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Digital literacy and senior citizen – A Sri Lankan perspective



The International Day of Older Persons fell on October 1 on the theme ‘Digital Equity for All Ages’

By Randima Attygalle

Chandrani Senanayake (name changed) an educationist and one-time principal of a leading school in Colombo in her mid-60s says that the digital technology has been a blessing to revive her much loved teaching career. “Now that I’m retired from government service, virtual teaching has helped me revive my passion and as a consultant to a university today, I enjoy organizing webinars to assist students to develop their personality, soft skills etc. Digital platforms have helped me adapt my teaching methods to suit the evolving times,” she says.

Senanayake notes that especially during the pandemic, such interventions not only keep her professionally fulfilled but personally too, connecting her with her children and grandchildren. “I enjoy watching video clips my granddaughter shares with me on Whatsapp. Although I’m a lover of print material, I have now got used to reading newspapers and other content on line, especially during the lockdown, and this kept me really engaged.”

Milton Liyanage or Milton Uncle as he is fondly called is a vegetable vendor from Thalawathugoda. He drives his three-wheeler in his spare time to earn an extra buck. Milton, 75, now owns a smartphone but its use is limited to making and answering calls. “My children bought me this phone although I find it very complicated,” he says with a smile. Having done his vegetable business for decades with minimum or no technology, he finds digital devices overwhelming. “Sometimes my grandchildren help me maneuver the smartphone, they talk of face book and internet which I do not find that fascinating.” An avid newspaper reader, he still trusts the good old printed word as his credible source of information and rejects the Facebook.

Pushpa Hemalatha from Galle is 62-years old and her children are both overseas. Never having done a job, she has now “very little to do” with her children grown up and abroad for higher studies. Facebook is one of her greatest indulgences. “I enjoy being on it and being connected. I also like watching tik-tok videos,” says Pushpa. “Thanks to WhatsApp, I can see my children via video calls.”

A senior professor of Humanities who asked not to be named notes that digital interventions such as the Zoom and WhatsApp are extremely useful to him for sharing his knowledge with friends and the public. The additional features of recording the proceedings and even mixing with You Tube are very useful, he adds. “Digital media is of immense use in this global pandemic as it enables cashless transactions and spares us of the hassle of traveling to pay bills and do grocery shopping,” says the professor.

Now nearing his 80s, he does online shopping and also arranges for home delivery of groceries and pays his utility bills with a mobile apps. “It makes life a lot easier, remaining at home than maintaining social distancing in public,” he says. An avid reader, he prefers to read his newspapers online. “Since I can enlarge the letters on the screen, I need not struggle reading small print.” The digital evolution has made lives of senior citizens easier with less dependence on others says the scholar adding that it also helps avoid more risky actions including driving. It helps senior citizens to obtain medical consultations and even medicines home delivered, he says.

The International Day of Older Persons which fell on October 1 on the theme ‘Digital Equity for All Ages’ affirms the need for access and meaningful participation in the digital world by older persons. “Ever since the United Nations declared the International Day for Older Persons in 1990, every year the day had been dedicated to a topical theme with the objective of making communities, families, decision makers and service providers aware of certain needs of the older people and thereby contribute towards meeting them qualitatively and quantitatively. Last year WHO declared 2020 to 2030 as ‘The Decade of Healthy Ageing’. The 2021 theme of ‘Digital Equity’ becomes very valid in the pandemic-hit world where connectivity is of importance despite physical distancing,” Dr. Shiromi Maduwage, Consultant Community Physician from the Youth, Elderly and Disability Unit of the Ministry of Health told the Sunday Island.

The 2021 theme targets many goals: to create awareness of the importance of digital inclusion of older persons while tackling stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination associated with digitalization. These take into account socio-cultural norms and the right to autonomy to highlight policies to leverage digital technologies for full achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and to address public and private interests, in the areas of availability, connectivity, design, affordability, capacity building, infrastructure and innovation.

Other areas covered include exploring the role of policies and legal frameworks to ensure privacy and safety of older persons in the digital world and to highlight the need for a legally binding instrument on the rights of older persons and an intersectional person-centered human rights approach for a society for all ages.

The ‘digital divide’ as the United Nations points out, ‘still persists between more and less connected countries, communities, and people.’ It further notes that ‘enabling all the world’s people to access and use digital technologies and closing digital divides remains a challenge that needs to be addressed if the world community is to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals ( ) by 2030.

The number of older persons worldwide is projected to more than double, reaching more than 1.5 billion persons in 2050. According to UN data, while all regions will see an increase in the size of the older population between 2019 and 2050, the largest increase (312 million) is projected to occur in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, growing from 261 million in 2019 to 573 million in 2050.

“The whole world is now ageing and Sri Lanka is not spared. Today there is around a billion elderly world over (those over 60 years) and according to our Census of Population and Housing 2012, out of our total population 12.4% belong to the elderly category. Of this, female adult population is more. It is estimated that Sri Lankan elderly population would be 16% of the total at our next census in 2022 and this is a sizeable percentage for a country in the South East Asian region,” observed Dr. Maduwage. With the increasing elderly population, a country will have to face health, social and economic challenges. “However, as policy makers and programme planners, we always attempt to convert older persons into assets or resources despite challenges,” pointed out this senior health official.

The fact-finding exercise carried out by the Youth, Elderly and Disability Unit of the Ministry of Health, on the impact of the digital culture on Sri Lankan elders was an attempt to study the relevance of this year’s theme of The International Day of Older Persons. The initiative under the banner, ‘Hello Project’ was carried out by a group of young people under 24 years and they were provided technical support by the Youth, Elderly and Disability Unit, Ministry of Health. The survey in form of telephone conversations was done in August this year.

“The elders were categorized into three groups as ‘young – old’ (60 to 69 years), ‘middle -old’ (70 to 79 years) and ‘old-old’ (over 80 years) and were interviewed to find out about their adaptability to the digital world, their thinking patterns and the gaps,” explained Dr. Maduwage. The findings revealed that while some elders were not digital-savvy due to lack of devices, others had to depend on children or grandchildren to handle them. “Vision problems, physical discomfort in handling devices were some of the common problems found among those between ‘middle old’ and ‘old-old’ group of elders . The use of devices was found to be minimal or zero among the ‘old- old’ age group,” she explained.

The issues some had encountered with merchants when ordering their groceries online and through other mobile applications were also found to discourage older people from trusting digital platforms. “Some said they had been played out and wrong goods had been sent. Some of their bill payments have not been updated discouraging them from using such facilities. This is where we need policies and regulations to make older consumers lives easier, especially during a pandemic situation such as this,” the health official noted.

Another cross section of older people was found to completely reject any advanced digital platforms on the grounds of ‘no faith’. “Certain family or environmental factors such as seeing the ill effects of addiction to such devices by younger family members and reports of cyber crimes have driven these elders to completely reject smartphones, websites etc.”

Loneliness among the elderly is a challenging situation in the community. In 2012, the Census of Population and Housing revealed that one in every three older women were widowed in Sri Lanka. Thus, digital inclusion provides better solutions for issues like loneliness. Digital inclusion on the whole can add colour to the lives of the elderly, especially during a pandemic situation and advancements can improve their quality of life as well, Dr.Maduwage remarked.

“Policy makers and other stakeholders should also strive to create an enabling environment for the elders in terms of offering incentives such as special phone packages, awareness of digital culture and its benefits through concepts such as ‘Silver Economy’ (the system of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services aimed at using the purchasing potential of older and ageing people and satisfying their consumption, living and health needs). Digital inclusion is also an effective means of bridging the generation gap as it enables connectivity between the young and the old,” she noted.

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Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?



Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

Before the Covid Pandemic hit Sri Lanka, there was some debate and concern voiced about tourists standing at the door ways of trains and even hanging out, while the train is moving. Some pictures of a young couple hanging out of an upcountry train, while clutching on to the side rails, went viral, on social media, with debates of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ reaching fever pitch. While certainly this is a dangerous practice, not to be condoned, If we ‘think out of the box’ could there be a way to make this seemingly popular, though dangerous pastime among some tourists, into an opportunity to be exploited. This paper aims to explore these options pragmatically.

By Srilal Miththapala

Social media, and even some of the more conventional media, were all a-buzz before the CoVid crisis, when some pictures of a young tourist couple appeared, hanging out of a Sri Lankan upcountry train in gay abandon, savouring the exciting moment. There were hot debates about this form of ‘promotion of Sri Lanka’, with many people talking about the dangers of such a practice, and that it would bring negative publicity for Sri Lanka if something dangerous were to happen. This part of the train ride, along the upcountry route, is arguably one of the most scenic train routes in the world.

And quite rightly so, I guess. I myself was one who joined the chorus who vehemently spoke against this.

However thinking out of the box, I got thinking – Can we create an opportunity here ?

The ‘new’, experience and thrill seeking tourist of today

There is no doubt that there is a new segment of discerning, younger, experience and adventure seeking tourists, emerging and travelling all over the world. They are very internet and social media savvy, seeking more adventurous and exciting experiences, and are usually very environmentally conscious. They are most often seen exploring ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holidays, planned out individually according to their needs and wants.

Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: We have conquered land, sea and space. We have discovered many hitherto unknown wonders of our planet with our unabated thirst for knowledge.

Tourists are no different. To get away from their daily stressful life, they seek something different, even venturing into hostile or dangerous places to experience the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. No longer is a clean hotel room with a range of facilities, good food and some sunshine good enough to a tourist.

According to, the yearning for experiences, over material possessions, continues to drive travellers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travellers have a bucket list in mind. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travellers looking to go on an epic rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location. ()

Drive-reduction theory in psychology postulates that one is never in a state of complete fulfilment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their unknown environments, self-inducing stress and moving out of their comfort zones. This gives them a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction. ()

Therefore, unknown thrills, adventures and the ‘adrenaline rush’ does attract travellers.

What have other countries done ?

As mentioned many countries are developing unique , memorable and thrilling experiences into their product offering.

A few are described below

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Small groups are taken on a walk along the massive, arched steel structured Sydney Harbour Bridge . The dramatic 360 deg. view from the bridge, 135 meters above ground, of the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera house, while being completely exposed to the elements, is, indeed, a rare and thrilling experience.

Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

In the northwest of China’s Hunan province, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the walkway attached to Tianmen Mountain — 4,700 feet above the ground.

The glass-bottomed walkway is more than 300 feet long and only about five feet wide, providing an experience that is said to be exhilarating and frightening .

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

The tallest attraction in Toronto lets people stand right at the edge of the CN tower and lean over. It is the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk on a 1.5 m wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m , 116 storeys above the ground. EdgeWalk is a Canadian Signature Experience and an Ontario Signature Experience.

A variety of unique trekking opportunities, in Rwanda and Uganda, allow you trek into the jungle to gaze into the eyes of the Gorillas in their natural habitat. It’s a completely unique African safari experience. This moment leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression, coming so close to this majestic wild animal.

These are just a few. So there are already a range of unique, visitor attractions that thrill tourists the world over.

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

Safety – the one overriding condition

All these thrill seeking, and seemingly dangerous tourist attractions have one common denominator that is never ever compromised – Safety.

Safety is of paramount importance in all these activities and are subject to stringent checks and review, periodically. All personnel who guide and instruct these thrill seeking tourists are well trained and disciplined.

Any equipment that is used for safety, such as harnesses and safety belts, are designed to the highest standards and are periodically tested. Nothing is left to chance and if there is the slightest semblance of danger, due to any unforeseen environmental conditions, the attraction is closed down temporarily. ( e.g when there are strong winds the Sydney Harbour bridge walk is suspended).

Such safety measures are an imperative necessity, because any unforeseen accident can lead to serious and grave consequences of litigation and even closing down of the attraction.

Suggested railings

So what about our train ride ?

The attraction of the Sri Lankan upcountry train ride (most often between Nanu Oya and Ella – the most scenic section) is the fact that a tourist can stand ‘on the footboard’ of the open train carriageway door, and feel the cool breeze against their faces while absorbing the beautiful hill country and tea plantations. This is something most western tourists cannot do back home, where all train carriageway doors are automatically shut when the train starts moving.

In fact I am told that some Tour Agents in Australia are specifically asked by tourists to arrange this ‘experience’ for them, when booking their tour.

So why not be creative and make a proper attraction out of this ?

Cannot we modify one carriage to have an open ‘balcony’ along the side where a person can stand ‘outside’ and ‘feel the open environment’? It could be fitted with proper safety rails and each person can be anchored to the carriage with a harness (like what is used in other attractions where the interaction is open to the elements). A special charge can be levied for this experience.

One factor that favours the safety aspect is that during traversing this stretch, due to the steep gradient, the train travels at a ‘snail’s pace’, unlike in foreign countries where speeds could reach 80-100 kms per hour.

This attraction could be used as an income generator for the Railway Department as tourists wanting to experience this ‘thrill’ can be charged a fee, for a specific time period that they could use the facility.


Although this may seem simplistic, in reality there may be several logistical issues that need to be addressed.

But, if there is a will, and the different departments involved can all see the opportunity, and get on to the same ‘wavelength’, cutting through the inordinate bureaucracy that usually prevails, then surely it would not be at all difficult.

But the overall point in this entire treatise, is that we have to ‘think out of the box’ and grasp at all possible opportunities that are available, especially as we gradually open up for tourists after the pandemic. We are quite used to ranting and raving about all the shortfalls that prevail.. But there’s so much that still can be done if there are a few motivated and dedicated people who can get together.

Tourism after all is really ‘show businesses’ and without creativity, panache, actors and showmanship, what is show business?

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Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE



By Dr M Haris Deen

COVID-19 came and as yet remains, at the same time the world is plagued with another serious issue, that of global warming and other ecological disturbances. While remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) let us recall the contributions he made towards the applying Islamic principles of Islamic welfare towards protection of the environment.

The Prophet of Islam (May peace be upon him) advocated during his lifetime the stringent application of Islamic principles in respect of ecological welfare. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) taught his followers to live on less, neither to be extravagant nor to be miserly and to protect animal and plant life and to worship the Creator by being merciful to His creations. He forbade the killing of any animal unless out of necessity to feed the people. Al Albani reports that the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “If the Hou r (meaning the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”. Imam Bukhari reported the Prophet (Peace be on him) as having said that “if a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him”. It is also reported in Ibn Majah that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) happened to pass by his companion Sa’ad (May God be pleased with him) and found him performing ablution (wudu) next to a river and questioned him “Sa;ad what is this squandering? And when Sa’ad asked in return “can there be an idea if squandering (israf) in ablution?’ the Prophet replied “yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river”.

In another Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: (1) relieving yourself in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place”.

The Qur’an in chapter 56 verses 68 to 70 states “consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter”.

Prophet’s companion Abu Dhar Al Ghaffari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity” and in another Hadith authenticated by Albani, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “the believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry”. The Prophet further cautioned as reported by Tirmadhi and Ibn Majah that “Nothing is worst than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be : one third for his food, one third for his liquids and one third for his breath”.

Imam Bukhari reported an amazing story narrated by the Prophet (on whom be peace) that “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself. “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did, “So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him”. The companions inquired, “O Allah’s Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for saving any living being”.

Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah Law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard birds’ nests of eggs’.

Sal Allahu Ala Muhammad Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sallam. May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on the Soul of Prophet Muhammad.


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Gypsies…to continue



The original Gypsies, with Sunil (centre)

Of course, I know for sure fans of the Gypsies, and music lovers, in general, not only in Sri Lanka but around the world, as well, would be thrilled to know that this awesome outfit hasn’t called it a day.

After the demise of the legendary Sunil Perera, everyone thought that the Gypsies would disband.

Perhaps that would have been in the minds of even the members, themselves, as Sunil was not only their leader, and frontline vocalist, but also an icon in the music scene – he was special in every way.

Many, if not all, thought that the Gypsies, without Sunil, would find the going tough and that is because they all associated the Gypsies with Sunil Perera.

Sunil receiving The Island Music Award for ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ 1990

It generally happens, with certain outfits, where the rest of the members go unnoticed and the spotlight is only on one particular member – the leader of the group.

Some of the names that come to mind are Gabo and The Breakaways (Gabo) Misty (Rajitha), Darktan (Alston Koch), Upekkha (Manilal), Jetliners (Mignonne), Sohan & The X-Periments (Sohan), and the list is quite lengthy….

Yes, the Gypsies will continue, says Piyal Perera, and he mapped out to us what he has in mind.

They will take on a new look, he said, adding that in no way would they try to recreate the era of the Gypsies with Sunil Perera..

“That era is completely gone and we will never ever look to bringing that era into our scene again.

“My brother was a very special individual and his place in the band can never ever be replaced.”

Will Sunil join this scene…at Madame Tussauds!

Piyal went to say that the Gypsies will return to the showbiz scene, in a different setting.

“In all probability, we may have a female vocalist, in the vocal spotlight, and our repertoire will not be the songs generally associated with Sunil and the Gypsies.

“It will be a totally new approach by the new look Gypsies,” said Piyal.

In the meanwhile, Piyal also mentioned that they are working on the possibility of having an image of the late Sunil Perera at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, in London.

He says they have been asked, by the authorities concerned, to submit a PowerPoint presentation of Sunil’s achievements, and that they are working on it.

It’s, indeed, a wonderful way to keep Sunil’s image alive.

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