I cannot divulge the name of the humanitarian whose massive money donation plus planning, personal time and effort have helped a central school and surrounding villages in the Vanni. He reluctantly consented to me writing about his project with the insisted upon proviso I do not name him nor drop clues to his identity. The aim of the article is not only to praise this person but to make wider known what can be done for our country by its nationals. Most important is the message he wants conveyed, which is given as conclusion to this article.
As a child and teenager, he moved around the island with his doctor father transferred from district to district, but was at Royal College, Colombo, throughout his secondary and senior secondary education. He then joined Colombo Medical College, passed out in 1964; served as a doctor here and then moved to London once he married and had a child. He built his career as a general practitioner under the NHS; felt he’d worked enough and took early retirement at age 66.
He had consistently visited Ceylon/ Sri Lanka, lengthening the holidays as his mother grew older. The visits did not cease with her death and the migration of all his siblings. He and his wife continued their holidays in the home country; he extending them for six months as the years passed. He came alone in 2020 and got enmeshed in the stay-put restrictions of the Covid pandemic. His wife and son were happy enough in London while he was the same in his own home in Borella, having plenty friends and even a scattering of relatives, with an excellent Woman Friday and faithful driver to see to his domestic and moving around needs.
During the extended Covid stay in Colombo, Dr W (let’s name him thus) met student day friends Mr Pancharatnam and Dr and Mrs Kasynathan of Point Pedro. They asked him whether he could help seven students of Mallavi Central College. That initial ‘yes’ ended by him pledging support for 15 students. He was invited by his friend to visit the school his beneficiary students attended. Agreed to. That was the first time in 2013 that he actually stood in front of the Central College, Mallavi, and its dilapidated buildings. He met the Principal, Mr T Jesuthanathar who updated him on urgent needs of the coeducational school and its pupils. Sister Gowsala conducted him within the girls’ hostel.
Dr W’s attention was focused on the girls’ hostel which housed around 30 and was far from adequate in space, amenities and all else. It needed urgent expansion and refurbishing. Though Mallavi itself was a growing township and improving, students of the Central College cycled to school each day from afar, often through deserted jungle areas; totally unsafe for girls. The boys managed the daily bicycle or walk to and from their homes or were boarded in local homes.
Dr W’s sterling pension from England was substantial; his child was now an employed professional and his wife lived comfortably over there. The family agreed he spend more time in Sri Lanka as was his wish, with him visiting London and his family spending holidays here.
The girls’ hostel had been repaired in 2013, but it still lacked necessary amenities and demand for hostel accommodation was pressing. So Dr W decided to build a new, spacious hostel building. Spending millions, with the cooperation of the principal and others, to the delight of Sister Gowsala, a spanking new two storey building rose up with rooms of residence, well equipped bathrooms and toilets, recreation halls and all else. Engineers in the district gave of their skills; labour was entirely local. It was ceremonially declared open in 2017. The girl’s hostel now houses 80 to 90 kids with classes in the school from Grade 6 to A/L. Excellent results at GCE OL and even AL exams proved how beneficial the money and cooperative effort put in to improve the school, and particularly the hostels, had been.
At present, with the assistance forthcoming from the Colombo Head of the Good Shepherd Nuns’ Order, two Sisters of that Order and a matron are in charge of the girls’ hostel, with a third Sister from the Claretion Catholic Order, paid for by Dr W. They are not mere supervisors but carers and counselors since students still suffer consequent strain of the civil war: sorrow of losing family members and continuing angst and imbued fear. Three women tackle the cooking of meals.
The boys had no hostel in the school. A request was acceded to and again Dr W paid for the construction of a building, completed in 2021, which now houses 30 boys. They enjoy their supervised stay; good meals; residence comforts compared to home restrictions; support for study, sports and games. One student recently told Dr W he wants to continue living in the hostel. “Impossible. Once you pass your ALs you have to leave.” “I shall stay on as warden!” was the reply.
Dr W subsidizes the monthly boarding fees of Rs 11,000 of all boarders – 110 as at present – by parents being charged Rs 7,000 per student and he paying the rest. When parents find they are able to pay just Rs 2,000 or 3,000, they are permitted, with Dr W chipping in the rest. He also pays the full fee for around 25 students. For him what is needed and contributed for is education for children and to ensure their happiness as far as possible through kind concern and generosity.
Dr W is not a mere money donor nor remote philanthropist. No, he even surpasses Bill Gates who stays over in African States when his donations immunize children, to supervise the programs. Dr W is streets ahead. He takes residence in a part of the boys’ hostel, almost monthly for at least four days; eats, chats and plays games with the boys and visits the girls’ domain.
Mallavi Central School is in five acres of land separated between the two hostels and the school proper by fences. The land is under cultivation of vegetables and fruit trees; and had a poultry farm and cattle shed with two gardeners, and students helping. The poultry project had to be reduced to rearing free ranging gan kukulas and kikilis due to the prohibitive rise in cost of chicken feed. Another increasing menace is marauding monkeys. Tall fences are climbed over. The hostels are self-sufficient in milk, eggs, veggies, coconut, fruits which include papaw, plantain in all its varieties, mango of the best yellow variety, and others. Seedlings taken from Colombo by Dr W and planted around the hostels are now fully grown and bearing fruit; 200 mango trees included.
Once the school was abundant in its garden produce, Dr W bought seedlings of coconut and fruit trees and distributed them in neighbouring villages; each costing on average Rs 2,500.
At about the same time he first went to the Mallavi Central College, Dr W visited a very poor village – Jeevanagal – in the District of Oddusuttan, also in the Vanni, where 110 families with 140 children live in poverty. They were displaced Indian labourers of the hill country due to estate riots in 1977, and were settled by the government in lands opened up by the Accelerated Mahaveli Development scheme. The local school – a government Vidyalayam – has primary to OL classes. It has restarted supplying the kids with a mid-day meal. However most stay on till their parents pick them up in the evening with teachers helping with their homework. Dr W supplies them afternoon tea or milk with a substantial snack; needless to say supplementing their nutriment intake and felt delight. On Saturdays they flock to the Day Centre he got built to enjoy a sumptuous rice and curry lunch, unfailingly with chicken or sprats and an egg each. A meal costs Rs 300 to 500. Dr W foots the entire bill.
Thus this Do Good Person is certainly not a mere donor but a staying-in benefactor, humanitarian, altruist, also a friendly father-figure in Mallavi. He benefits education, happy co-living and food security to the deprived.
Dr W preferred to name what he strongly feels about ‘a vision of hope’. He opines that most professionals who migrate to foreign lands for employment had their entire education from primary through secondary to university in Sri Lanka. Their free education expenses were then paid for by indirect tax payers: the tiller of the soil, cinnamon peeler, tea plucker, rubber tapper; More recently, in addition to the above, the garment factory worker, the tourism employee and those toiling overseas in menial jobs are the major money contributors to the government.
Thus to Dr W, justifiably, those Sri Lankans employed lucratively in developed countries, should consider contributing to Sri Lanka in cash or kind as almost mandatory – a return – gesture of gratitude; particularly now as the home country is mired in her worst economic crisis. Sending of dollars or pounds sterling is charitable, but the better way is to visit the home country and supervise how the donated money is utilized in whichever the chosen arena of assistance: whether it be in education, medical or any other field. Identifying a desperate family, donating a home and supporting just this one family is large enough an act of gratitude. Many expatriates do visit and give of their skill and money. More assistance is called for. I must mention that on reading the draft of this article, Dr W expressed horror, yes horror, that I had written much on the messenger but minimally on the message he wanted conveyed to other expat Sri Lankans. I subsequently better balanced the two but to me, the benefactor is of most interest and significance.