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Undergrads did it ‘their way’: Unique joint New Year celebrations in Jaffna


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Yal-Payanam (Journey to Jaffna) was meant to promote national unity and reconciliation

 

By Ralph Gunawardena 

After doing hard work for nearly three months, 70 Rotaractors from the Faculty of Science of the University of Colombo gathered at the Colombo Fort Railway Station on 7 April at 5 a.m. to take the early morning intercity express train to Jaffna. 

Apart from their personal belongings, the students were carrying several ‘Goodwill Trees,’ especially made traditional Sinhala Avurudu refreshments as well as banners from their corporate partners. A film crew from the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation was already there to do justice for the program by telecasting the students’ unique venture during primetime news.

KKS express train was on time and came to the platform No. 3 at 5:35 a.m. Students came up to the engine, held a banner across, and stood for a photograph in order to mark this special occasion. The banner carried two important messages: ‘Yal Payanam – Goodwill Journey to Jaffna’ and ‘Say No to Polythene and Plastic’. 

After taking a couple of photographs and video clips the students had to rush in to the compartments as they had a very limited time to board the train. Sharp on time, at 5:45 a.m., the train started and the journey began. The Rupavahini crew gave a good send off by covering the moving train up to the end.

Out of the six compartments, one-and-a-half were occupied by the students. Railway officials helped the students to get 70 seats in one block and as a result a lot of things were easy for the students. The entire program was under the leadership of the President of this Rotaract Club Sahan Wijesinghe. The Club Secretary Kithmee De Silva ably supported him and the other project chairpersons were also eager to implement their carefully-laid-out agenda. 

After breakfast at 7 a.m., the President Sahan Wijesinghe addressed the students, reminding each student of the purpose of the journey and their responsibilities, and insisted that everyone should act according to the interest of the club and most of all the university. He explained the activities to be held during the train journey and in Jaffna, and all the students were in total silence when he was speaking. That was a fine example of leadership. 



Say no to polythene and plastic

The students decided to use the travelling time for a better purpose. They wanted to educate all the passengers about the impending disaster due to polythene and plastic and also they gave top priority to create an awareness on dengue, which is also spread rapidly by water which is stagnant in plastic containers. 

Though the mission was for national reconciliation the students were very much involved in dengue awareness program as the journey coincided with National Dengue Prevention Week. The students were supported by the National Dengue Prevention Centre and had given a lot of publicity material printed in all three languages to distribute in Colombo and Jaffna. 

A specially-designed picture postcard was printed with five designs in three languages to be distributed among the train passengers and general public in Jaffna free of charge. It carried a special message ‘say no to polythene and plastic’. Thirty students were selected for the assignment and their duty was to educate each and every passenger. 

Fifteen students went up to the Head Guard and the rest went towards the Assistant Guard. First, they educated the two guards and then came to the passengers after there was an announcement in three different languages about their mission. Passengers were very interested to learn from students.

The writer had the privilege to listen to the students’ presentation on polythene and plastic and two passengers grilled the students to get more information on the subject matter. One was a gentleman who was really impressed about what was happening in the train and joined the students and gave a video recording giving his experience about polythene. He was also an alumni of the University of Colombo Science Faculty and now working as an engineer for a private company on energy. 

The other was a Tamil lady who asked several questions, and the students did their best to impress her. It became an intellectual subject to listen to between the lady and the students. When one student asked for her background, she reluctantly gave her visiting card and she was none other than former Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna Prof. Vasanthy Arasaratnam. So much so when she got down at Jaffna, she obliged for a group photograph with the students. Rotaractors from Chunnakum were at the Jaffna station to welcome their counterparts from Colombo.



Goodwill games for friendship and harmony

All were at the grounds at 3:30 p.m. The games were organised by the Rotaractors of Colombo and Chunnakum. The players from Nallur, Manipay, Nelliyady, Jaffna, etc. were divided in to two groups, consisting of girls and boys from Colombo and Jaffna. 

Except for football, all the other games were played by mixed teams. First, cricket was played, and was made a lot of fun especially by the Chunnakum Rotaractors who cheered both sides when players did well and jeered when they mis-fielded. No one was offended but all fun was taken in good spirit. Some of the Jaffna players played very well in this friendly game, and really stood out. 

The football game was more spectacular and interesting. Two brilliant goals were scored by both teams within a minute and one was a long kick from the centre straight to the goal reminding the days of Pele and Maradona. Even after the penalty shoot-out the match was drawn. 

The next was the tug of war by the girls and boys and from the start both games excited the spectators and all enjoyed the evening till the sun went down. Unfortunately there was no time for the game of kabadi which Jaffna players loved to play.



Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations

It was a joint programme of Colombo and Jaffna Rotaractors. A lot of time had been taken for preparations, especially by the Colombo students. The evening was full of glamour and each community would have been happy to see their culture displayed by the students. 

The place was nicely illuminated by the guest house owner to support the event. All the Colombo girls were wearing colourful traditional outfits, while all the boys were wearing shirts and sarongs to give festive mood for the Avurudu celebrations. After the goodwill games they had a very little time to organise the place for the evening and their time management was perfect. 

The Avurudu table was full of traditional Avurudu sweets from Colombo and Jaffna. When all the invitees came, the event started and the compere explained the purpose of joint New Year celebrations that no one had experienced before. After lighting the traditional oil lamp by the invitees and the presidents of two Rotaract clubs, it was time for refreshments. 

For Colombo students, it was a rare occasion to taste Jaffna New Year sweets and vice versa. A few minutes later the audience was entertained by the students. First it was a traditional Tamil dance by two girls that attracted the entire audience and it was followed by several Sinhala Avurudu songs by Colombo girls and boys. One special song was ‘Ra Ra Ra Bombiye’ by Sunil Edirisinghe and I believe they did justice for the song and the singer. Colombo girls also gave a fine display of traditional Sinhala Avurudu dance which was very colourful. 

No one knows how they practiced or where, as the university has been closed prior to the event for an unfortunate reason, but that did not prevent them from practicing for a greater cause of national unity and reconciliation. There were several games and one was for the invitees, which was the lime and spoon race.



Cycle parade to create awareness for dengue and say no to polythene and plastic

On Sunday 8 April at 8:30 a.m., Prof. Mikunthan of the University of Jaffna flagged-off the start of the parade from in front of the Jaffna Public Library, the icon of Jaffna. A couple of Police motorbikes cleared the road and 25 Policemen in blue track bottoms and white T-shirts led the parade. 

Jaffna scouts were there in big numbers; it was nice to see Scouts District Commissioner – Jaffna Thevaranjan giving instructions to all the scouts before the parade, and they were easily identified as all were in blue while St. Patrick’s College boys were in uniforms with their school tie. Some of the staff of the MoH in Jaffna, Sampath Bank, Nation Trust Bank, Commercial Bank, Pan Asia Bank, DSI, Tokyo Cement, students’ body of the Jaffna University, Rotaractors from Colombo and Jaffna and well-wishers took part in the parade. 

Throughout the parade, some of the Rotaractors distributed picture postcards free of charge to the public who were watching the event. The students had taken a lot of trouble to create an awareness about dengue and an organisation named SLYCAN Trust supported the students with a specially designed T-shirt for the parade. 

The youth organisation also carried a message of ‘Meatless Monday,’ the slogan very well known in most of the European countries. One of their representatives especially came to Jaffna to educate the students on ‘Meatless Monday’ and as a result, all the students decided to be vegetarians during the entire program of two days, showing that they were taking a stand against cruelty to animals. They also pledged to make their lifestyles more environmentally-conscious and sustainable.



National unity and reconciliation

All the actions were pointed towards one goal – national unity and reconciliation. When this program was presented to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo he readily agreed to give a tree called ‘Goodwill Tree’ to plant at the University of Jaffna premises. 

Ravi Jayawardena, the Chairman of Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, gave a ‘Goodwill Tree’ to plant at the Jaffna Public Library premises. Thanks to Jayawardena the students managed to get in touch with M.S. Jayasinghe, Director General of Office for the National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) who supported wholeheartedly within a short period of time. Jayasinghe also donated a Goodwill Tree. 

All in all there were 10 ‘Goodwill Trees’ meant for special places in Jaffna such as Jaffna Public Library, Jaffna Kachcheri, Jaffna Police Station, Christian Church, Nagavihara Buddhist Temple, Jaffna Bohra Masjid Mosque, Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil and Jaffna University.

When the parade came to the University of Jaffna premises there were two guests to welcome them. They are none other than the Vice Chancellor Prof. R. Vigneswaran and the Dean of the Science Faculty Prof. J. P. Jeydevan. The parade was ended when the Vice Chancellor planted the Goodwill Tree brought by the students of Colombo in the university premises. This was a multi-task project carried out by the Rotaractors.

All the train passengers including the two guards were convinced that we must stop or reduce the polythene and plastic intake for the sake of the nature and the environment and all praised the students for their untiring work to counter polythene and plastic. 

In Jaffna they won the hearts of many with their goodwill games. Though there were very few from Colombo to witness the games and other activities, Ravi Jayawardena, the Chairman of the Rupavahini Corporation, was very keen to take the message of the students to the entire country by telecasting some of the activities during Rupavahini news which students never expected and was grateful for same. The parents who watched Rupavahini News were very happy to see their sons and daughters working for a national cause by sacrificing their valuable time and energy.



Thanks to many

When the proposal was put forward, some of the students had doubts for many reasons such as funding, timing, too many activities, etc., but they were supported by many. They got the cooperation from both universities as well as two Rotaract Clubs (UoC Science Faculty and Chunnakum) Sri Lanka Police – Jaffna and SL Navy – Jaffna, AdeZ Sri Lanka (Coordinator), DSI (Gold Sponsor) and Nations Trust Bank, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, Wijeya Newspapers, MoH Colombo, Office for the National Unity and Reconciliation, corporate sector, SLYCAN Trust, etc. 

This article will not be complete if we don’t mention the contribution made by the Rotaractors of the Science Faculty of the University of Colombo. All 70 members who went to Jaffna contributed individually and collectively and all worked as one for the greater goal of national unity and reconciliation through health, nature, sports, education and entertainment. 

For nearly three months four of the members monitored the progress of the program. They divided the work among themselves and with their teams implemented the work, visited the companies, visited Jaffna twice on pre-visits and did everything on their own. 

Rotaract President Sahan Wijesinghe, Secretary Kithmee De Silva, Director Projects Harith Madushanka and Coordinator Uvini Galagoda, as well as all the other Rotaractors, did not get either gold or silver, but they surely must be happy to know that they did something valuable for Mother Lanka.

(The writer is attached to AdeZ – Sri Lanka.)


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