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Developing Skills For a Resilient and Career-Ready Youth

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“Before this programme, I was not confident in communicating in English. Today, I am able to provide my feedback on the programme in English, without the help of anyone after following this programme. I believe that this will help me to a great extent in the future. I would like to thank John Keells for going beyond business relationships and supporting their suppliers,” said Ms. Kumari Rajakaruna, a participant of the SKIP (Skill into Progress) programme – a customized, industry-based programme developed by John Keells Foundation to support the upskilling of identified supplier groups of the John Keells Group to address their skill gaps and thereby enhance quality of service and income opportunities in a post-pandemic environment. The initiative was first piloted among chauffeur guides of Walkers Tours and Whittall Boustead Travel while another customized programme was conducted for suppliers of Keells supermarkets. This programme will continue to upskill different supplier groups as means of supply chain management facilitation of the John Keells Group.

The SKIP programme is the latest link in a chain of skills development initiatives planned and implemented by John Keells Foundation since its establishment over 16 years ago. The John Keells Group has long understood that access to relevant education and skills development are of crucial importance in ensuring the availability of a productive and motivated labour force in Sri Lanka. As such, the Group through its CSR entity, John Keells Foundation (JKF), has prioritized the need for developing market relevant skills of children and youth across Sri Lanka.

According to the Labour Force Survey Report by the Department of Census and Statistics – Sri Lanka, the estimated youth unemployment rate in Sri Lanka in 2020 was at 25.7 percent and this situation is expected to be aggravated by the continuing pandemic. World Youth Skills Day, observed annually on 15th July, focuses on the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship. This has also been the primary focus of JKF’s Education pillar under which an array of long-term sustainable initiatives has been developed and implemented for the benefit of selected children, youth and other target groups, empowering approximately 25,000 persons over the years.

The ‘John Keells English Language Scholarship Programme’ is JKF’s flagship skills development initiative aimed at enhancing the English communication, ICT and soft skills of selected school children and university youth. Since its launch in 2004, the programme, implemented in collaboration with the Gateway Language Centre, has directly benefited over 17,700 school children and youth. “English for Teens” – targeting pre O’Level students of disadvantaged schools – is conducted in two tiers enabling high performing students to qualify for an advanced programme. With the COVID outbreak, the programme continued through online classes with close monitoring of staff volunteers from John Keells Group. 2

Each year, the programme concludes with an English Day – held at all island and regional levels – to showcase the learnings of the scholars. With the pandemic-related gathering restrictions in the recent past, this element of the programme was also taken to an online platform. In 2020, poetry recitation was held virtually, and in 2021, a speech competition was organized for 150 students from 12 locations. Significant improvement in communication skills and confidence levels was observed by the teachers and the project team during the speech competition. Students spoke about My Journey as a English Language Scholarship Student, The Benefit Of Learning English For My Future and My Experience Learning English Online and Nethma Dilmini from Beruwala in her speech summed up her experience as “The skills gained from the English Language Scholarship Programme will greatly increase my educational opportunities and to help me pursue my dream of becoming a cardiologist. Furthermore, when I go out into society English language will be beneficial to me in in emergencies and will also help me to learn about the cultures of different countries. By using English as a tool I’ll be able to explore the world with confidence.”

Since 2006, John Keells Group’s Transportation Sector through JKF has been organizing a customized English scholarship programme for first year undergraduates of the Transport and Logistics Management (B.Sc (T&LM) Hons) Degree programme to enable better participation in their graduate studies, empowering over 726 undergraduates.

JKF has also conducted customized courses on English communication skills development for the students of the School for the Blind in Ratmalana as well as the School for the Deaf in Ratmalana.

As a means of raising awareness and preparing youth for career and self-employment opportunities, JKF has also conducted career guidance and vocational training programmes for disadvantaged school children and school leavers in various locations within JKF’s Village Adoption and Praja Shakthi projects.

Moreover, towards mitigating unemployment rates by increasing the career-readiness of youth, JKF has also offered Higher Education Scholarships to promote pursuit of advanced studies among economically disadvantaged youth as well as Soft Skills Workshops, job fairs, exposure programs and internships for University undergraduates aimed at enhancing their career skills, attitudes and opportunities, in collaboration with various businesses of the John Keells Group.

The overarching objectives of these initiatives are to complement the State education and higher education systems and improve outcomes, develop market relevant skills, attitudes and competencies and thereby enhance access to employment opportunities to a greater number of youth who can in turn gainfully contribute to fostering a prosperous, sustainable and equitable socio-economic environment for all, in keeping with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Education is one of the six focus areas of John Keells Foundation – the CSR entity of John Keells Holdings PLC (JKH), a company listed in the Colombo Stock Exchange operating over 70 companies in 7 diverse industry sectors. With a history of over 150 years, John Keells Group provides employment to over 14,000 persons and has been ranked as Sri Lanka’s ‘Most Respected Entity’ for the last 15 Years by LMD Magazine.

Participant of the UN Global Compact, JKH drives its CSR vision of “Empowering the Nation for Tomorrow” through John Keells Foundation and through the social entrepreneurship initiative, ‘Plasticcycle’, which is a catalyst in significantly reducing plastic pollution in Sri Lanka.



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Wimal asks for PSC probe into top officials’ complicity in violence

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Colombo HC lawyers concerned over shocking developments

By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, says a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) should be appointed to investigate the role played by IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Public Security Ministry Secretary Maj. Gen. (retd.) Jagath Alwis in the recent SLPP hothead attack on those demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Cabinet of Ministers, including Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Weerawansa yesterday (18) told The Island that Parliament should inquire into the unprovoked attack that triggered an extremely violent response by the public as well as those awaiting an opportunity to unleash violence on selected group of lawmakers on 09 May.

The former Industries Minister said he was confident that Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, would look into the issues at hand.

Responding to another query, Weerawansa said that Senior DIG Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon’s claim that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary had interfered with his (Tennakoon’s) plan to disperse the SLPP mobs couldn’t be easily dismissed.

MP Weerawansa declared, in Parliament on Tuesday (17), that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry dissuaded the Senior DIG from performing his duties although he had received specific instructions from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to stop the march on Galle Face. The former JVPer questioned whether those conspirators wanted to show the world the failure on the part of the police and the armed forces to maintain law and order.

Asked whether police headquarters and the Public Security Ministry had responded to his accusations, Weerawansa said he hadn’t been contacted by them so far.

Pointing out that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), inquiring into 09 May turmoil had recorded Senior DIG’s statement, Weerawansa said that the outfit could issue an interim statement on the matter.

The Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association said that the shocking revelation, made in Parliament, should be expeditiously inquired into.

The Association’s President Attorney-at-Law Lakshman Perera said that the ongoing investigations had taken an unexpected turn in the wake of high profile specific allegations pertaining to the conduct of the IGP, as well as the Public Security Ministry Secretary. Pointing out that the HRCSL and the CID had already recorded DIG Tennakoon’s statement, pertaining to the incidents, and the officer was among a group of 22 persons slapped with a travel ban by the Fort Magistrate, lawyer Perera said that the CID couldn’t turn a blind eye to accusations directed at the head of the department as well as Secretary to the relevant ministry.

Lawyer Perera said that investigations couldn’t be completed without verifying accusations made in Parliament.

Lawmaker Weerawansa said that the question was on whose behalf the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary intervened at a time the country was under emergency and after the Senior DIG in charge of Colombo received specific instructions from the President himself.

Although the SLPP goons did not shed any blood or cause any serious injuries, unlike the well-organized mobs that caused havoc across the country thereafter, MP Weerawansa said that he couldn’t comprehend why the police and the armed forces allowed the situation to develop to an extremely dangerous level.

The HRCSL in its initial reaction to the unprovoked attacks on those who had been demanding the resignation of the government condemned the violence caused by a group of people who made it very clear that violence was their intention.

HRCSL Chairperson retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe said: “The failure of the police to prepare for this eventuality and prevent and manage the violence and destruction is a gross failure of public order. There must be an immediate inquiry into this matter. The inaction of the police to prevent the clash is condemned.”

The Island brought the latest developments to the notice of the HRCSL yesterday as MP Weerawansa said that those who conspired and planned the project that involved those at the helm of Temple Trees then and the SLPP should be arrested. The conspirators shouldn’t be allowed to escape justice while the CID arrested those who carried out the actual attacks.

Police spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said that the department couldn’t respond to what transpired in Parliament. Acknowledging that he was aware of the allegations made in Parliament, Attorney-at-Law Thalduwa said in case their response was sought through proper channels, whatever the queries would be answered.

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Dr. Pathirana says IGP, Public Security Ministry Secy. allowed goon attacks

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Galle District parliamentarian Dr. Ramesh Pathirana has reiterated that IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Secretary to the Public Security Ministry, Maj. General (retd) Jagath Alwis had facilitated the 09 May unprovoked attack on anti-government protesters.

The former Minister Pathirana declared in Parliament yesterday (18) that National Freedom Front (NFF) leader MP Wimal Weerawansa’s allegation, pertaining to the origins of the violence, was true.

Dr. Pathirana said that he was among those who had brought supporters to attend a meeting chaired by the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The vast majority of those who attended the Temple Trees meet on May 09 wanted to thank the war-winning President as he gave up active politics, the MP said. However, some unscrupulous members had instigated the participants there.

Dr. Pathirana said he had been at Temple Trees at that time and as he feared violence could erupt due inflammatory speeches, contact was made with Senior DIG in charge of Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon. Dr. Pathirana said that the senior police officer had assured him that the police were ready to face the situation and confident of preventing those who attended the Temple Trees function from reaching Galle Face.

“Thereafter, I left Temple Trees for a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. There were several other members. When trouble erupted, President Rajapaksa immediately got in touch with Senior DIG Tennakoon, who revealed he had been asked not to use force by the IGP himself.”

Dr. Pathirana said the President had asked the senior law enforcement officer why he didn’t carry out instructions issued by him (the President).

The Galle District MP emphasised that the IGP and the Secretary to the Public Security Ministry were responsible for the violence at Kollupitiya and Fort police areas which triggered violence in many parts of the country. (SF)

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New Deputy Speaker not from Rajapaksa political dynasty

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Newly-elected Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa said that he was not a member of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s clan.

The Hambantota District Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lawmaker said so when The Island asked him whether he, too, was a member of the Rajapaksa family now under fire over the continuing political-economic-social turmoil.

Rajapaksa polled 109 votes at a secret vote held in Parliament on Tuesday (17) to secure the Deputy Speaker’s post. MP Rajapaksa defeated Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Rohini Kaviratne, who polled 78 votes.

The SLPP rebel group members refrained from voting for Rajapaksa after the top SLPP leadership ignored their appeal to fill the vacancy through consultations with the SJB.

Rajapaksa succeeded SLFP’s Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who quit the post twice, the second occasion after beating SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar at a secret vote.

Deputy Speaker Rajapaksha said that he had served as the Chairman of the Ambalanthota Pradeshiya Sabha in 1997. Subsequently, he became a member of the Southern Provincial Council.

Asked whether he was a resident of the Rajapaksas’ home base, Deputy Speaker said that he was from Pallerotta, Ambalantota. (SF)

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