05th May 2002, Volume 8, Issue 42














  •  Home, they say, is where the heart is...

It is highway robbery

By Ranee Mohamed

Few people know where Gelanigama is, but by the end of this year most of us will. But sadly, by that time, there will be no Gelanigama. For this little village off Bandaragama would have by then been swallowed by the gigantic highway that will go crashing mercilessly through it - in its heartless journey from Kottawa to Matara.

Three hundred and twenty houses, countless paddy fields, rubber plantations, bird and plant life will be gulpled down by this eighty metre wide, monster   highway in the name of development.

Seventy-eight-year-old Leyasingho is from a bygone era. But he still is king, over here in Gelanigama, for he spends his days in his paddy field. Clad in his old sarong, the last thing Leyasingho can do in the evening of his life is to bask in retirement.

 In fact, these days he can barely sleep in the nights either. "I keep having nightmares of our home being broken down and my paddy fields being cemented," he confided. "The first settlement in this village is recorded in 1700 and now they are planning to destroy it all," he said shocked.

"Whom do we go to? Who will listen to us?" asked a senior and important citizen V.D. Dickson. "I am the only male in my family of eight and now we are threatened with being shown the street," he said his brows knitted with worry. "We don't know what to do. How can we leave our homes? They are trying to make animals out of man. We like this road, but we do not want to lose our homes," he added.

Ajith Nanayakkara leads a committee of people on behalf of these farmers "Nobody told us about this road. Nobody told us not to buy land here. And now suddenly they are coming here to survey our land and raze our houses to the ground. How can they be so cruel? How can they let this happen. These are our homes - this is the place where we live, eat and sleep..."he said.

For these people of Gelanigama, their houses and their source of income and living are blended in a beautiful unison. They work in their paddy fields, vegetable plots or rubber plantations and come home to rest and then go back to work again. They do not have offices and they do not have fans. They are only fanned with the breezes that bring a sense of relief to their minds that a day's work is done.

But soon they will lose it all. And can we watch it happen.

Not when we see people like Priyanka. Carrying her one and half year old son Tharindu and clutching the puny hand of her four year old daughter Hirani, who could easily be mistaken for a two year old, Priyanka cries tears of fear. "They want us to go but where can we go to? I can't imagine having to lose our home. My sister is mentally retarded and it is my old father and my husband who make ends meet by working day and night in the paddy fields. I leave my children with my mother and go to work in the rubber plantations," she lamented.

As the people sat waiting, their chins buried in their palms with thoughts of destitution wreaking havoc in their minds, Gelanigama fanned their broken hearts with its countless green trees. Birds sang every little song they knew to lift these human hearts. But nothing could console the villagers of Gelanigama even on that bright, blue-skied May Day morning

For the villagers knew that the trees would come down and the birds would have to go away.

Very soon.

The paddy fields and the oviti only saw sadness and tears in every heart and mind.

In this farming community is the home of Cyril Mundy, retired banker who has worked for the HongKong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in Italy, Japan and Saudi. This expert who had been instrumental in developing the credit card business in Sri Lanka chose to nestle his retirement home in the heart of Gelanigama.

Built for three years and just finished, Mundy's home sprawls on a huge bare land and reaches out to nature, for this is how it is made. No gruesome destruction, for every construction seems to blend with the surroundings. Down below from the patio is a view of paddyfields, countless paddy fields - there will soon be none.

Very soon, Mundy's home to which he and his wife put their hearts and souls and a lot of money to build, will have to make way for the road too.

"The RDA is very sneaky about this project," said Heather Mundy. "We understand that the Matara-Colombo highway was designed by international consultants to go in a location about three and a half to four kilometres away from this village of Gelanigama," said Heather.

She also said that as far as she knew, this highway was suppposed to run closer to the coast through marshy lands.

"But for some unknown reason it was moved here. This road will destroy about 320 houses instead of 20 as per the earlier schedule," she pointed out. It is learnt that even in 1995 the villagers did not know that such an idea even existed.

The villagers say that the only person who has so far listened to their woes is Lands Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne.

Threee hundred and twenty homes and about 200 acres of paddy countless trees of rubber and a wide and varied bird life are expected to be destroyed in the name of this new highway. The deeds of lands in this area are reportedly so ancient that they are written in Thombu. But  development, it seems, wears sunglasses.

US naval ship visits Colombo

By Marianne David

An American naval ship, the USS Hopper (DDG 70) under the command of United States Navy Commander Ken Auten, visited Colombo on April 30, for a ten-hour refueling stop. Assigned to the United States Pacific Fleet and based at Pearl Harbour, the USS Hopper is one of the latest Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided missile destroyers.

The Hopper's mission is to operate offensively in a high density, multi-threat environment as an integral member of a battle group, surface action group, amphibious task group or an underway replenishment group.

The ship produces its own fresh water - upto 24, 000 gallons per day - has three electric plants and can stay out at sea for an indefinite period if supplied with fuel and food. The maximum speed of the ship exceeds 30 knots. If needed, the ship can leave a port in under an hour if an emergency arises. It can also have helicopters land on its deck.

The ship was last in battle in 1998, taking part in operation 'Desert Fox.' There are 25 officers and 300 crew members on board; about 30% of whom are women. Half of the officers are women, making it a mixed-gender crew. All the members of the crew are trained for combat.

In the brochure distributed among the media personnel by the crew of the Hopper, the ship is described as, "One of the most capable warships ever built. Through the teamwork of its crew and the sophistication of its combat systems, Hopper will protect the interests of the United States and its allies deep into the 21st century."

The weapons on board the Hopper consist of 90-cell VLS for standard MR SM-2/Tomahawk/VLA (ASROC); eight Harpoon anti-shipping missiles; one five-inch 54-cal DP Mk 45 MOD 1; two 20-mm Phalanx CIWS (Close-In Weapons Systems) 4500 rounds/min; six 12.75 inch Torpedo tubes Mk 32 (2 triple).

The electronic warfare system consists of SLQ-32 (V) 3 counter measure set, SLQ-25A NIXIE Torpedo counter measures, MK 36 MOD 6 decoy launching system (six launchers). The sensors are SPY-ID 3D search/track radar, SPS-67 (V) 3 surface search systems, SPS-64 (V) 9 surface search radar, SQS-53C hull mounted sonar, SQR-19B towed array sonar system, and SQQ-28 LAMPS shipboard equipment (LSE).

The Hopper is named after Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, a pioneer in computer technology and one of the earliest female admirals in the United States Navy. She also developed the first computer programming language and computer compiler that helped revolutionise the world of computers. Grace Hopper was born in 1906 and died on January 1, 1992. The ship's motto of 'Aude et effice' which translates as 'Dare and do,' is a phrase that Admiral Hopper frequently quoted and the lozenge on the crest, traditionally used in the coat of arms of women, honours her too. Also added to the crest is a single star that represents Admiral Hopper's distinction as the first female line officer to achieve the rank of rear admiral.

The blue and gold colours of the shield are traditional navy colours. The lion, a symbol of strength and courage, stands for the USS Hopper's characteristics of survivability and alludes to the ship's motto. The lion, adapted from the arms of Scotland, refers to Admiral Hopper's heritage and the trident symbolises her love for the United States Navy and her naval service. Gold stands for excellence and blue for devotion to duty.

The lightning bolts framing the bottom of the shield connote the image of a ship's hull cutting through the sea. They also represent the sophistication and power of the AEGIS war ship, in large part made possible by Admiral Hopper's work in the computer field. The wreath consists of laurel and oak, representing honour and strength. red denotes courage and sacrifice.

Commander Ken Auten, Executive Officer Dave Cela, Officer Courtney Rogers, and Navigator Matt Cader along with the crew members expressed their delight at being in Sri Lanka after a long time. "We're glad to be back after eight years. It's a beautiful country and I hope we get to stay for a while next time," said Auten. Auten will call on senior Sri Lankan Navy officials during the ship's time in Sri Lanka.

The crew went to great lengths showing the media personnel around the ship whilst explaining their various duties and what it takes to run a ship on a day-to-day basis. "We do have fun sometimes, it's not all work. There are some movies, TV, radio and we occasionally have movie nights and games too," said Officer Courtney Rogers.

American Ambassador Ashley Wills, speaking about this being the first American ship to visit Sri Lanka in eight years said, "The visit of the USS Hopper is emblematic of the friendship between the people of the United States and the people of Sri Lanka. I am especially pleased that we are again seeing an American ship visit Colombo after such a long time."

The ship is headed West after it leaves Sri Lanka to what is called the central command area of operations. It will join the central command's fleet afterwards and patrol the Western Indian Ocean as part of operation 'Enduring Freedom.'

Hopper's primary missions

Air Warfare (AW): To neutralise enemy air platforms and air-borne weapons launched from air, surface, subsurface or land platforms through the use of the SPY-ID radar, associated command and decision system, SM-2 standard missiles and 5" and 20" mm gun systems.

Surface Warfare (SW): To neutralise enemy surface platforms through the use of SPY-ID and surface search radar, MK 45 5" gun weapon system, SM-2 standard missiles and the Harpoon surface-to-surface missile system.

Undersea Warfare (USW): To neutralise enemy submarine platforms through the use of hull mounted and towed array sonar, control of LAMPS III helicopters, sonobuoy processors, vertical launch ASROC (Anti-submarine rocket), and MK 46/50 torpedoes.

Strike Warfare (STW): To neutralise targets beyond hostile shorelines using the Tomahawk land attack cruise missile and the 5" gun.

Mine Warfare (MW): To avoid enemy mines with the Kingfisher mine avoidance system.

Electronic Warfare (EW): To maintain positive control of the electromagnetic spectrum through the use of the SLQ-32A (V) 3 electronic warfare system, radar and infrared decoys and spectrum analyser capability.

Designed with the Collective System (CPS), Hopper provides its crew safety from chemical, biological and radiological hazards through the use of protective zones within the ship.

Transit home and dialysis unit for kidney patients

The Kidney Patients' Welfare Society (KPWS) has drawn up plans to mobilise much-needed public funds to make  available better facilities to kidney patients by way of a transit home in the close vicinity of the Sri Jayawardenepura Hospital, and a dialysis unit at the Colombo South Teaching Hospital, Kalubowila.

The dialysis unit will come under the direction of Prof Devaka Fernando and Dr. Kamini Wanigasuriya. The transit home will, on the other hand, afford accommodation to low income group patients from the outstations who seek treatment in Colombo.

An approximate sum of Rs. 20 million is needed to set this operation in motion, said Prasad Galhena, the president of the society at a media briefing in Colombo, recently.

Founded as a charitable organisation, the Kidney Patient's Welfare Society seeks to alleviate the suffering kidney patients in this country have to undergo, especially those down trodden patients from the outstations who face untold hardships.

Many patients die of renal failure and even more suffer disability throughout their lives. Renal disease, including chronic renal failure, is a critical cause of disability and death among many patients in Sri Lanka.

It is estimated that around 1300 chronic renal failure patients and a large number of acute renal failure patients require dialysis therapy to either save their lives or prolong their survival. Haemodialysis through dialysis machines are an essential mode of therapy in the management of these patients. Furthermore, there are around 1300 - 1400 new patients each year.

Sadly, the 48 dialysis machines available in Sri Lanka are insufficient to cater to the increasing number of patients, as the country requires more than 150 dialysis machines in operation.

Galhena said that the Kidney Patient's Welfare Society thus appeals to the public for donations to make the transit home and dialysis unit a reality. Donations may be sent to The Secretary, Kidney Patients' Welfare Society, 32/5 Terrance Avenue, Mt. Lavinia or to a/c No. 654889001 of the Seylan Bank, Mt. Lavinia.


By Sonali Samarasinghe

If you thought my life's experiences with the dentist were somewhat remarkable, let me regale you with a tale of my  visit to Doctor K my general physician. This is the chap, as you know, who looks after our condition in a general sort of way, while being peculiarly special in his fees.    

I hallooed to him cheerily the other day at the local supermarket. He waved back with a sad smile, staring vacantly at some snow peas.  I was not inclined to blurt 'Well meet by moonlight,' unlike Hamlet to Ophelia, or Lysander to Hermia or neither to either. Between meeting a doctor in his clinic and meeting him at Woolworth's, there is a real and substantial difference.

'I will see you soon,' I promised. Speaking clinically (not socially). 'You had better,' he replied, glancing down at my shopping cart where a bag of rice rested happily on a bed of tins of coconut milk, drizzled over with packets of desiccated coconut and pork.

Having exhausted our obviously extensive topics of conversation, we stared at each other awkwardly. He smiling like an idiot, me goggling hopelessly. Isn't it funny that outside of the consultation room, one lapses into verbal bankruptcy in the presence of one's physician? A man mind you whom one has cheerily disclosed one's intimate personal medical conditions to. A man let's face it, who possibly already has or one day in the future will, see one in one's birthday suit lying on one's back.

Before you get caught up in the visual imagery of those last wild sentences of mine, let me quickly continue with the story. So there as I say we were. Staring. Vacantly. At each other. The silent tete a tete was thankfully interrupted by a buxom Australian hampered in her mission to get at the lettuce. As the first strident ''scuse me please' wafted into our ear lobes we jerked ourselves from our reverie and biffed off. I to the fresh seafood counter and he to continue his dialogue with the snow peas.

The next day I called Doctor K's clinic and spoke to the blithe young receptionist. Her lilting voice floating over the wire.  By the timbre I gathered she was extremely bucked about something. 'I've got a raise,' she squeaked. 'Thanks to Doctor Kay.' 'Pish tosh, my young wild receptionist,' I scolded. Don't thank him, thank me. Have you seen my medical bills lately?

But she continued to bubble like a kettle on the boil. Anyway I got the appointment  and loped into the bally money guzzler's consulting room. 

'Doctor Kay', I lamented. 'I can't recall who said 'well meet by moonlight' to whom.' He looked puzzled for a mo. 'Shouldn't you be confiding these confidences to your literature lecturer rather than to your medical practitioner,' he said. 'I can't remember anything,' I told him. I'm losing my memory. Do you think a tumor is pressing on my memory cells.'

He thought for a moment. 'It's just stress dear. Not tumors. What you need  is a session of hypnosis. That'll help. 'Won't a scan do?' I ask. 'No no. hypnosis or nothing else'. 'But I always thought that one is most vulnerable to being possessed by little demons when one is under hypnosis or when one has just sneezed a big one and no kind soul screams 'bless you'.

I had the feeling doctor kay had just been to wildest Africa and learned some new skills which he wanted to practice on me. 'Doesn't hypnosis tend to produce sleep? I mean to say one could suggest all sorts of things which my vulnerable brain would absorb as Gospel. Doesn't it facilitate suggestion and reeducation?'

'No no dear,' he soothed but I was not convinced. So I toddled out of the room still suffering from bad memory but deeply fascinated with this idea of hypnosis.

If ever there was a moment in my life where I was in two minds about something, then this moment was that moment.

I'm still thinking.

'Yodha Baba' is no more

By Hemamala Wickramage

Umantha Niroshan, dubbed `the giant baby' (Yodha Baba)  is no more. Yodha Baba from Dimbulagala who made news headlines a few years ago has died due to acute asthmatic attack that led to heart failure. Few years ago, the oversized youngster became the centre of a media frenzy as thousands gathered to see him. This not-so-small wonder was born to a farming family in Dimbulagala, in the Polonnaruwa district.

Speaking about the last few hours of the giant baby's life, the doctor who was on duty at the ICU unit of Polonnaruwa Hospital said the child was brought in to the ICU unit for treatment at around 12.15 on the 23rd. "Umantha suffered from breathing problems. The doctors entered a tube in to Umantha's respiratory track in order to help ease the breathing.

According to the doctors, at birth Umantha had not been any different from an average child. However, after three months of age Umantha had shown signs of developing in the most unnatural manner. "Umantha weighed around 68 kilo's at just five years of age. Weight wise it is quite abnormal for a child of that age to grow to  have the weight of a fully grown person. In Sri Lanka, especially in the rural areas such as Dimbulagala, the average weight of a child of around five years of age would be between 12- 15 kilos" explained the doctor.

Umantha's abnormal growth had been due to a hypothelamic disorder in the brain which results in the imbalance of the production of certain growth hormones. According to Umantha's doctors, when it comes to the health of children with similar conditions, even the slightest infection can be fatal.

The doctors kept Umantha's parents informed of the various difficult health conditions their child will be experiencing as he grows which is inevitable for a child with such a abnormal growth. The reality being what it is, full of many undesirable truths, Umantha's parents were clear on the fact that his chances of a long, healthy life were very slim. His parents were given support by various government and non governmental organisations who came forward to assist them in taking care of the Yodha Baba.

"It was necessary for the family to bring him in for constant medical check ups as even the slightest cold would lead to asthmatic attacks and other respiratory problems" said the lady doctor who treated Umantha at the ICU unit.

"Despite being constantly fed, Umantha used to complain all the time saying he was hungry. A small lunch time snack for Umantha meant eight buns and several bananas. Underneath his skin there was  a fat layer that was about five  inches in thickness," explained the doctor.

"In coming to terms with their grief, Umantha's parents can take refuge in the knowledge that they did their best to give him a normal life," said  Ven. Aththanakadawala Janathalankara thero in his sermon atYodha Baba's funeral. According to Ven. Janathalankara his sudden demise was due to bad karmic effects in his previous birth.

It is only a week before he died that he was adjudged the winner at Singithi Avurudu Kumaraya contest held at his school, Maha Ulpatha Vidyalaya in Dimbulagala.

Umantha Niroshan, the Yodha Baba's funeral took place in Dimbulagala on the 27th, amidst a large gathering of friends and relatives who came to bid farewell to the wonder boy.

Lighting up the children's ward at Cancer Hospital

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

Life has its ups and downs, times filled  with light and sunshine and times filled  with gloom and darkness. This is when the saying "It is by far better to light one solitary candle than to curse the darkness," would come to mind.

The operations of the Association For Lighting A Candle (AFLAC) proves the veracity of this statement. Established by Elmo Jayawardena more than two decades ago, AFLAC plays a major role as candle makers who then provide light for those in need.

The term 'in need' could be looked at in different perspectives. 'Needs' differ from each individual - some would need financial assistance while some would need medical attention, but the most common thing that anyone would need is love and affection. Ironically, it is this love and affection that costs nothing at all that is hard to find and get.

As you walk in to the Cancer Hospital in Maharagama it is love, affection and kindness that is needed in every nook and corner. You turn to one corner and see a few faces looking hopefully at you. Hoping that someone will stop by and speak to them, comfort them and most of all show them that though not well, they too are human beings who need to be loved. Their faces seem blank but it is their expression filled eyes that show what they really need. They need love, someone to touch them and speak to them kindly and to spend some time with them. For these patients, hope is what life all about.

They live with the hope of a brighter tomorrow. For some, a human touch is of paramount importance as they feel that it is their disease that drives people away. For them, they are the forgotten ones in society.

It is the children's ward that would tug the deepest strings of the heart. The little ones just run around and spend time playing in the play pen - built by a lady who lost her son to cancer. The play pen is now maintained by AFLAC and a young girl employed by the association spends half a day at the play pen with the children. Some children have become great friends as they sometimes spend three months at the hospital.

Though not suffering from the illness, knowing that their much-loved child is suffering from an illness, which might take away their child is cause enough for an enormous amount of stress  to parents. They too sometimes yearn for someone to talk to, someone to tell their woes to. After all, they too are human beings. The mothers who stay with the children sleep on the floor next to the child's bed, sometimes for months.

Hearing the story of one parent was so sad that it made me wonder of the others who were there. Their story could be similar to this or far worse. The father of a young girl of about two years went on to say that his daughter fell ill and then suddenly lost her eye sight and became paralysed. It was then that they found that the child was suffering from Leukemia. Hailing from Batticaloa, now the parents are with the child in Colombo. The father who is a teacher has given up his job and is now with the child. At night, the mother sleeps with the child in the ward while the father sleeps in the nearby temple. The child is still blind.

Surprisingly, most of the children who were at the hospital were from the north and east. A reason could be that they have no option but to stay in the hospital till they have recovered, as they cannot travel often for treatment. But, living in a war torn area also seem to have taken its toll as stress too is considered a cause for cancer. It is at such times that one would see what harm it has done to the younger generation. At least, now one could rest peacefully as the guns have been silent. And one would also wonder as to why all this could not have happened earlier and saved so many innocent lives - specially the young ones at the Cancer Hospital.

One look around the hospital and the one question that would come to mind which also happens to be the one question that no one can find an answer to, is why? Nobody knows and for that matter, no one might ever know. Some would say it is the law of cause and effect which is the root cause for this. But, the best way to face it is by facing reality. Everyone has lost someone to cancer at some time and this thought - the suffering, pain and death, lingers in your mind. It is this that sometimes prevent people from accepting reality and from getting the courage to walk into the Cancer Hospital just to spend some time with the ones yearning for love.

It is not much that we can do for these people. But, we definitely can bring a smile to their faces. This smile could last not more than a minute, but, at least they were able to forget their woes and laugh. If you live for yourself, you've lived your life in vain. But, if you live for others then you've lived a life. It is not about doing something extravagant. A little smile on their face would show that you haven't lived your life in vain.

We say we have problems and fuss over the most trivial things. But, it is at places such as these that we see what life really is. The children, their parents and the adult patients of the Cancer Hospital are the true heroes in life. They've got the courage to accept reality, build up hope and most of all, manage to smile and laugh.

Ward No. 14 of the Cancer Hospital - a ward that accommodates upto 45 people, mainly from poor families, was refurbished and now being maintained by AFLAC. Recently, AFLAC also donated a lunchroom to this ward. Once a month AFLAC has also taken steps to organise some entertainment for the children by getting down popular personalities, which is much enjoyed by the kids and even the parents.

The hospital on the whole could do a lot with a facelift. Some patients have no beds to lie on. They have to lie on benches. Some wards are quite gloomy and this doesn't help the patients one bit as they need to have some sunshine to where they are and to their lives. As you walk down some corridors the smell of urine is so unbearable that one would wonder how the patients survive there. It is sometimes a sorry sight to see the state of the hospital and to know that for some patients this hospital is the last place they would be in before they depart from this world.

With all these problems all what these people need is someone to talk to them, show them that they matter and the human touch. When someone walks in, the children and the adults greet you with a smile, as to say 'we were waiting for you.' That is it they spend life in hope, waiting. Waiting to be cured, waiting to go home and for someone to come and spend some time with them.

Apart from these, AFLAC also have other projects that cover different areas - helping destitute families, library projects, vision pro- ject, shelter project, clothing project, gift a meal programme, assisting visually handicapped people, etc. Apart from initiating these projects, AFLAC also makes sure to maintain and constantly supervise the operations of the projects.

AFLAC has branches in Edm- onton, Toronto, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Fransisco, Texas, Melbourne, Wellington, Hong Kong, Dubai, Riyadh, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Eastbourne, Wales and Singapore. 




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