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The Leopards of Wilpattu National Park

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Insights into a stronghold population of the island’s only big cat.

by Dinal Samarasinghe

On Thursday the 19th of November 2020 at 6 pm via Zoom and FB Live Sign up online https://forms.gle/NnFQEEod7hE14kvh9

The Sri Lankan Leopard is one of eight subspecies of Leopards in the world, and it is endemic to the island. This large felid is the island’s only apex predator and is categorized as an endangered subspecies by the IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) primarily due to losing ~37% of its native habitat. The lecture will provide key insights about the population of Leopards in Wilpattu National Park based on a study conducted in 2018, and discuss future conservation implications. In addition, it will also provide a synopsis about the leopard, its global status, biology, and its importance in the ecosystem.

Dinal Samarasinghe

Over the last 10 years he has conducted research on amphibians and on the taxonomy of the water monitor complex in south Asia. Currently, his research is focused on human-wildlife conflict mitigation and carnivore/apex predator population ecology: Saltwater Crocodile and the Sri Lankan Leopard. He is a member of the amphibian, water monitor and crocodile specialist groups of the IUCN species survival commission.

The WNPS Public lecture is supported by Nations Trust Bank and open all.

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World AIDS day

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by Dr. Sujatha Samarakoon

First recognized in 1988, World AIDS Day falls on December 1 each year. Every year, on December 1, the world commemorates World AIDS Day. On this day, people around the world unite to show support for people living with and affected by HIV and to remember those who lost their lives to AIDS.

An estimated 40 million people worldwide have died of AIDS since 1981, and an estimated 38 million are living with HIV by end 20191 and 1.7 million became newly infected in 20191 making it one of the most important global public health issues in recorded history. Despite recent improvements in treatment, the AIDS epidemic still claims an estimated two million lives each year, of which more than 250,000 are children1.

Since 1988, Sri Lanka has been commemorating World AIDS day which is dedicated to spreading awareness of the AIDS pandemic and the need to prevent and control of HIV in the country and to remember those who have died of the disease.

The red ribbon has become an internationally recognized symbol for AIDS awareness, worn by people throughout the year in support of people living with HIV and in remembrance of those who have died.

Sri Lanka is categorized as a country with a low prevalence of HIV infection as the HIV prevalence among adults above 15 years of age was 0.1% as of end 20192. At the end of 2019, it is estimated that around 3,600 people are living with HIV in the country2. The main mode of transmission is through unprotected sex2. The National STD/AIDS Control Program (NSACP) of the Ministry of Health, which spearheads the national response to HIV/AIDS commenced interventions even before the first HIV infection was diagnosed in the country in 1986. The initial programs were mainly to create awareness among the general population especially the youth and women on methods of prevention. Concomitantly HIV testing services were introduced free of charge in the government sector where people were able to get the HIV test done to know their status maintaining confidentiality.

A policy decision was made to screen all donated blood for HIV infection in the public sector and also the private sector. The outcome of this timely decision was that since year 2000 no blood transfusion associated HIV infections have been reported to the national programme. This was a great achievement for the health sector and the people of Sri Lanka. Awareness programs were then expanded to involve the key population groups or populations most at risk to HIV infection due to a variety of reasons including high risk sexual behaviors. The highest prevalence of HIV is reported among men who have sex with men (MSM) at 1.5%2. HIV prevalence is also reported among trans-gender women (TGW), female sex workers (FSW), beach boys (BB) and injecting drug users (PWID)2. Other high-risk groups include prisoners, drug users and migrant workers. Between 2011 and 2019, new HIV infections among adult males have been increasing exponentially from 78 cases to 359 cases, which is a 460% increase2. Currently, the national programme is reaching out to key population groups using several approaches especially to reach the hidden high risk populations.

In 2004, a policy decision was made to provide anti-retroviral therapy (ART) to people living with HIV (PLHIV) through the national programme. As of end 2019, a total of 2,302 (64%)2 knew their HIV status and 1,845 (51%)2 registered for treatment which is offered free of charge.

AIDS Foundation Lanka (AFL) was established in 2008 after the Eigth International Conference on AIDS in Asia & Pacific (ICAAP) was held in Sri Lanka. The objectives of the AFL is to support the National STD/AIDS Control Programme in conducting awareness programmes to educate the general population and key population groups on basic facts of HIV/AIDS, access and availability of services and support people living with HIV.

Throughout the years, AIDS Foundation Lanka has reached out to several population groups such as out-of school youth, formal and informal sector workers and healthcare workers in educating them on basic facts of HIV which includes the methods of transmission and prevention, availability of services and the need to dispel stigma and discrimination. Several awareness programs were held at workplaces, hospitals and communities. These programs are conducted to support prevention efforts and also the “test and treat” policy of the national program by encouraging those who are living with HIV and do not know their status to get themselves tested for HIV. People with HIV who are aware of their status, take ART daily as prescribed which helps to control the replication of the virus and keep an undetectable viral load which enables to live healthy lives and have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partners.

Every year, AFL commemorates the World AIDS Day by conducting awareness programs for the general public including women and youth.

Although a non-profit organization, AIDS Foundation Lanka, continuously supports people living with HIV by providing them a nutritious food package monthly, educational grants, book vouchers, school bags and shoes, tuition and transport fees for children infected and affected by HIV. Some are supported in initiating self-employment income generating projects and by paying overdue housing loans. One objective of these support schemes is to strengthen the link of PLHIV with the national programme as around 10-20% of patients registered with the national program defaults attending services.

During the COVID-19 period, the national program has made every effort to provide HIV testing services, treatment and care. The AFL has supported these endeavors by increasing the food package allowances, transport allowances to travel to HIV service providing clinics and on-line tuition fees for students.

AIDS Foundation Lanka is supported by several well-wishers who have undertaken to look after an individual or a family. The well-wisher provides the nutrition package or tuition fees to AFL and AFL handles all donations maintaining confidentiality. Some school children through their social clubs, interact clubs have come forward to donate nutrition packages, school books and other utilities. HIV positive pregnant women are provided with additional nutrition support and a maternity kit which contains baby clothes and other utilities for mother and baby worth SLR 8,000/=. All PLHIV related support activities are carried out maintaining confidentiality of donors and recipients. AFL is located at the first Floor of Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), No 6, Wijerama Mawatha Colombo 7. Phone number 011-2690230.

(The writer is a Consultant Venereologist and President AIDS Foundation Lanka)

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Challenges, the turning points and the future of hospitality

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Shiromal Cooray talks about

by Zanita Careem

A multitude of several roles, Shiromal Cooray, sister of well known hotelier Hiran Cooray managing director of Jetwing Group of Companies stands out amongst all others when it comes to her story of success and entrepreneurship. She is the Managing Director of Jetwing Travels and Chairman of Jetwing Hotels. However, her role in life is not confined to this. She manages multiple roles with the same ease and grace. A voice for women’s equality, an active industry supporter, a woman entrepreneur, and of course a travel personality , mother and what not!

Q: What are your career milestones?

A: I started as an audit clerk at Ernst and young( then Turquand Young) in Colombo. Then went on to the UK and worked as a Trainee Management Accountant.

My first appointment In Sri Lanka was as the Finance Manager at J Walter Thompson, a popular advertising company. I was privileged to be working under two excellent individuals who moulded my professional career. Working with group of brilliant and talented people it set a benchmark in my career to move forward. I realized the importance of creativity then. I ended up being the Director of Finance and administration.

Later I joined Jetwing travels, in its infancy. By then, my brother was already working with our Dad in the Hotels. I saw the growth, the progress of the company, and the team spirit of the associates and their passion, and was very proud of it.

I also witnessed the beginning and expansion of an investment Bank CAL, the resurgence of a commodity broker, Ceylon Tea Brokers and the birth of a logistics company Logicare, with my partner Ajith. These were great experiences in my life.

To join the Board at the Commercial Bank as an independent non executive and later the Allianz Insurance, Sri Lanka, gave me the much needed experience and exposure to other industries creating a diversity in my career.

Q:

Does the problem of gender bias still exists’ How do you account for this

A: Yes gender bias still exists sometimes consciously but also at times unconsciously. I have seen that most companies in Sri Lanka have sugar coated pills showing the gender equality in beautifully crafted documents, incorporating in their annual reports,adding and giving awards to those female members etc. They also portray a friendly demeanour and make high sounding slogans supporting the women workforce but sadly in practise most don’t walk the talk. This gender stereotype is prevalent in most places still and gender biases are rooted deeply and it is hard to overcome in Sri Lanka and the world. But much progress has happened and the future looks bright for females .

I have been often Been asked by callers in office Are you the secretary and can you connect me to Shiromal Cooray on line. Why/ I used to wonder that people found it surprising to accept the fact that the head or the Managing Director of a company can be a woman. This is a common trait not only in Sri Lanka but all over the world . They think women are weak, cant work for long hours and don’t have the ability. In the past trail blazing women have proved this wrong. Now both in Sri Lanka and overseas women are showing their ability to multi task and take on the roles of care giver and business leader.

Q:

What motivates an entrepreneur like you to climb the ladder of success/

> A: I don’t consider myself as an entrepreneur at all. My father was an entrepreneur .My brother and I consider ourselves as custodians of our business which we are so proud of. Our father created this group giving employment to many. My brother and myself together with Ruan Samarasinghe and a wonderful team have worked to ensure the business will expand and grow.

However what motivates me is seeing our teams working passionately towards our common goals. Our founder’s dream was to create a ‘service culture’ that is ‘legendary’ one that people will talk about and be proud of The teams both at the hotel and the travel sector are continuing to focus and achieve this goal, this motivates me to keep striving harder.

Q:

Are you proud of what you have achieved so far

A:

Yes I am so humbled and proud by what the team and I have achieved so far, we have created an opportunity to showcase our beautiful Sri Lanka to both locals and tourists alike. We are a hospitable nation noted for our smiles and we strive to ensure the brand Jetwing remains as the best hospitality provider in our country.

Q:

What are your challenges and how did you overcome?

A:

I faced many obstacles In my career. I was a whistle blower and even lost my job in the process. That really exposed me to another world and showed how naive I was. But this was also the turning point in my career.

Most often, I have been the only woman at a discussion and getting my opinion heard was difficult at the beginning. Things are certainly changing now as women’s points of view are seriously considered.

Q:

The challenges of being a working mum

A:

It was difficult but I took it up with a positive note. This is going to be themost challenging area for a woman to navigate. The emotions of being a mum and the responsibilities at work are always going to play. She needs to learn to compromise and realize you cannot have it all, or be perfect in everything. Once you realize that navigating the multiple roles become much easier. Sometimes . I have had to juggle between work and office. My mother, in laws and great domestic help made my life that much easier. I am so grateful to them for letting me enjoy motherhood and a career.

Q:

Your strength and weaknesses

A:

My faith and family. I have complete trust in God, My parents my brother,my partner and my son were beside me whenever I wanted them.

I try to look at a problem from different perspectives and try to find solutions.

Q:

The weaknesses

A:

I always believe in the truth and I don’t want to conceal what I really feel. Often people don’t like direct talk. I am very bad at sugar coating things and this puts me in trouble very often. I am often told that the problem with me is not what I say but how I say it, though I keep trying to change haven’t been successful.

Q:

Can you reflect on your success

A:

I worked with a personality with high principles,this was my father who had a deep understanding of people. He always wanted the company to grow with the people. He viewed me as a capable woman For him men and womenwere equal and there was absolutely no glass ceilings . Both my brother and I were given the same opportunities for education and personal development.

Q:

Born and bred into a business family what are your privileges.

A:

Our parents worked selflessly towards the progress of the company and their children. We received a very sound education. We saw how focused one has to be to achieve your goals. The importance of family and working together.

Our associates at Jetwing helped one another, to stand in unison to build the company, Some of the staff members rose to high positions and got the opportunity to climb the ladder of success that was a great achievement and a wonderful experience.

Q:

Did you join the family business by choice

A:

Yes, definitely by choice. Nobody could force me and I had the freedom to chose my own path. I am happy with what I am.

Q:

Your passion

A:

Reading, love to read biographies, travelling and exploring new exotic places. I must mention during my travel I visited Mongolia. I was mesmerised by the beauty of the country and simplicity of the nomadic people.

Q:

Your mantra

A:

Love to help people whenever possible.

Q:

Your source of inspiration that helped you to build your career

A:

My father inspired me to build my career. My father’s choice was to make me to be a doctor, but Circumstances made me what I am today. However I am happy with my self and studying accountancy was my choice Too.

Q:

Who are your mentors

A:

My parents. My mother still instills good values and advises me. My parents have taught me to be humble, to appreciate simple things in life faith, work hard and to help each other.

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Sri Lanka’s contribution to the Sathya Sai Baba movement

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Commmemorating the Swami’s 95th birthday

by M. Wanni Wanniyasekaram

Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba was one of the most respected persons in the spiritual world in his time. In an attempt to take His Legacy forward, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba Seva Samithi was established 53 years ago in Sri Lanka and it has spearheaded this spiritual movement nationwide.

The Sri Lankan public first heard of the miracles and spiritual mission of Sri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi, India, through the visit of Hilda Charlton, an American psychic who arrived in Colombo back in 1965. Upon hearing her stories about Sai Baba, many devotees including M Rasanayagam decided to call their friends to join and listen to the experiences of the Divine. On hearing and viewing the video clips shown by Hilda, a few enthusiastic devotees commenced conducting group bhajans at their homes mostly on Thursdays. K Thiyagaraja’s house in Wellawatta was used for this by many devotees who then went on to conduct Sai bhajans in Kandy, Jaffna and Batticaloa.

A delegation consisting of M Rajanayagam, CCS, a former Commissioner of Labor, Dr Nallinathan, C Balasingham.CCS and Kandiah Thiagaraja visited Puttaparthi to invite Bhagavan Baba to visit Sri Lanka. Accepting the invitation, Bhagavan requested the delegation to “first start regular bhajans. Then I will come.” In accordance with Swami’s directive Sri Lanka was the first country in South East Asia to establish Bhajan Centers in Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna and Batticaloa over five decades ago.

Karu Jayasuriya, the without national titles, but carrying military titles and decorations, Dr Bramadasan from the Eastern Zone, and Wanniyasekaram are the only surviving members of the organization from the time it began.

Invitation to Bhagavan Baba to visit Sri Lanka

The second invitation to Baba to visit Sri Lanka was extended by the then Minister Savumiyamoorty Thondaman who was accompanied on this mission by his Secretary, Thirunavukarasu and a few others. They were able to meet Swami and request Him to visit Sri Lanka. Swami accepted the invitation and nominated dates and time for His visit.

They thanked Swami and while Thondaman went to his home town in India for a few days, Thirunavukarasu returned to Sri Lanka and issued a press notification that Swami was coming here and the dates nominated for the visit. Devotees were very happy that arrangements were well under way and a reception committee chaired by Hon. A. Ratnayake, President of the Senate, was set up. Then Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike kindly agreed to receive Swami at the airport and preside over the public meeting marking the visit.

Meanwhile the Colombo-7 elite living in posh houses jostled with each other offering to host Swami in their homes during his stay. When Thondaman returned from India, they lobbied him to recommend their names. This became intolerable and Thondaman asked C. Balasingham to contact either Sri Kasturi or Sri Indulal Shah, Swami’s aides, and get a ruling on this issue. Balasingham contacted both these gentlemen who spoke to Swami. The ruling from Swami was “I am cancelling my trip to Lanka. I will visit only if the devotees want me”. This decision was conveyed to Thondaman.

The Third Invitation

In 2005 many of us visited Puttaparthy for Buddha Poornima (Vesak) celebrations in a delegation led by Karu Jayasuriya. It included Laksahman Kiriella, late Sivali Ratwatte, late Mangala Moonesinghe, late Dr. W. Rasaputram, Bradman Weerakoon, Lakshman Watawala, Mahesh Mallawaarachi, Janaka Weerakoon, Dr Bramadasan, Prof. Degamboda and myself. We extended an invitation by way of a well designed and worded card asking Swami to visit Sri Lanka .

After Karu Jayasuriya spoke extending the invitation, I prayed to Swami “Swami, Lord Buddha had visited Sri Lanka three times. Please visit “SAI LANKA.” He looked at us all with a gracious smile saying “There’s a passing cloud. Let that settle and when there is unity in the organization, I will come.”

This is the second time that Swami had spoken of ‘Unity’. When will that happen among us? When will anger and hatred leave us and we can sit side by side, shoulder to shoulder, taking forwards His sacred legacy for the benefit of our younger generation. Devotees carrying anger and hatred must reform themselves and leave room for younger people to serve Swami.

Among the national projects conducted by the Sathya Sai Organisation in Sri Lanka are:

Hospice; Sai School Manipay – Jaffna; Children’s Home – Vavuniya; Elders Home Hanwella – Colombo; Introduction of Sathya Sai Education in Human Values to Schools; Leadership training for all office bearers (temporally suspended with approval denied by the International Chair for the participation of overseas Resource Per

sonnel).

One of the Public Events conducted includee the Inter Faith Conference with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe presiding and two overseas guest speakers, Dato Jegatheesan a Senior Civil Servant from Malaysia and Dato Dr Ayothya Art Ong Jumsai, Ex Minister Of Education Thailand, held at the BMICH which was well received by the public.

Holy Vesak/Buddha Poornima in the Divine Presence

In 1996, a few Lankan devotees were at Whitefield on Vesak Poya day, bearing the traditional tray with lights to signify the importance of Vesak. Swami, blessed the devotees on the occasion of Vesak and granted their request to hold Vesak celebrations in His presence annually. This was well received by all the Buddhist countries in the Asia Pacific region.

 

Reoyka Hira, who was the former Zone Chair for Asia Pacific which includes Sri Lanka, who is presently a Member of the Central Trust at Puttaparthi suggested that we regularize this event by having a “Buddha Poornima Secretariat” in Sri Lanka covering all the Buddhist countries in South Asia. It was decided to offer the Chairman’s post to Hon Karu Jayasuriya, and the post of Secretary to me. This committee worked with perfect understanding, cooperation, and love until it was scrapped by Dr Goldstein and Dr Reddy in the year 2005. However, the program continued with the participation of other countries.

The organization extends its gratitude to Vidiyapathy Ravi Bandu and his team, Kalasuri Vasuki Jegatheesan and Shanmugampillai Viswanathan, former Director Tamil Program Rupavahini Corporation, for coordinating and organizing an annual cultural program to be staged in the presence of the Divine. For many years Sri Lanka hosted this special event which is at present shared by other Buddhist countries in our region.

A minimum of 750-800 devotees per year from Sri Lanka participated in this event. The Year 2005 was a special year for us with about one thousand devotees present. Swami was very free with the Sri Lankan group, mingling among the devotees collecting letters from whoever who gave them to him. He spent more than two hours morning and evening with us, enjoying the Bhajans sung by the Sri Lankan devotees conducted by Gamini Gunasekara. The overseas Bhajans were conducted by Letchu Chablani of Japan.

Every year distinguished VVIPS visited either Whitefield or Puttaparthi. Mrs. Bandaranaike participated many times as did President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the late Anura Bandaranaike, late Dr Seevali Ratwattea and his spouse, late High Commissioner Mangala Moonesinghe, late Central Bank Governor and Ambassador Warnasena Rasaputra. Bradman Weerakoon who recently turned 91 and had held high office spoke on ‘The Importance of Vesak” in the presence of Swami and devotees. This speech was well received specially by the overseas devotees.

CHAITHANIYA JOTI MUSEUM

A large Buddha Statue was gifted to the museum by the devotees in Sri Lanka. Main sponsors were Rev (Dr) Pannindara Thera, the Chief Incumbent of Sri Dharmaka Veshi Temple, Baudaloka Mawatha Colombo 7 and Dr & Mrs Sivali Ratwatte and their daughter Mrs. Lakmani Welgama. Transport arrangement were made by Mahesh Mallawaarachi and T.G.K. Krishnamoorthy in Tamil Nadu, who ensured the statue was delivered in God’s time.

PAINTINGS FOR THE MUSEUM

Sri Indu Bai requested me to find out from Senaka Senanayake whether he would gift three large paintings for the Museum. Indu Bai has met Senaka during his visits to Sri Lanka and knew his credentials. I promptly spoke to Senaka, who without hesitation agreed and completed the assignment on time. Sri Indu Bai selected two paintings for the Museum, and asked me to forward the third to “Swami’s Abode” with a note “Gift from the devotees of Sri Lanka”. This painting is seen in Swami’s lounge as you enter His Abode.

Sathya Sai Institute for Human Values (SSEHV)

In the year 1970 SSEHV was inaugurated by Dato Dr Auodiya Na Jum Sai former Minister of Education Thailand and the Founder Director Sai School, Thailand, Dr Teerakuiat Jareonsettaisn, or “Dr Judo” as he is popularly called, together with Sister Lorraine Burrows, Director of the Sai School Thailand.

Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga came to know of the SSEHV concept that the Sathiya Sai Organisation was arranging to introduce in all schools under Swami,s guidance. She requested the Chairman of this Special Commission for Educational Reforms, Prof. Jayathilaka and Dr (Mrs) Tara De Mel, the former Secretary to the Ministry of Education and Member of the Education Reforms Commission to study this report and incorporate what is suitable in the Government Schools Curriculum.

Prof Sunanda Degamboda and Chandima de Silva were appointed Members of the Committee on Ethics and Value Education in Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Education in recognition of the work of the Education Wing of the Sai Organisation. This was based on the recommendation by Prof Jayathilaka and Dr( Mrs) Tara De Mel to the President.

Introduction to Education in Human Values in Schools

This concept was carried out very well in the Northern and Eastern zones. In one of the Divine discourses that Swami addressed was the introduction of the Sathya Sai Education in Human Values (SSEHV). Swami requested all countries must introduce this concept universally. Accordingly, this exercise was carried out very successfully in the North and Eastern zones.

Sai Mandir Anniversary Celebrations

“Sai Mandir” at Barnes Place is considered as a landmark Holy Temple for all Sai devotees in Sri Lanka and also for overseas devotees visiting Sri Lanka. Sixty four perches of land in prime residential area in Colombo was gifted to the organization by the late Mrs Meena Ratnam, fomer Deputy Mayor of Colombo, and her daughter Ms Raji Ratnam.

Sai Mandir, Barnes Place, Colombo 7 Sri Gopal Ghandhi (Grand Son of Mahathma Ghandi)

High Commissioner for India in Sri Lanka

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