received the grant once again until I graduated."

After his graduation, Sudantha was employed at the University of Sri Jayawardenapura, until he obtained a scholarship to do his doctorate at the University of Wales, Cardiff.

Having completed his doctorate, he is back at the University of Sri Jayawardenapura as a Senior Lecturer and Course Coordinator for the Programme in Polymer Science and Technology.

"Mr. Athulathmudali also helped the students in so many ways through the Mahapola Graduates foundation which he set up," Sarawanabavan another recepient said.

"His death is a great loss to us all. Many projects which he started are now at an end. I would also like to say that he was not a communal minded person. He helped all communities."

Ujantha Siriwardene, a winner of a Mahapola merit scholarship awarded to 10% of the winners, is employed in the Department of Educational Publications of the Ministry of Education.

Before he took up this post he was Acting Principal of Nalanda College for nine months. Ujantha was an office bearer, treasurer and Acting President of the Mahapola Graduate Foundation.

He said the Mahapola Graduate Foundation was formed to help other students.

The Mahapola graduates feel they have a debt to repay to society.

In return for what they have received they are trying to help other students, particularly undergraduates and those sitting the O' level and A'level examinations.

The newly passed out graduates conduct classes and seminars on a voluntary basis for students who need it. Ujantha's wife Lakmalie was also a recipient of a Mahapola scholarship.

The Development Lottery was launched to create a fund for the scholarships. The Mahapola lottery tickets were sold throughout the country.

And so the Mahapola Scholarship Fund was established as a private trust, administered by a Board of Trustees chaired by the Chief Justice. Fifty per cent of the Development Lottery continues to swell the fund year by year. Ten percent of the scholarships were awarded on merit alone while the balance was awarded to needy students whose parental income is below a set amount. Approximately six million rupees will be spent on the scholarships.

Today, the winners receive around Rs.1,300 per month. According to the Deputy Director handling the subject at the Ministry of Education, 20% of the scholarships are awarded on merit and 80% on financial need.

These scholarships for higher education are granted to the deserving, free from racial, religious, caste, creed class or party considerations.

As a Mahapola graduate, Sandun remarked, "The fact that Mahapola Scholarships continue even though its initiator is no more, speaks well for the sincerity of purpose and dedication of the man who founded it."

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