by Samanmalie Karunanayake
Envoys of thirty three (33) countries made an interesting tour to several areas in Sri Lanka recently where they would never have thought of travelling for their career purposes. Going beyond the traditional frames of the role of official ambassadors and high commissioners, they ventured out from their air-conditioned offices and toured in under-developed areas, ignoring the hardships due to the heat and dust in the areas.
The thirty three diplomats toured in the underprivileged villages in remote areas of Polonnaruwa, Medirigiriya and Welikanda Divisional Secretariat Divisions. The villages they visited included Meegaswewa, Vadigawewa, Godapoththa, Palliyagodella, Sinhapura School and Mahawelithenna where nobodywishes to visit even as an outdoor adventure or a pastime activity.
The envoys were there to witness the living conditions of the people in these areas and make attempts to provide funds to fulfill their most essential facilities to live a better life and improve their lowly living standards. They indeed eye witnessed the difficulties faced by the people in the areas without proper housing, road facilities, education, nutrition and even sufficient water for drinking and sanitary purposes.
These people experienced the fear of death due to the terror unleashed by the LTTE terrorists while most of them lost their close relatives, neighbors and friends during the war. The villages Wadigawewa, Meegaswewa, Aluthwewa Palliyagodella and Akbapura were attacked by the LTTE in the years 1986, 1987, 1991 and 1992. They had to abandon their shelters and property to save their lives from terrorists.
The infrastructure of all villages in above Divisional Secretariat Divisions was destroyed during the time of war. Destruction of roads and houses directly affected the education and the safety of the women and children while the destruction or neglect of irrigational tanks and lakes adversely affected their livelihoods depended on agriculture and fisheries. It has also caused the rapid decline of nutrition among the people, especially the children.
However, it is not a secret that these areas, situated at a long distance from the main cities of the country with better living standards, have largely been neglected for a long period of time. The people in the areas have been forgotten not only during the time of war, but also after the post-war period, even when they performed a specific duty as a civil defence force to prevent the LTTE, moving towards the interior areas of the country.
The visit by the foreign diplomats aims to heal the wounds of these people who suffered for a long time. It wasa result of the attention drawn by President Maithripala Sirisena who has a sincere feeling to give a better life for these neglected people, parallel to his initiatives to develop the entire country, disregarding the divisions of North, East, South or West as well as the differences among communities.
Under the instruction of President Sirisena, the Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government, headed by the Minister Faizer Mustafa undertook the challenge to gather 33 Ambassadors and get them to visit these most troubled areas to seek solutions for their burning problems. The Ambassadors from Egypt, Germany, Vietnam, Japan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Romania, Switzerland, Myanmar, Turkey, Iran, Brazil, Cuba, Oman, Italy, Norway, Indonesia, and Qatar participated in this visit while the High Commissioners of Seychelles, Maldives, India, Nigeria, Australia, Canada and Pakistan joined this tour. Also, Deputy Ambassador of Korea and Deputy Head of Mission of France, First Secretaries of UAE and Brazil, Second Secretary (political) of South Africa, Charged d’ Affairs of Afghanistan and Libya, representatives of the government of Palatine, JICA, KOICA and ADB also participated in this tour.
“Somebody can define this as a priority given by the President to his hometown, Polonnaruwa. But, this is carried out only as an expansion of the development initiatives for the entire country by the new government. The President truly wanted not to let them live as the forgotten forever, but to make these people as the beneficiaries of the current development drive. Large number of villages bordering the North and East can be found within the Polonnaruwa District. That is why the envoys were brought to Polonnaruwa to help the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people who live with adverse living conditions in these areas” said Minister Faizer Mustafa.
We are aware that the political power was endowed for the representatives of all communities in Sri Lanka since the end of the thirty-year long war. The local Government Elections which were held on August 08 for the Jaffna Municipal Council and the Vavuniya Urban Council elected the political representatives of the Tamil and Muslim communities while the Sinhala people elected their own representatives to govern at the elections held last year. But a sufficient attention hasn’t been paid on the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people still living under adverse conditions in these remote areas. Though some development activities occurred in some of the areas the poor living standard of the people are yet to improve.
The hopes of these people are going to become a reality with this effort initiated by President Sirisena, by getting the highest possible support from all friendly countries around the world for the welfare of these people. His dedication and desire to serve these people, giving them the due consideration as citizens of Sri Lanka, will bring smiles on their faces which will illuminate with the fulfillment of their aspirations for a better future.
Rani (50), a resident in Mahawelithenna in Welikanda divisional Secretariat says “the biggest problem we have is not having proper houses to live in. We are now residing in small dwellings. It is very difficult to live in these houses during the day time due to the excessive heat. This is a health hazard and a danger to our children, infants and elder people. Our prime requirement is pure drinking water”.
Mohommad Ali Muzammil (60), a farmer in Sinhapura, speaking about the issues in the area says “some villagers lost their relatives and property due to the war. We wish to request for compensations for our losses and to minimize the difficulties faced by us. We all suffer from the insufficiency of water. There should be ways to supply adequate drinking water. If we get wells, this problem will be solved”.
Relina (40) resident in Palliyagodella in Medirigiriya Divisional Secretariat says “our children will have no better future as there are so many difficulties for them to get a good education. They have to walk far through broken roads for schools. There is no proper transport service for them to go to schools. As a result, we have to keep them at home on most days. Forget about higher education, they don’t have facilities even to complete their primary education. If these roads will be renovated and provide proper transport service, at least our children will be able to build up a better future for them”.