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Woodward of Mahinda

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Frank Lee Woodward was born in Norfolk, England, in 1871, the third son of an Anglican clergyman. At school, and later at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, he was a renowned sportsman. But at around 19-years of age he went through a period of psychological ‘distress’, which led him in particular to the stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, whom he described as ‘a pillar of strength to those who live inwardly’.

From 1898 he served as a schoolmaster at Stamford for five years, receiving a master’s degree from Cambridge in 1901. During this period he discovered Theosophy, at first via the ideas of reincarnation in Plato. He joined the society in 1902, and soon developed a boundless faith in Colonel Olcott and his brand of Buddhism.

Although already at this time something of an anachronism, as a Theosophical Buddhist Woodward believed implicitly in Madame Blavatsky’s Himalayan brotherhood of Mahatmas; he later wrote to a friend: ‘Do not repulse T.S. teachings because you cannot grasp them or because one side is prominent i.e. Hinduism … the Bodhisat (Maitreya) is watching over this world’.

A Theosophist of the old school, he offered his services to Olcott, who in 1903 installed him as the principal of Mahinda College, administered by the Buddhist Theosophical Society of Galle, Sri Lanka. Here he worked indefatigably for 16 years, assuming a legendary status which approached that of the good Colonel himself. Drawing no salary, he ploughed much of his inheritance into the erection of new buildings — an act of generosity which resulted in his living in dire poverty towards the end of his life.

Although he was a strict disciplinarian, the 350 boys of the college dearly idolized him. Woodward conducted the senior classes in Buddhist philosophy, and would personally wash the feet of many of the monks as they came to the school hall for almsgiving. For a time he edited the Buddhist, the leading Buddhist magazine on the island, and each year went to Madras for the annual convention of the Theosophical Society.

The tropical climate was beginning to tell on his health, however, and in 1919, armed with literally a ton of books, and ‘Buddha relics’, courtesy of the monks of the Galle District, he retired to Tasmania to live out the remaining 33 years of his life translating the Pali Canon.

Woodward bought a small apple orchard and cottage from a fellow Theosophist. Situated on the Tamar River 40 km from Launceston, his study afforded a magnificent view of Ben Lomond, one of the highest peaks in Tasmania, 65 km away. In this idyllic setting he began his real life’s work, at the age of nearly 50.

Apart from contributing the occasional article on Buddhism to Theosophy in Australasia, Woodward’s chief preoccupation was his translations for the Pali Text Society, established by Rhys Davids in 1881. From 1916 on, his contribution amounted to no fewer than 16 volumes, though it is probably for his 1925 anthology, Some Sayings of the Buddha, that he is best remembered.

Christmas Humphreys, that other renowned Theosophical Buddhist, writing in 1972, considered it still the finest anthology of the Pali Canon produced. It was also included in the World’s Classics series, with an introduction by Sir Francis Young-husband. For many Westerners, including many later prominent Australian Buddhists, this book has been an entree to Buddhism, and although the style seems now somewhat florid, it earned Woodward a place alongside Rhys Davids and Nyanatiloka as a Pali scholar.

F. L. Woodward’s life in Tasmania was characteristically unostentatious and rustic. He lived for his translations, and Tasmania afforded him the required isolation. Although he was thought of as a bit of an eccentric by the people of the district, he struck up close friendships with his nearest neighbours and was a favourite among the local children, who invariably received sweets from him on his visits to the store. He also drew up their astrological charts — another Theosophical pastime.

A strict vegetarian and animal lover, he astounded his neighbours with his fondness for the snakes of the area, many of which he accorded nicknames. Although in his last years his orchard was neglected and his spartan lifestyle not that much more comfortable than a Buddhist monk’s, making do on an annuity of around ?70 a year, he is said to have been always ‘cheery and boisterous’.

Each night he practised yoga, and he became so oblivious to his appearance that on the few occasions he left the ‘radius’ of his ‘ashrama’, as he put it, he often did so clad only in ‘a pair of pyjamas, a paper bag for a shirt and a white turban’. His neighbours relate that on one walk he bumped into Sir Robert Menzies, who was visiting friends in the area, and subsequently had him in for afternoon tea.

Woodward only descended on Launceston two or three times a year, usually to take part in some activity of the local branch of the Theosophical Society. He claimed always to be ‘confident of the goodness of whatever happens’, and perhaps some of this enthusiasm rubbed off on the increasing number of Australian Buddhists with whom he was corresponding in the few years before his death in 1952.”

 

[Croucher, Paul: Buddhism in Australia, 1848-1988. — Kensington, NSW,

Australia : New South Wales University Press, ?1989. — 147 S. : Ill. —

ISBN 0-86840-195-1. — S. 21 – 23]

 

The Western Contribution to Buddhism

 

William Peiris

(1973) Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publications.

CHAPTER II BRITAIN

 

The name of F.L. Woodward scintillates among Pali scholars who edited and translated sacred texts of the Buddhists for the Pali Text Society. But Woodward is remembered in Ceylon more for his great service to the education of Buddhist boys than for his profound Pali scholarship. It is not generally known that he spent ?2,000 of his patrimony at the beginning of the present century to erect buildings for a Buddhist school in the south of Ceylon-Mahinda College, Galle- in which he served for sixteen years as Principal without drawing the salary attached to the post. The school funds met his bare expenses. A confirmed bachelor, he lived on a purely vegetable diet. He invariably wore a white suit while in Ceylon. He never went home on a holiday. Simplicity was the keynote of his life, which moved Mrs. Rhys Davids once to describe him as a “recluse.” The third son of the Rev. W. Woodward of Saham, Norfolk, England, Frank Lee Woodward was born on 13 April, 1871. As a boy of eight he mastered the Elementary Latin Course, and began the study of Greek, French and German. In 1879, he joined Christ Hospital, where he won the Latin and French prizes on three occasions. Besides his academic brilliance, he possessed remarkable athletic prowess. At the age of 14 he was a member of the House Fifteen, and two years later was a perfect and one of the First Fifteen. For several years he held the record for Putting the Weight and annexed prizes in most athletic events.

 

Pupil and teacher became close friends

At eighteen he entered Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge winning the first classical scholarship, and at nineteen was awarded the Gold Medal for Latin verse and an exhibition. He became College organist, won the prize for Latin essay and passed the Classical Tripos examination with honours in the third year of his admission to the University. He also held office as Rugby football Captain, Vice-captain of Boats, Athletic Secretary and full-back in the Association Football Team.

He served the Rugby Preparatory School for a short period as an assistant master. Later, he became classics master at the Royal Grammar School, Worcester, where he taught for three years until 1897. While there he rowed the Worcester City Boat to victory at many a regatta, and won honour for Worcester and the Midland Counties on the football field. Stamford School, an ancient foundation in Lincolnshire, was where he next served. He taught there for five years from 1895 as second master. E.M. Hare became close friends. During his five-year period at Stamford he devoted a good deal of his time to the study of both Western and Eastern philosophy, Pali and Sanskrit, English literature, and religion. It was he who persuaded Hare to study Pali.

Woodward joined the Theosophical Society in 1902. He described his becoming a member of it as “the most important event” in his life, for it led to his acceptance of the Buddha’s teachings.

In a letter to Col. H.S. Olcott, the then President of the Theosophical Society, Woodward offered his service to the East, and Olcott gladly accepted the offer, for at that time the latter had been requested, by Buddhists to find a head for Mahinda College, in Ceylon. On 1 August, 1903, Woodward landed in the town of Galle.

 

More than the architect of Mahinda

He found Mahinda College housed in an old Dutch building in the busy part of the Fort of Galle. The attendance was only 60. His high academic attainments and long experience as a teacher in public schools in England soon became known all over the country and parents began to remove their sons from other schools and send them to Mahinda College. One of them, now a nonagenarian, Mr. Vincent de Silva, says that he still remembers the Latin that Woodward taught him. He often speaks of his old teacher with affection and gratitude. The numbers on the roll rapidly rose to 300-the maximum that could be accommodated in the building.

Woodward himself selected the present site of Mahinda, some public-spirited residents of the area donating the lands. He was not merely the architect of the school, but its foreman of works as well. He was often seen with a trowel in hand among masons. Sometimes he would be on the scaffoldings taking measurements. His identity is concealed in the name of “Vanapala” (Sinhalese for Woodward) among the names on a brass plate in a set of classrooms.

Woodward was a strict disciplinarian. He set a very high tone in the college and it made rapid progress under his able direction. He, however, sought no publicity. He was revered for his self-sacrifice, his generosity and his erudition. One of his many efforts was directed at establishing Sinhalese as a subject for the Cambridge Local examinations which were then held in Ceylon. He was a pioneer of the Ceylon University movement.

He used to wear the simple garb of a white shirt and white cloth and to observe the Eight Precepts of Buddhism on full moon days, setting a noble example to his pupils and neighbours. Occasionally he would offer alms to Buddhist monks in the school hall, himself serving the meals with great humility, and would himself wash and wipe the feet of the monks as they came in single file for the alms-giving.

He taught various classes for several hours a day, besides attending to administrative matters. He knew every pupil of the school both by name, and by nickname – all given by him and drawn from Shakespearian characters. One of them was Caliban.

 

Regular donations to Society

Woodward left Galle on 7 October, 1919, for Tasmania, where he grew apples for his livelihood, and edited and translated Pali texts. He made regular donations to the Pali Text Society. In 1936, upon the publication of 15 volumes of a complete translation of the Digha, Majjhima, Samyutta and Anguttara Nikayas, Mrs. Rhys Davids declared: “More specially our tribute is due to him (Woodward) who has borne the major burden, translating alone six of the fifteen volumes, giving aid in a seventh and now crowning our labours with this last volume. To all this must be added his recently issued translations of two Minor Anthologies in the Sacred Books of the Buddhist series Udana and Iti-vuttaka, and his first edition of the Samyutta Commentary. Very worthily has he stood in the breach left by the untimely death of Richard Morris and Edmund Hardy. That we can look forward in a few years to completing our scheduled programme is largely due to him.”

Mrs. Rhys Davids added that Woodward had undertaken all those labours while resting from “agricultural toil”, and not looking for any reward save that which good work done brings. Contact:

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Courtesy: Mahinda Club.org

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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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