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Remembering dynamic duo

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Gamini and Srima Dissanayake

By Rochelle Palipane Gunaratne

Gamini Dissanayake Foundation commemorates Gamini Dissanayake’s 79th Birth Anniversary on 20th March and Srima Dissanayake’s 2ndrd Death Anniversary on 29th March.

A visionary who forged ahead with undiminished zeal, Gamini Dissanayake was instrumental in making colossal changes which had a lasting effect in our Motherland. Like the flow and ebb of the Mahaweli River, his life had its sporadic moments of triumph and testing, but he flowed on towards his goal unperturbed by the daunting challenges that threatened to hinder his journey, until the diabolical monster called terrorism reared its monstrous assault on his life, on that fateful day in 1994.

‘A leader par excellence, Gamini Dissanayake was undisputedly a shining light in the political firmament of 20th Century Sri Lanka. Charismatic, erudite and honourable, he was one politician who early in his career demonstrated that he had all the qualities required to give true statesmanlike leadership to Sri Lanka.’

He was also the former Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) President and was among the former presidents of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) who received lifetime awards for his contribution to cricket at the ACC’s 25-year celebrations banquet. He waxed eloquent at the House of Lords in 1981, impressing the august gathering, which was a watershed moment resulting in Sri Lanka cricket being granted test status.

Charismatic leader

‘A greatness of a man is judged by the powerful and pervasive influence he exercises for the good of his generation and by the certainty of his influence on the generations yet unborn. Such people are National Leaders. To achieve this, they must be blessed with leadership qualities. Leadership is one of the most enduring human responsibilities. Leaders must take their ability to craft a vision, inspire action and empower others.

The first milestone on the journey to leadership, not only we demand leaders to be credible, but also, they be forward looking and that they have a sense of direction and a vision for the future. If you study leadership in depth, you would observe, the first and key principle of leadership is between a leader and a follower. Without a follower, there is no one to lead.’

Visionary

‘Gamini Dissanayake was a visionary. He was passionate, creative, flexible, inspiring, innovative courageous, imaginative, initiates change, experimental. This fine human being, possessed a charming, attractive personality and personal power and charisma. He is a man to inspire and motivate men. He had the ability to influence people toward the attainment of a country’s goal. He was a fine democratic leader, who delegate authority to others, encourage participation and relies on expert and referent power to manage subordinates.’

He comfortably secured his Nuwara_Eliya-Maskeliya multi electorate seat in the 1977 general elections and was appointed the Minister of Mahaweli Development. Dissanayake spearheaded the Mahaweli Development Project. This was a huge project which was expected to take 30 years to finish. But due to Dissanayake’s skills he managed to finish the project within six years. The Mahaweli Development Project is the largest development project conducted in Sri Lanka after independence. The whole country was affected by the project which focused on irrigation, hydro power generation, agriculture and town and country development. The majority of the energy requirement for local consumption is generated by these hydropower plants while an overwhelming majority of rice cultivation in Sri Lanka is practised in these Mahaweli areas.

‘He was always receptive to new and novel ideas that could march towards that vision. He knew the constraints in working through a slow-moving administrative system and was ever willing to support measures that could overcome them.

Minister Gamini was a champion of parliamentary democracy; he believed in the value of open and intense debate and dialogue to reach consensus as his parliamentary and public speeches would demonstrate; he accepted the role of intellectuals and professionals in the governance and development processes, the criticality of consistency and continuity in administrative and management structures for governance and the imperatives of keeping pace with emerging global trends through the medium of information technology that was beginning to sweep across the world. Armed with his wide knowledge base acquired through constant reading and combined with his remarkable communication skills as a public speaker Sri Lanka would have reached out to a very wide global audience and benefitted from their contributions the scale of which it is difficult to visualize in retrospect.’

Srima-wind beneath the wings

Following her husband’s untimely demise, his vision for Sri Lanka seemed to have been extinguished but the flames were reignited through the Gamini Dissanayake Foundation (GDF) which paved the way for Gamini Dissanayake Institute of Technology & Vocational Studies (GDITVS) – the brainchild of his wife, Srima Dissanayake. The enchanting lady by his side was a wonder woman in her own right and much ahead of her time, supporting her husband in his political quest to transform the lives of Sri Lankans. Thereafter, Srima, a lawyer by profession, dedicated her life to taking care of her children; Former United National Party MP, Navin Dissanayake, Samagi Tharuna Balawegaya candidate and former MP, Mayantha Dissanayake and daughter, Varuni Dissanayake. During this period she founded GDF, a magnanimous venture that reflects Gamini’s vision for the youth of Sri Lanka and actively lobbied for innovative methods to motivate them, until her passing on 29th March, 2019.

The month of March brings to mind the dynamic duo, Gamini and Srima Dissanayake who left a strong legacy.

(The italicized sections are excerpts from articles:

A LEADING MAN: Qualities of Gamini Dissanayake by Premasara Epasinghe on October 31, 2012, Daily News

Gamini Dissanayake – the Visionary by Nanda Abeywickrama on October 24, 2020 in The Island Newspaper).

Reflecting Dissanayake’s vision for the youth of Sri Lanka through GDF

GDF was formed with the intention of giving a new dimension to the youth of this land by equipping them to participate equally and with dignity in the mainstream of economic and cultural activities. They are provided with a plethora of opportunities to learn new skills while emphasis is given to human resource development to help hone entrepreneurial skills. The Foundation focuses on socially disadvantaged, marginalized and vulnerable communities to help them achieve a better quality of life as well as working toward the creation of mutual understanding, harmony and fellowship among all cultural, religious and ethnic groups.

At GDITVS, knowledge is disseminated through the STEM method which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. STEM is important because it extends throughout every part of our lives. Science is everywhere in the world around us. Technology is continuously expanding into every aspect of our lives. The basic designs of roads and bridges are derived from engineering, but it also tackles the challenges of changing global weather and environmentally-friendly changes to our home.

Mathematics has relevancy in every occupation, every activity we undertake in our lives. By exposing students to STEM and giving them opportunities to explore STEM-related concepts, they will develop a passion for it and hopefully pursue a job in a STEM field. A curriculum that is STEM-based makes use of real-life situations to help the student learn. Programmes like Engineering for Kids integrates multiple classes to provide opportunities to see how concepts relate to life in order to hopefully spark a passion for a future career in a STEM field. STEM activities provide hands-on and minds-on lessons for the student. Making Math and Science both fun and interesting helps the student do much more than just learn. The demand for jobs centred on STEM Education is on the rise and GDF has provided the opportunity for kids aged between 11 and 18 in Nuwara-Eliya to make their lives better in the future. During the lockdown period due to the pandemic, classes were conducted successfully through online platforms which proved to be equally successful and innovative.

 

 



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