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Maris Stella College marks Centennial : Endless Odyssey in Quest of Excellence

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By Merrick Gooneratne

As you exit the Katunayake end, of the Colombo Katunayake Highway, turn left towards Negombo, passing Base Hospital, you will not miss a spacious ground with green grass looking like green velvet – a picturesque site that remains etched in your memory.

Young schoolboys happily practising cricket, soccer, athletics and basketball clad in blue and red T- shirts! This is the playground of Maris Stella College, Negombo. Towards January, each year, this picturesque ground comes alive with the Annual Inter-House Sports Meet of the school with four pavilions in four different theme colours each named after the Pioneering Leaders of Maris Stella College, Julian, Lewis, Joseph, and Anthony.

The origins of Maris Stella College harked back to 1922 when the Marist Brothers, who arrived in Negombo in 1917, joined St. Mary’s College, the leading school in Negombo at the time. Propelled by the need for expansion, the brothers searched for new land until 16th December 1920 the Arch Bishop of Colombo Reverend Anthony Coudert transferred to the Marist Brothers the property known as Coppara Handiya Estate, in extent of eight acres and 19 perches. Maris Stella College today stands on this property which was a gift to the Church from two sisters – Mrs. Rosa Isabella De Croos Dabarera and Mrs. Mary Christine De Croos Rajchandra. The sisters willed that the property they gifted must be used for the purpose of establishing on it a Catholic College to providing education for boys.

Amongst the beneficiaries of this magnanimous legacy, in more recent times, are Anton Dabarera and Ewald De Croos, grandsons of Isabella De Croos. Perhaps the legacy of such a large tract of land to the Church and eventually to the Marist Brothers to foster Catholic education for boys is one of the earliest acts of constructive or sustained philanthropy in our country, a phrase which was made popular by Prime Minister Modi’s reference to the TATA family and their support to the Indian Institute of Technology.

The Marist Brothers,, is an organisation founded by St. Marcellin Champagnat dedicated to the education of youth from amongst the poorest of the poor in Lyon, France on 2nd January 1817. The Brothers who are an international community first set foot in Ceylon in 1911 in Batticaloa and moved to Negombo on 13th April 1917 and founded Marist Stella College, in 1922.

This year 2022 marks the Centennial of Marist Stella College – a major milestone for any Institution dedicated to Education. Maris Stella has served The Century admirably fashioned or sculpted on the Five Pillars of Marist Ethos: Presence, Simplicity, Family Spirit, Love of Work, and Inspiration of Mary the Blessed Mother. This is the Vision and the Mission so well crafted and executed over a century by all the Great Marist Brothers who served as Principals of the college from 1922 to this date: Brother Lewis Gervaise, Brother Joseph, Brother Anthony Pigenwall, Brother Conran, Brother Stanislaus Gunawardena, the first Sri Lankan Principal of Marist Stella College, Brother Peter, Brother Gregory, Brother Clinton, Brother Shanthi, Brother Godfrey, Brother Sunanda, Brother Mervyn, Brother Chinthana and Brother Michael.

Although not listed amongst the Principals, Brother Julian and Brother Nizier played an equally important role in nurturing the Marist Ethos.

Over the past 100 years the Five Pillars of the Marist Ethos have molded thousands of young men from Negombo and its hinterland into men of exemplary service to the Motherland, benefitting from the holistic and value based education which is at the Core of Education at Maris Stella.

Under the Marist Brothers, education is not all about academic and intellectual training. There is equal emphasis on emotional, psychological and physical development of the student based on a spirit of inquiry and creativity nurturing entrepreneurial and moral leadership.

As succinctly stated by Richard Feinman, the American Nobel Prize Winner in Physics: “The pleasure of finding out is the irrepressible sense of curiosity at the route of all learning”. This has always been the focus of the Marist Brothers. Guided by the Five Pillars of the Marist Ethos the Great Men from near and a far who were destined to lead the Iconic Seat of learning as Principals of Marist Stella College have produced men who have rendered a yeoman service to the community as Ordained Priests, Bishops, Academics, Professionals, Administrators, Entrepreneurs, Businessmen and Sportsmen of Excellence some of whom may have achieved global recognition in their chosen fields.

In this narration I have discreetly avoided reference to individual Maristonians. But I ask the readers indulgence to permit two references.

Reverend Brother Paul Nizier, who died at 96 years on 8th December 1996, having served the Marist Fraternity for 71 years as a Teacher, Principal and Mentor. The other is Professor Leslie Panditharatne who, at 92 is one of the oldest living Maristonians who achieved unrivalled academic excellence as the highly respected Vice Chancellor of The University of Peradeniya and later Chairman of The University Grants Commission.

I salute the Marist Brothers for a Century of great creativity epitomised in Maris-Stella College, the Pride of Negombo where parents dream of admitting their sons.

As the College steps into the next century, it is a time for consolidation, a time to evaluate the gains so far, a time to introspect and identify gaps and the time to chart a journey ahead. The leadership of both schools, main school and the branch school have already stepped into the arena of digital learning, way ahead of the rest of the schools in Negombo, with the introduction to the concept of smart classroom, distance learning and the creation of two digital based-media units, recognising that the Internet holds The Key to Future Learning.

In all its future endeavours Maris Stella and its future leadership will always be guided by Psalm 127:1 “Unless the Lord Builds the House, They Labour in vain who build it”; oft quoted by the Founder St. Marcellin Champagnat. The Marist Brothers Senior and the New will certainly find inspiration in their never-ending quest for excellence in the words of the famous poet Robert Frost.,

“The woods are lovely dark and deep

But I have promises to keep

And Miles to go before I sleep

And Miles to go before I sleep”

The Writer is a Past President of the OBA of Maris Stella College, and a retired officer of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service and a recipient of The Order of the Rising Sun from the Government of Japan



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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