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When grit prevails over disability

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Wheelchair tennis 

His life didn’t flash before his eyes when the mine exploded under his feet. The only thought that crossed his mind was a sense of regret at his tour of duty coming to an abrupt end while his work was left undone. It was the year 2008 and in another year the war would be over. However, Lasantha Ranaweera didn’t know that. He was in the thick of it, having turned down multiple training opportunities so he could witness the end of the war. But while returning to base in Periyamadu, in the wee hours of May 18, 2008, which happened to be Vesak Poya day, he stepped on the mine. His leg was amputated, but it didn’t snuff out his spirit. Ranaweera went on to become a wheelchair tennis pro. This is his story and that of his comrades.

By Sajitha Prematunge

Pics by Kamal Wanniarachchi

When Jagath Welikala went to the airport on the request of Sri Lanka Tennis Association, presumably to pick up a tennis player, a Brit lugging a wheelchair, instead of a tennis racket, was the last thing the veteran tennis coach expected. Englishman Mark Bullock arrived in Sri Lanka in 2002 to introduce a special kind of sport; wheelchair tennis.

The programme kicked off with 50 all military amputees. The number was later cut down to 20. Welikala was elected to coach the team and Australian coach Kathy Fahim conducted a two-week crash course in wheelchair tennis. “Then I simply followed it up,” said Welikala. By mid-September the same year, a four-member team won the D Division in the Thailand Open 2002. Bullock, then the International Tennis Federation, Wheelchair Tennis Development Officer, facilitated Welikala’s one-month training in the Netherlands with world’s number one coach at the time, Aad Zwan. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) donated three wheelchairs and funded Australian and New Zealand wheelchair tournaments.

Two received ‘wild card’ entries into the Para Olympics 2004 in Athens, Greece. The SLTA team also won the Indian Open 2007, Australian B Division 2004, New Zealand B Division 2004, Belgium Open 2016, Malaysian Open 2017, Thailand Open 2017, Taipei Open 2018 and World Cup qualifiers 2018, held in Malaysia, along the way. Over the years, the Sri Lankan team has beaten US, Spainish, German, Italian, Slovakian Moroccan, Israeli, Swiss, Argentinian, Croatian, Russian, Canadian, Malaysian, Thai and Japanese players during World Cup matches. Their winning streak culminated in Lasantha Ranaweera and Suresh Dharmasena winning the bronze at the 3rd Asian Games, Indonesia in 2018.

War injuries break people, consequently, Welikala often had to double as a counsellor to the soldier-tennis players training under him. “But, all, after they became a part of the programme, wound up married.” This, no doubt, stands testimony to the success of the programme. “There’s a definite improvement in psychology.” Welikala ventured that, in a way it is therapeutic. “It’s something to look forward to in life.” But more importantly, Welikala points out that they are not friendless. “They are rated international and have friends all over the world.”

Welikala’s own achievements include being elected a member of Coaches’ Commission for the term between 2010 and 2012 and placed second best coach of the year. He started coaching regular tennis in 1985. Now he is the only Sri Lankan coach who specializes in wheelchair tennis, having trained 40 players so far. What’s unique about the Sri Lankan wheelchair tennis programme is that the players are all amputees, wounded in action, competing with players, most of who have been disabled by birth or childhood and have been playing wheelchair tennis for many decades, in A-grade wheelchairs.

“Back when we started, we didn’t have proper equipment. All the wheelchairs were locally assembled, until ITF donated the first three wheelchairs,” said Welikala. The team recently received three Malaysian-made wheelchairs at the cost of Rs. 500,000 each, courtesy of SLTA. “A state-of-the-art wheelchair would cost somewhere around three million. With that kind of equipment players can play well into their 50s,” said Lasantha Ranaweera.

The 36 -year-old, originally from Makandura enlisted in August 2003 and was assigned to Gajaba Regiment. After stepping on a landmine, his leg was amputated on May 19, 2008. From Anuradhapura he was brought to Colombo, where he recuperated for three months. Ranaweera spent four more months in Ranaviru Sevana and returned to service at his regiment. He spent two years with the sports team, during which he tried every sport available for an amputee like him, from basketball, badminton, table tennis, archery to the 24 kilometre marathon. Considering the zeal with which he applied himself to sport, it is quite surprising that he has not played any sport prior to his amputation.

He joined the SLTA wheelchair tennis team in 2011 and by 2013 he was in such fine form that he was able to bring home a medal on his first tour, coming third in Thai Open doubles. He has played seven Thai and nine Malaysian tournaments. Ranaweera placed eighth in the World Cup 2016 held in Japan. He has beaten every other local player in the game, although he is the third highest ranking Sri Lankan in ITF ranking.

Ranaweera admits that he couldn’t have come this far if it weren’t for the support of his family. He was married in 2007. But due to complications resulting from the blast the Ranaweeras could not have kids for 12 years. “It was a huge sacrifice on my wife’s part to stick around. But with treatment, it finally paid off. She always knew I’d make a name for myself in sports, so she was always encouraging.” Today Ranaweera is happy that the others finished the war for him, so his now one-year-old kid could live in peace.

After the war we had to face a more formidable enemy, this time in the form of a pandemic. As in any other field, COVID-19 has been a huge setback for these wheelchair tennis players. The longer they remain idle and the less tournaments they play, the higher the risk that other playing opponents may overtake them in the ITF ranking. “Training is not the issue, we need more tournaments, we need to travel,” pointed out Welikala. “If we don’t do tours, our ranking goes down,” added Ranaweera. “Age is irrelevant when it comes to wheelchair tennis,” said amputee Suresh Dharmasena. Take Stéphane Houdet for example, not only do such players have the best of equipment to their advantage, they also play often as possible to keep their ranking up. “Houdet is 49, yet he’s ranked in the ITF top 10. If we can manage at least 17 or 18 tours a year we can stay in the world top 20. This year we’ve played only three so far.”

Thirty-one-year-old Dharmasena from Kahatagasdigiliya has been playing Wheelchair Tennis since 2011. Unlike Ranaweera, Dharmasena was wounded during the latter part of the war. Dharmasena enlisted in July 2007 and was assigned to the Artillery Regiment. At the height of war, he was stationed in Puthukkudiyiruppu. It was February 21, 2009. Civilians were fleeing the war zone in droves, for two days, by boat across the Chalai lagoon, when the LTTE infiltrated the area and opened fire. Most were killed or injured. Dharmasena and others were pulling the wounded out when they were hit by mortar. Dharmasena was able to jump out of the way, which saved his life, but he fell on an anti-personnel mine.

“When four of your friends are down with various wounds, ranging in degrees of seriousness, and another lying dead a few feet away, your own predicament tends to escape you. Violence becomes mundane in war.” Wise words for a still young soldier. He was patched up at a makeshift hospital, but he knew that his foot was badly damaged all the way to the boot line. It had to be amputated. Dark thoughts of never being able to marry, have kids and make a family did cross his mind but had to be kept at bay for the sake of his family. After recuperating for four months at the Ranaviru Senvana, Dharmasena was fitted with a prosthetic. A month of training later, he was stationed at Panagoda Camp.

“I’ve always liked sports,” said Dharmasena, on the merits of which he got into the army. “After the amputation I used to watch kids in the village play volleyball.” Before his injury volleyball was his forte. Watching them, Dharmasena remembers being dejected at the prospect of never being able to play again. It was Brigadier Shiran Abeysekara who suggested that Dharmasena try his hand at wheelchair tennis. He joined the SLTA wheelchair tennis team in October 2011. “It looks easier than it is, but it uses only the upper body and on the first day your hand starts to blister. Any civilian would have quit. But the Army had my back. The word ‘can’t’ is not in the Army dictionary.” Wheelchair tennis, backed by the discipline that was inculcated in him by the Army, presented him with something he couldn’t refuse – the idea that he was not an invalid, that he could play any sport. He trained well into the night, woke up early and trained some more, till his ITF ranking shot up to Sri Lanka’s highest.

With 30 tours behind him and between 40 to 50 trophies stacked away back at home, Dharmasena readily admits that he couldn’t have done it without his wife. It takes courage for a traditional Sri Lankan woman to accept a disabled person for husband. And Dharmasena’s wife, Samurdika, did it with grace, maintaining that she would marry no other, until the in-laws had to budge. “Now they can’t do without me,” snickers Dharmasena. Like the typical traditional Sri Lankan wife, she makes a vow every time he is to play a tournament. However, she also makes it a point to go over each match, why he lost, the opponent’s weak points and notes it all down with the expertise of a seasoned coach. Whenever he is to face the same opponent again, they pore over this ‘playbook’, just so to know how to defeat his opponent’. And after a win she never fails to welcome him back home with much fanfare.

Gamini Dissanayake, aged 42, is the only remaining player out of the original 50. He took part in the two-week training course conducted by Kathy Fahim at the inception of the programme. Originally from Ampara, Dissanayake commutes daily from home in Awissawella for training. As the other players, Dissanayake could not have devoted such time and energy without the unstinting support of his family. Dissanayake has three kids; a 16 -year-old daughter and two sons, 14 and 11 years old.

He joined the Army in 1996 and was wounded in action in 2000, when he stepped on a mine in Muhamalai.

 

Dissanayake has played wheelchair tennis for 15 years. He said tennis had helped him to overcome his injury, both physically and psychologically.

Dharmasena said that his titles were many including SSC Open 2010, AITA Open Wheelchair Tennis Tournament 2011, Westende Wheelchair Tournament 2016, Malaysia Open 2016, Labuan Open 2018, Sri Lanka Open in the years 2013, 2018 and 2020 in singles and BII Indonesia Open 2011, AITA Open Wheelchair Tennis Tournament 2011, Westende Wheelchair Tournament 2016, Labuan Open 2018, Sri Lankan Open in the years 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, SSC Open in the years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2017 in doubles and bronze in World Cup 2012. He has some 130 trophies attesting to his formidability.

Ranaweera and Dharmasena look forward to the next Paralympics, slated for August 2021, and the Asian Games in 2022. Dissanayake hopeS to retire after the Paralympics and Asian Games. This is the last generation of wheelchair tennis players that the military might produce. Dharmasena is concerned about what will happen to the sport after they retire. He hopes that someone would come forward to provide food and lodging to children from remote corners of the country, interested in picking the game up. Because unlike them, who were provided for by the ASrmy, children from low income households may not be able to afford the equipment.

In fact, SLTA has already launched a low key programme to track down potential talent. “Until the end of the war, we had a steady influx of players, through the intervention of the Army,” said SLTA Director Administration, Gayanga Weerasekara. Since the war ended, there have been no disabled willing to take up the sport. Now the SLTA is venturing into remote areas and orphanages in search of talent. “If anyone’s interested call up SLTA,” said Weerasekara. “People with any kind of disability could take up the sport.” He explained that internationally the sport is categorized according to the disability and as such, there is a lot of scope for aspiring wheelchair tennis players. Weerasekara said that they were actively looking for funding and that they have been lucky so far, to have received funding from companies such as the Colombo International Container Terminals (CICT). He is also hopeful that the new Sports Minister, Namal Rajapaksa would support the sport.

Weerasekara pointed out that players like Ranaweera, Dharmasena and Dissanayake would have wasted years of youth in some Army camp office and later been dependent on a pension, had they not discovered the sport. “We were able to provide them with a whole new career. Grand slam players are paid in dollars.” Weerasekara explained that wheelchair tennis provides endless opportunities for disabled children. “There is a certain therapeutic aspect to wheelchair tennis, that disabled children can benefit from. For example, it is an outdoor game. It is a very social game, too when it comes to doubles.

Weerasekara said that the local players had not known anything about the sport before their injuries as opposed to most international players who are disabled by birth or at a young age. Moreover, due to funding issues they had not been able to do as many tours as they needed. “Under such circumstances, it is to their credit that they were able to qualify for world events such as the Paralympics. These players have sacrificed their limbs for this country, and the least anyone could do is sponsor them,” said Weerasekara, inviting any interested party to sponsor the players.

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Teaching for job market and ‘liberating the whole person’ during Covid-19 pandemic

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by Liyanage Amarakeerthi

 

(This is based on a short presentation made at a promotion interview at the University of Peradeniya on November 19th, 2020. Author thanks Professors KNO Dharmadasa, Wimal Wijayarathne and OG Dayarathna Banda, Dean/Arts who encouraged him to publish this speech.)

At universities, we are busy teaching online. It is heartbreaking to find many students lack required facilities. Teaching on Zoom, for example, takes smart phones and personal computers for granted. We have to assume that Internet access is as ubiquitous as air, but reality is otherwise. Attendance at live Zoom classes can be as low as 40 percent in the Faculty of Arts, where students from underprivileged backgrounds account for the majority. Therefore, we need to record our lectures and make them available through other means. I myself have WhatsApp groups for all my classes to transmit important course content with a minimal cost. The university and the faculty take admirable care with extremely limited resources to make sure that no student is left behind. But the situation is far from satisfactory.

In addition to Corona, our political authorities routinely tell us that what we teach at the faculties of arts has become irrelevant and obsolete. They regularly ask us to produce employable graduates. Recently, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was seen in a video clip telling a graduate that she should have studied ‘something technical.’ While it is wrong to produce an endless number of external graduates merely with degree certificates to wave at media cameras at the Lipton Circus, learning something ‘technical’ signifies a poor understanding of university education.

I want to reflect on the true meaning of education at the faculties of Arts. At our faculties we teach courses in the humanities and the social sciences. As a scholar in literature and language, I am at the most pressured end of the spectrum: Learning literature is the most removed from ‘something technical.’ Therefore, we, the humanities scholars at universities, routinely have to justify what we are doing in teaching and research. There reflections are made in that context.

 

Vision of the founding fathers

The founding fathers of the University of Ceylon, never imagined that future scholars in the Humanities would have to face the particular challenge mentioned above. In the inaugural address of the Ceylon University movement Ponnambalam Arunachalam, the President of the movement, had elaborate plans for a university of our own. Out of 13 professorships they had imagined to create in the University of Ceylon, eight were for the humanities. They wanted professorships for vernacular languages such as Sinhala and Tamil, and when the university was established, in 1942, the curriculum had considerable focus on local language and traditions. Indeed, there were professorships for natural sciences, and many science-based subjects were to enter within the first decade of the university.

In addition, those founding fathers had much larger and grander ideals for education; here are the words of Arunachalam:

“University will be a powerful instrument for forming character, for giving us men and women armed with reason and self-control, braced by knowledge, clothed with steadfastness and courage and inspired by public spirit and public virtue.” “A Plea for a Ceylon University” (A. T. Alwis. Peradeniya: The Founding of a University).

Those beautifully profound words demonstrate that Arunachalam’s vision for education was much more than teaching ‘something technical.’

 

Liberal Arts

In order to rediscover the true meaning of the Humanities education, one may look into what is meant by the liberal arts in contemporary international universities. ‘Liberal arts’ is a bit more inclusive than what we call ‘arts subjects’ since they include natural sciences, basic mathematics and the like. A rich liberal arts degree programme exposes students to a wide range of subjects––languages, literature, philosophy, religion, natural sciences, mathematics, Fine Arts, citizenship education, social sciences (at least key concepts of them) and so on. Since there is nothing strictly prohibited from the domain of liberal arts, one could add numerous other things to the curriculum.

The word ‘liberal’ in liberal arts a loaded one. It includes knowledge required to liberate human beings from socio-cultural bonds they are trapped in producing hierarchy, inequality and injustice. Rousseau famously claimed that chains binding human beings were human-made’ and the hammers to break them were also made in earth not in heaven. A high quality education in liberal arts should help us see those chains and to forge the hammers that can break them. In other words, liberal arts teach us the significance of working towards a just society. For that goal, there are many sources of wisdom. Unlike political parties and rigid ideologues, universities believe that there are multiple ways to reach that goal. That goal may be always at the horizon resisting our reaching it. Still, a society that has given up on that goal is perhaps so much poor even with endless affluence. Teaching liberal arts at universities is one important way societies hold on to a richer dream even in the midst of relative economic hardships. A country can be poor but yet not philistine.

‘Liberation’ in liberal arts includes internal liberation as well, and it could include several modes of refining oneself within. When modernity was an unquestioned project, liberation from the Nature was one goal of humanity. But now we know better. While we have to keep Nature at bay, we also have to realise that we are also part of it. The time of coronavius is opportune to reflect on this. Moreover, our nature itself is something that needs refinement and taming while it is very much a part of big Nature. So, in recent times a diverse set of course related to environmentalism has made its way into our liberal arts curriculum. As Professor Spencer McWilliams has aptly put, “a liberal arts education can help us develop a more comprehensive understanding of the universe and ourselves”. (Liberal Arts Education: What does it mean? What is it worth?)

Our political authorities may ask for graduates with a certain set of limited technical skills to be productive in the narrow roles assigned to them in contemporary economy. For us in universities, a human being is not just a worker. His or her life in the world of work is only one small segment of his or her life. For us as in the Humanities, questions such as what human beings do, what they reflect on, what and how they enjoy during their non-working hours matters as much as the ‘job skills’ they are supposed to hone. To make matters even more complicated, the liberal arts is interested even in the dreams that occur to human beings during their sleeping hours. To put it simply, for liberal arts human self is much more than a human worker.

A holistic development of the ‘whole person’ is the goal of liberal arts. It includes eight interrelated aspects: intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, vocational, ethical, personal, and social. Intellectual development requires acquiring broad-based knowledge, learning how to learn, and learning how to think critically. Emotional development includes understanding, managing and expressing emotions. Developing high quality relationships with other people is the basis of social development while ethical development aims at providing students with a clear value system that enables them to make sound decisions. Physical development concerns the understanding of one’s own body and taking care of it. Spiritual development may be the most culture-sensitive as each culture may have its own take on what is ‘spiritual. ‘Vocational’ is indeed a form of development that must be a part of contemporary education. But is only one among eight. It includes exploring career possibilities and developing skills required for a career. As university teachers we do want our graduates to find jobs and achieve some sort of financial independence to pursue other goals of life articulated here. Personal development, the last of the eight, stays the last because it is the bottom line, so to speak. For personal development one needs to cultivate a strong sense of self-identity and agility to step out of that identity in being considerate towards others.

The Role of Peradeniya:

Whole Person, Whole Campus

A fully developed university must have all the facilities needed to address at least those eight areas. Holistic education believes that curriculum and co-curriculum must make use of whole campus for that purpose. Founding fathers of University of Peradeniya seem to have endowed with a concept of holistic education in the early twentieth century. Just to give only a few examples, for those who argue for making use of the whole campus for holistic education claims that for one’s intellectual development, a university has to utilise learning centers, library, academic advising services, tutoring services, information technology centers, invited talks on various topics, workshops, theatre halls, art shows and so on. This list, though not comprehensive, demonstrates that the intellectual development of a graduate is much more than following time tables and attending formal lectures. At Peradeniya, we may not have all these facilities, but when the university was founded a considerable attention was paid to these aspects. Taking a long walk through the beautiful University Park can be education in itself if one is rightly attuned to the lessons of natural beauty. I have learned those lessons at stunning campus parks at Wisconsin and Cornell.

Now, let me touch on ‘spiritual development.’ In addition to formal instructions on subjects such a philosophy and arts that concern one’s spiritual life, there should be co-curricular involvements with campus religious communities. Programmes such as inter-religious dialogue could be part of these activities. Perhaps, it was for such holistic education that places for all religions have been established within the University of Peradeniya.

Instead of cutting down funding on ‘liberal arts’ education, the government must invest more in the kind of education explained above. Even without enough financial resources some of us have been working hard to promote such a holistic education. Yes, just some of us. There are people who have no idea as to what they should be doing at universities. Among them, there are academics who believe that training students to site exams that lead to a certificate is university education. Yes, that is education often found at private tuition classes. But there is much more to university education. If our holistic education is only partially done, it is natural that authorities ask out graduates to learn ‘something technical.’

The prevailing pandemic has crippled nearly all co-curricular activities at campus. An education that does not include library, playground, gymnasium, the Sarachchandra Open Air theater, the E.O.E. Perera theatre, heated discussions with guest speakers, and, even some trips to the lovers’ lane or other ‘lanes’ cannot help achieve eight developmental goals of holistic education. COVID-19 has corroded that education. But holistic education is faced with a bigger threat. It is the demand that education be geared for the job market. True academics must do everything possible to prevent that philistine virus making inroads into our higher education institutions. Only those who are capable of realising the true meaning of holistic education envisioned in the Humanities and liberal arts can stand up to such philistine invasions. Those are the ones who really deserve to be hired and promoted.

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Chinese Development Experience:

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Why Have Sri Lankans Failed So Far

by Luxman Siriwardena

 

During the past decades, several East Asian Economies have experienced consistent high rates of economic growth while achieving unprecedented improvements in the standard of living of their citizenry, an achievement that has been described in the famous World Bank study as ‘Asian Miracle’.  Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the Republic of Korea (ROK) were the partners of this achievement. One analyst explained this miracle as developments that have ‘telescoped into a single generation, a process of socioeconomic development that took the advanced economies of Western Europe centuries to achieve’. This group have now been dramatically overtaken by Communist China which has also eliminated poverty, probably excluding a few clusters in remote parts of rural China. 

Unfortunately, however, all South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka still remain far behind China as developing economies. It has been estimated that a high percentage of the population of many of these countries are living in abject poverty and deprivation. 

China’s economic development as now well demonstrated, has been associated with technological advancement surpassing many of the advanced market economies. It is only a matter of time before China   becomes the largest economy in the world. Even in the current COVID-19 pandemic situation it has emerged as the only country to record a positive growth rate in 2020, according to multilateral lending agencies.

In this context it is of significance to understand how President Xi Jinping has articulated the Chinese development within the framework of Marxist Political Economy. In this regard, a speech delivered by Jinping, in the mid-August needs to be closely studied by the academics and policy makers in developing countries like Sri Lanka. President Jinping proposes in the speech that the Marxist political economy must be studied and developed as a higher stage of theoretical and practical advancement of Political Economy. Most relevant to the current development discourse is his combining of Marxist political economic principles with new practices of reform and opening up of the Chinese economy. 

President Jinping has also categorically mentioned that the belief of some people that Marxist political economy and the analysis in Das Capital is outdated or outmoded is arbitrary and inaccurate. Jinping states that nowadays there are various kinds of economic theories but the foundation of Chinese development cannot be explained by any theory other than the Marxist theory of political economy. 

With reference to the development of theory and practice in China, Jinping upholds the contribution by successive Chinese leaders. Going through his argument it is clear that President Jinping is contributing to the new stage of development in Marxism termed as Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. 

In his analysis President  Jinping refers to almost all challenges the modern-day advanced market economies are confronting and strongly advocates study of them in the context of Marxist political economy which include  theories of developing a socialist market economy, enabling  market to play a decisive role in allocation of resources while providing for a prominent role for the government and state-owned enterprises in promoting, facilitating and coordinating  new industrialization, agricultural modernization and other  essential players of growth and development. It is also interesting to learn the way China addresses the property ownership/rights and right of the farmers to contract out lands. 

What President Jinping has emphasized with regard to the study of political economy has a direct relevance to Sri Lankan academics and policy makers irrespective of what they have learned in universities of the West or from multilateral or other agencies. In his presentation President Jinping has emphasized the importance of six key principles in economic development in China. 

i. Adherence to people-centric development thinking 

ii. Focusing on new development concepts with a futuristic view 

iii. Upholding basic economic systems preserving Chinese Socialists Characteristics 

iv. Improvement of basic distribution systems 

v. Focusing on the direction of socialist market economy 

vi. Adherence to the basic national policy of opening up when effecting    necessary reforms. 

His concluding remarks would be an eye-opener to Sri Lankan and other developing country policy makers, particularly economists. 

Their commitment to upholding the basic principles and methodology of Marxist political economy does not imply rejection of the rational components of other economic theories. Western economic knowledge on areas such as finance, prices, currency, markets, competition, trade, exchange rates, enterprises, growth, and management do reflect one side of the general laws underpinning socialized production and market economics, and should therefore be used as reference. At the same time, however, Jinping suggests that it is necessary to keep a discerning eye on the economic theories of other countries, particularly those of the West, making sure that the wheat is being separated from the chaff. It should be ensured however, that these theories reflecting the nature and values of the capitalist system or are colored by Western ideology are not blindly adopted. Although the discipline of economics is devoted to the study of economic issues, it does not exist in a vacuum, and therefore cannot be separated from larger social and political issues.  

Why have our economists, both in academia and in policy making positions, not understood this simple truth?  Why have they failed to develop theories and explanations that address local needs like their counterparts in the region? For example, India, Pakistan or even Bangladesh have world class economists who have come up with homegrown theories and homegrown solutions to local problems. Could it be that our economists, unlike their regional counterparts who have succeeded, have not been able to free themselves from the clutches of the west intellectually and ideologically? How much their education in the west, reinforced through regular training given by West-dominated multilateral agencies and also frequent exposure to thinking of the West in their work, is responsible for this unfortunate situation? Whatever the reasons are, instead of thinking independently on their own they parrot their mentors in the West for short-term gains like easy recognition and self-fulfillment continuing the vicious circle and perpetuating the misery of their people. Irony is that when a solution is needed the only thing our experts are capable of doing is seeking refuge in programmes of multilateral development agencies reminding us the famous saying attributed to Einstein that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

Sri Lankan policy analysts, this applies to academics and researchers too, must desist from advocating indiscriminate reliance on foreign concepts. Their analyses should be based on objective conditions that exist in Sri Lanka and associated socio-political environments namely, political economy. thoroughly and at length to prevent them being marginalized in the emerging discourse.

It is time for our academics and policy makers to change the path on which they have been travelling, the path not only built by the West but also the road rules for the travellers have been written by them.  What our academics and policy makers, especially, economists, have been hitherto repeatedly preaching and implementing are literally  carbon copies of classical, neoclassical or Keynesian theories they have learnt without adaptation to meet Sri Lanka’s development needs.

It is stated by the historians that Lenin further developed Marxism where it was further fashioned by Stalin and Trotsky. In the modern era remarkable adaptations to it were brought in by Chairman Mao. Since then there have been many Chinese leaders who have made various pragmatic contributions for the Chinese economy. President Jinping has presently brought Chinese economy to a new stage of development through more pragmatic and innovative ways without deviating from fundamental Chinese characteristics.

In view of the above it can be concluded that there are many lessons that developing countries like Sri Lanka can learn from the Chinese development experience. If our academics and policy makers can come out of the ivory tower of conventional framework and improve on theories and models that they have learned in the past by adapting them where necessary to local conditions that may go a long way in help promoting effective policy for sustainable growth and development. Until and unless that happens our attempts to achieve sustainable economic growth and development in the country will remain only a pipe dream, which it is today. 

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Covid-19 prevention:

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Revamp CMC’s crippled Public Health Services

By Dr. Pradeep Kariyawsam
Former Chief Medical Officer of Health / CMC

When the second wave of the Covid-19 epidemic started, it was inevitable that the wave would reach Colombo, as many other epidemics such as dengue fever, chikungunya, cholera, influenza started in Colombo and then spread to other areas. Here of course those who travelled from abroad obviously brought the disease to the country, and then it spread towards the city in no time. There are many who travel from Gampaha District to Colombo city area and they were the potential carriers of the virus.

Prevention activities should have been started from all fronts, especially in Colombo North and Central areas, as soon as we heard about the Minuwangoda outbreak; and without hesitating when it reached Peliyagoda which lies in the northern bank of Kelani river. Colombo North lies just a few hundred feet away in the Southern bank. True the CMC started carrying out PCR tests, but most of them were off target as hardly a patient was found initially. There is no point in crying over spilt milk now. The importance of Public Health Services should be recognized at least now, and that a proper service could save the city and country from economic collapse and social unrest. The latter mostly instigated by politicians. The deaths at home is a sign that all is not well with the prevention services. Unfortunately, some politicians and government servants do not understand this reality.

Around 40 years ago, the Minister of Local Government realized the importance and the necessity to organize the people in these areas, who actually lived in slums and shanties and the need to prevent communicable diseases and provided them with basic amenities. Hence under his direction the CMC went on to carry out surveys of the needs of the people through new recruits called Health Wardens. The Health Wardens formed Community Development Councils after having elections in the so-called Gardens (Wattas) where the people in them chose their leaders as the office-bearers to run the Councils. Women’s and children’s groups were also formed by the Health Wardens, and these GCE (AL) qualified youth were the acceptable officials to give instructions on any matter on health and welfare. I can remember they even arranged marriage registrations.

They teamed up with the Public Health Inspectors, Nurses, Midwives and Medical Laboratory Technologists (MLT), Health Education Officers, and formed a network that supported the preventive services to the hilt. In short, we were proud of our work and it was appreciated by UNICEF, WHO, UNCHS, etc. For example, when we had to get Colombo as polio free, all of them teamed up and with the help of Rotarians gave vaccines to all children under five years of age in the city in one day! In order to provide a proper service, the city needs at least 65 Public Health Inspectors, 35 Nurses, 175 Midwives, 35 MLTs and over 200 Health Wardens or Health Instructors as they are called now. (The Salaries and Cadres Commission please note!) These services are in a sorry state of affairs now, as the number of officers in service have dwindled so much that we no longer have a single maternity home that is operating at night, as only nine nurses are available, the PHIs have neglected food hygiene work, and Midwives are over stretched so much they are running a crippled service, the laboratories lack material and the poor people have to go to the private sector to get expensive tests done, when they could have got them done free at the CMC labs. But the most important aspects of all this, which are organizing the communities, health education, creation of awareness about communicable diseases, communicating with all and being the link between the people and the health units that were handled by the Health Instructors do not exist anymore.

There aren’t even Health Education Officers anymore, who used to supervise them. The information thus collected then can be analysed by the Epidemiologist to understand the vulnerable areas and direct prevention activities. Unfortunately, there is no Epidemiologist as the post of Deputy Chief Medical Officer (Epidemiology) is not filled during the last three years. That is what is lacking mainly in CMC’s Covid-19 prevention programmes today. It is not the ambulances that the people need as CMC already has two ambulance services; The ambulances run by the MCH Division and the 110-service are run by well-trained fire-fighters. The people need someone to be with them in their hour of need as it happened years ago, looking after their health and welfare needs, as Health Instructors were allocated to areas in which they were responsible for the people in slums, shanties and apartments.

Therefore, it is my humble appeal that the CMC, the Western Provincial Council, and the Ministry of Health get together and fill these posts, create higher cadres for these posts and appoint suitable persons immediately. We have to allocate vulnerable areas to these officers and get them to go to the people, organize them, look after their health and welfare needs and prevent a disaster happening as there will be more Covid-19 waves and new epidemics in the near future. This will definitely reduce deaths at homes. A stable Colombo, health-wise, will make the country stable in the same way. With all my experience I know that this is the only way to prevent this kind of disaster happening again, and this will be a feasible way of managing this crisis for the government to prevent and control this disease.

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