Thursday, 13 June 2013


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A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people. - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Combating deforestation and drought

Dear Children,

If you look at the calendar and check for the significance of each day, you can understand that almost all the days are dedicated to represent a particular issue, resource or an event! It is important to know the significance of at least some of the important days so that you can be aware of current issues.

Do you know the significance of June 17? It is the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (WDCDD). It was in 1994 that the United Nations General Assembly declared June 17 as the WDCDD to raise people's awareness of the issue of deforestation and emphasize the value of preserving forest and water resources. Also the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in the countries which are experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, (particularly in Africa) also take place on this day.

The theme of 2013 WDCDD is 'Drought and Water Scarcity.' I wonder whether you have ever experienced a drought? You are lucky if you have not. Do you know there are areas even in Sri Lanka where people have to walk for miles in search of water? However we are lucky that the majority of us have access to pure water.

But in some parts of the world the situation is so tragic that hundreds of people die of thirst and hunger.

This year's theme specifically focuses on the risks of drought and water scarcity in the dry lands and beyond. It also emphasizes the importance of sustaining healthy soils.

You should know that of all the water on earth, only 2.5 % is freshwater. Unfortunately, of all this freshwater only less than 1 % can be used by humans and ecosystems.

This year's slogan is "Don't let our future dry up." It is our responsibility to conserve water and land resources and use them in a sustainable manner. Though you are not directly subjected to the negative consequences of deforestation and desertification, all of us may one day become victims if we fail to preserve these resources as much as we can.

Bye for now,


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Great Minds

An Intellectual: Giant

I one of the most brilliant poems ever written by a Sri Lankan writer in English, a poet recalls how, when he was studying at S. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia, his mother had come to take him home, early from school. Not knowing English, his mother had told his class teacher, "Gihin Enan" (good bye). This had been greeted with laughter and his classmates had shouted, "gihin waren." The poem ends with the poignant words "that day I was deeply ashamed of my mother/ Now, whenever I remember, I am ashamed of my shame."

Called "Colonial Cameo,"these words were penned by Regi Siriwardena, academic, journalist, poet, writer, playwright, scriptwriter and editor, who was hailed as a great man of letters by many scholars. In his Anthology of Sri Lankan English Literature, Prof. D C R A Goonetilleke praises him for forging "a distinctive style, one both relaxed and controlled" in his poems.

Born on May 15, 1922 in Ratmalana to middle class Buddhist parents, Reginald Siriwardena started his education at S. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia, but later attended Ananda College, Colombo during the final years of his school education.

Having studied at the University College and obtained a degree from the University of London, Regi Siriwardena began his writing career as a feature writer at the Ceylon Daily News where he showed his talents in both the arts and politics by writing the weekly arts column as well as the weekly political column and the daily editorials. The depth and language of these articles, to quote J B S Jeyaraj, in his tribute to this intellectual giant 'could certainly find a place among the finest specimens of English prose.'

Though English educated, Regi Siriwardena was interested in the Sinhala language and culture and wrote the first English language review of Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra's path-breaking play Maname when even the Sinhala critics were not willing to write about it. In the 1960's Regi Siriwardena resigned from Lake House and entered the arena of the academia. He founded the English department at the Vidyalankara University (now called the University of Kelaniya), and took upon himself the task of introducing English language and literature to students hailing from Sinhala and Tamil language backgrounds.

Much later, he would continue to provide his services in introducing English to native students by assisting to compile a new English literature syllabus for the Advanced Level which included the lyrics of a song by Bob Dylan - 'The Answer is Blowing in the Wind" in place of Shakespeare.

In his mid-forties Regi Siriwardena started to study Russian so that he could read the great classical literature of Russia in their original forms. After mastering Russian he translated the work of Anna Akhamatova and Alexander Pushkin into English. During the last stages of his life Regi Siriwardena was the Editor of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies and was a father figure to the young academics and researchers of that institute.

As Ajith Samaranayake wrote in his obituary on the passing away of this great intellectual on December 15 2004, "Regi Siriwardena was the last great man of letters in Sri Lanka in the mould of Edmund Wilson who too was preoccupied with both politics and literature. Although a scholar he was no pedant. Although an academic he did not believe in intimidating the reader with the jargon of the trade. On the contrary he was one of the most brilliant and lucid writers of English who could write pellucid prose and had the rare talent of being able to carry both the general and intellectual reader through a formidable argument.

"With his preoccupation with the history of ideas, literature and the arts, his lively inquiring mind and quiet wit and broad range of humanistic sympathies he was one of the last few renaissance men.." ever to have walked our motherland.


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