Ordinary Perera, Nadarajah and Bandara: Hands, Feet and Donations across the Length and Breadth of Sri Lanka

I = SEE & Listen to https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XGaos9NO5jE&sns=tw

TRAILS WALKHow A Walk Healed A Nation | Nathan Sivagananathan & Sarinda Unamboowe | TEDxColombo….TEDx Talks……2,912,917……14,688

Published on Sep 21, 2015

Sarinda and Nathan relate their story of how a drunken promise can create social cohesion between the two ends of Sri Lanka. The war drove communities apart but their project proved that with a cause as big as cancer – miracles can happen and people can come together to drive change.


II = Introduction by Michael Roberts

While some Tamils of the diaspora and some Tamils ensconced in Colombo and Jaffna pursue vengeance politics by fair means and foul, and Sinhala chauvinists abroad and at home fulminate today against USA-cum-UN machinations, there have been ordinary men and women among both the Sinhala and Tamil peoples living in the island who reached out quietly to help each other during the traumatic year 2009 as well as subsequently.

The most outstanding achievements were at the camps for the IDPs at Vavuniya area, Mänik Farm and the Jaffna Peninsula from early 2009 right through to the years 2011 or so (see below). Now, just this month I have received wonderful news of a cancer hospital constructed at Tellipallai in the Jaffna Peninsula, an outcome of philanthropic funds garnered via the Trails Walk launched by Sarinda Unamboowe and Nathan Sivagananathan in 2011. The Video Tale of this outcome is the star item in this posting .……with just a teeny weeny bit of attention to the fact that the Trails Walk was in fact highlighted much earlier in thuppahi.

However, it should not be allowed to stand alone. Readers must latch on to the fact that there were numerous hands of charity and compassion across the island in 2009-and-thereafter, much of it unnoticed. In referring to a few that I know of here today, I am, in fact, being invidious and harming those efforts that have remained below the radar.

As it became clear from circa April 2009 that the number of Tamil civilians who had been corralled by the LTTE were much larger than recognised at that point by the international agencies as well as the GSL,[1] the combined operations of GSL and the international agencies involved in humanitarian relief moved into top gear.

Some dimensions of this multi-faceted and gargantuan effort can be captured in the web version of a seminar I presented at ICES in 2011 and in the pictorial illustrations in Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2014, Figs. 141-144, 148-155 (some are presented here in this essay collection). I stress here that I stumbled on this work accidentally on my way to Jaffna in mid-2010 when I happened to stay a few days overnight at Vavuniya and chance connections saw me overnighting at the Sewalanka Farm in the vicinity of Vavuniya. This happenchance led me to Annette Royce and the Sewalanka personnel who were at the heart of a massive feeding operation at Omanthai in mid-May 2009 with the active assistance of the World Food Programme, the SL Army and several volunteers (see Roberts, “Omanthai!”, 2012).This initial meeting then led me to other equally fruitful interviews with Tamil executives who had participated in relief work in and around Vavuniya; while a visit to Manik Farm as then constituted enabled me to get a sense of the arrangements with expert guidance from Dr. Safras (see Roberts, “Humanitarian Work,” 2011).

L 139b--packing lunches Sewalanka workers packing food parcels at Omanthai, May 2009 —Pic from Annete Ryoyce and Sewalanka

L 141 -DSC_1030[1]--setting up field hospital A field hospital being set up, 20April 2009–Pic by Donnie Woodyard

L 142 - Health Min officials with NGos Local & INGO officials involved in planning work at Manik farm —Pic by Manori Unambuwe

L 146 - Dlshy -025=communal kitchne Communal kitchens run by inmates and aid workers —Pic by Dilshy Banu

L 148b - docsat work manori 02 Doctors at work with a queue of patients, 29 April 2009–Pic by Manori Unambuwe

L 153b - SDC10505 A ward in the field hospital, July 2009 … Roberts, TPS. Pictorial for detials of all images

Sewalanka was just one unit within a NGO consortium that had been coordinating humanitarian work in the north for years. They were therefore made one of the pillars in the huge endeavor coordinating the complex security cum welfare activity overseeing the IDPs housed (for temporary initial periods) in school buildings and in the zones set up in frenetic haste at Manik Farm. The Chairperson of this consortium, then in 2008, was Singham, who was also the Chief Executive of SEED (another NGO and an outgrowth from Sarvodaya). I interviewed Singham in mid-2010 about the work of SEED as well as Mänik Farm. Singham had lived as migrant in Germany for quite a while; but he left the ‘comforts’ of Berlin and returned to his homeland to render service. He is still there—working. It is no surprise that he and Sarinda are pals and that he was also an important organizational figure in the efforts to make Trails Walk a success. So, it has been serendipity all round.

While the Rajapaksa regime was at the centre of the Vavuniya-Manik Farm detention-centre-cum-relief operations, its presentation of this activity, the PR aspect, has been negligible. Sri Lanka’s media too has only attended to this massive cluster of jobs in piecemeal and inadequate manner.[2] But let me refer here to two tiny sidelights that indicate that on these issues the Rajapaksa clan’s heart was in the right place.

Donnie W-facebook Donnie

  1. Dr. Donnie Woodyard was already in Sri Lanka in 2009 attending to the rejuvenation of ambulance services in acomined INGO and GSL operation. In April 2009 he was recruited by Basil Rajapaksa and parked ‘below the radar’ in the heart of the Manik Farm precincts to participate in the doctoring and related relief efforts, working from dawn till late at night for days on end just like most of the doctors and health workers.[3]
  2. Unconfirmed grapevine gossip gathered during my investigations indicated that in April 2009 the President of Sri Lanka rang the leading hoteliers and asked them to prepare thousands of lunch packets by such and such time for delivery to the Air Force HQ in Slave Island. The presumption is that this food was a ‘donation’ in a good cause via arm-twisting. Certainly, we have pictorial evidence of SLAF helicopters transporting food items and meals.

This type of energetic response was replicated in many parts of the island. Parliamentarians are said to have activated their supporters to gather water-bottles and other transportable food items (e.g. biscuits) for delivery to the Manik Farm arena. The ZOA warehouse was one of the collection and trans-shipment points – as I discovered accidentally when interviewing Raga Alphonsus on other matters. Again, when I hired a young van driver once to drive back to Colombo from Galle and our desultory chats on the way developed into friendship, he told me that his family on the outskirts of the town collected food items in mid-2009 for shipment to the detention centre IDP camps. It is in this spirit and with this background that I add the Memo from Mahinda Gunasekera regarding a “Brotherhood Train” of late 2008 as Item III.

Deeper analytical explorations are demanded here. In such reaching out to help brethren in travail, one may be seeing the influence of dāna in Sinhala Buddhist practice, namely, the practices of almsgiving and the accumulation of merit by such steps. That is not enough: how do such activities sit with the practices of guti deema (punishment for transgressions) and the use of sorcerers to wreak vengeance on those deemed to have conspired against you by some foul means? One must read the following works in order to address this other dark side – in order thereafter to square the circle.

Gananath Obeyesekere: “Sorcery Premeditated Murder and the Canlization of Aggression in Sri Lanka,” Ethnology, 1975, Vol. 14: 123.

Bruce Kapferer: A Celebration of Demons, 1983, Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Bruce Kapferer: The Feast of the Sorceror, 1997.

III. A “Brotherhood Train,” Memo from Mahinda Gunasekera, 3 October 2015

In November 2008 [query date], the Sinhalese of the south of Sri Lanka organized a Special Train (referred to as the Brotherhood Train)  attaching 12 goods carriages to run from Matara to the  northernmost point on the rail track which remained after the  Tamil Tigers had blown up the tracks to the north. They collected essential food, water and other necessities for the 35,000 Tamil  IDPs that managed to escape from the clutches of the Tamil Tiger  forces.  Even the poorest of the poor donated a coconut, a pound  of rice, sugar, etc. Additional goods carriages had to be hitched up at Colombo Fort for the rest of the journey as the 12 carriages had been filled on its run from Matara. The value of the merchandise delivered to the Tamil IDPs housed in the Welfare Camp at Vavuniya was placed at Rs.45 million, i.e. $450,000.

Very few people are aware of the generosity and kindness showered by the Sinhalese to their Tamil brothers and sisters.  The Sinhalese responded in similar fashion to assist the Tamils affected by the tsunami of December 2004, but very little is said in the western media.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Though I had the statistics on IDPs for 2009 i was under the mistaken impression that only a few, not even 500, had got away in late 2008; so I queried Mahinda’s figure and date. He tells me the Brotherhood Train was organised by Retired Lt. Col. Anil Amarasekera and was definitely in November 2008 as he contributed monies towards the project. So, this ‘collective’ of refugee IDPs must have been Tamils and others from the north who departed from Thamililam in the first eigtht months of 2008 or even in the years before that. In short there is a lacunae in my databank that requires filling. I note here that the lady attendant who loked after the guest rooms at Sewalanka Farm, a lovely personality, was a ‘refugee’ from the north in the 1990s and had married locally.Michael Roberts 

IV. A SHORT MEMO from Myrna Setunga in response to a query whether the following statement in my draft essay was valid, viz., “While the Rajapaksa regime was at the centre of the Vavuniya-Manik Farm detention-centre-cum-relief operations, its presentation of this activity, the PR aspect, has been negligible. Sri Lanka’s media too has only attended to this massive cluster of jobs in piecemeal and inadequate manner.”

Myrna-to- Michael: “I certainly agree with this statement. Due to very poor media coverage in the country very few people knew what was going on in the camps. In fact they became victims of the adverse publicity posted on the internet. My Tamil and Sinhala friends abroad were very upset by what they were reading on the internet and I had a hard time trying to convince them that what was happening in the camps was certainly not what they had read. I hoped that my reports about activity in the camps would convince than not to believe everything in the media.

In the south the initial response was huge and even my very laid back neighbours collected dry rations. But like the proverbial “soda botale” their enthusiasm was short lived. Very few people who knew I was in and out of the camps bothered to ask me what the situation was. So after a while not many people in Colombo showed much interest in the camps and this may be because there was very little media coverage. The war was over and they really did not care anymore.

Not only was the local media coverage inadequate some of it was absolutely misleading. The Sunday Leader had a headline stating that the IDP’s were swmming in their own excreta after three days of heavy rain. I phoned Dr. Safras at 6 am to find out what had happened. He said that a few tents that had been near a stream had been moved and one toilet pit had collapsed. Until that day I had a lot of respect for The Leader but not anymore.

I was too busy to be reading newspapers but the few papers I came across did not give adequate information obviously because they had no access to what was happening in the camps. In  my opinion the Governments media coverage of the situation in the IDP Camps was miserable.”


Michael Roberts, “Omanthai! Omanthai! Succour for the Tamil Thousands,” 9 August 2010, http://thuppahis.com/2010/08/09/omanthai-omanthai-succour-for-the-tamil-thousands/

Michael Roberts:Humanitarian Work in the Midst of Propaganda War,” [ICES Seminar Power Point Presentation}, November 2011, http://www.scribd.com/doc/202053396/IDP-Camps-2009-Humanitarian-Work-in-Midst-of-Propaganda-War-by-Dr-Michael-Roberts#scribd

Michael Roberts, “Mental Health Facilities for the Tamils at the IDP Camps and Now for Those Being Resettled … Reports from Manori Unambuwe,” 9 September 2011, http://thuppahis.com/2011/09/09/mental-health-facilities-for-the-tamils-at-the-idp-camps-and-now-for-those-being-resettled-%e2%80%a6-reports-from-manori-unambuwe/

Michael Roberts, “Relief Work in Aid of Mothers and Babies among the IDPs in 2009: Myrna Setunga’s Reports to Her Donor Pals THEN in 2009,” 28 September 2012, http://thuppahis.com/2012/09/28/relief-work-in-aid-of-mothers-and-babies-among-the-idps-in-2009-myrna-setungas-reports-to-her-donor-pals-then-in-2009/

Myrna Setunga,Vavuniya Adventure: Setunga I,” 15 May 2009, 15 May 2009, http://thuppahis.com/2012/09/28/vavuniya-adeventure-setunga-i-15-may-2009/

Myrna Setunga, “Second trip to Vavuniya, 1st June to 5th June 2009: Setunga II, circa. 6 June 2009,” http://thuppahis.com/2012/09/30/second-trip-to-vavuniya-1st-june-to-5th-june-2009-setunga-ii/#more-7193

Myrna Setunga, “Third Trip to Vavuniya, 11-13 June 2009, Setunga III,” http://thuppahis.com/2012/09/30/third-trip-to-vavuniya-11-13-june-2009setunga-iii/

Myrna Setunga, “Fourth Trip to Vavuniya, 8-12 July: Setunga IV,” 13 July 2009, http://thuppahis.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=7209&action=edit&message=6&postpost=v2

Myrna Setunga, “An Overview: Setunga V,” 22 July 2009, 22 July 2009, http://thuppahis.com/2012/10/01/an-overview-setunga-v-22-july-2009/

Manori Unambuwe, “The Fallacy of Concentration Camps,” The Island, 3 May 2009, http://www.island.lk/2009/05/03/features7.html

Susiri Weerasekera, “Fitting Artificial Limbs for the IDPs and ex-Tigers, July 2009 to March 2010 —FINS at the frontline,” 23 September 2012, http://thuppahis.com/2012/09/23/7108/

Q and A, “From Tsunami Medical Logistics to IDP Camp Medical Aid, 2004-09; Q and A with Dr Herath,” 14 September2011, https://thuppahis.com/2011/09/14/from-tsunami-medical-logistics-to-idp-camp-medical-aid-2004-09-q-and-a-with-dr-herath/

      ***   ***


[1] The estimates provided by the Rajapaksa government were ridiculously low and probably a deliberate act. However, in extenuation the UN and US agencies also got the numbers wrong.

[2] Email note from Manori Unambuwe: “The statement is spot on! No media coverage in a concerted manner to ensure public understood the magnitude of the operation and the depth of their commitment and the great work that was actually carried out by specially the Health Ministry and the army!” ($ October 2015).

[3] Some of my data on the relief work is from Donnie. I interviewed him quite late in the day –late 2011. In between his Manik Farm stint and our meeting his international organization had sent him to Haiti for relief work. He indicated that the situation there was uncoordinated and chaotic, whereas the effort at Manik Farm had been “remarkable” and “unprecedented.”

 … https://thuppahis.com/2011/12/29/trails-walk-from-dondra-to-jaffna-in-aid-of-cancer-hospital-for-jaffna/… December 29, 2011

TRAILS Walk from Dondra to Jaffna in Aid of Pediatrics Cancer Ward in Jaffna Hospital

Rajah Kuruppu,  in the Daily News, 26 December 2011

A recent event that underlines the innate good nature of man was the great walk from Dondra in the South to Jaffna in the North covering a distance of 670kms to generate funds to build the Paediatrics Cancer Ward in the Jaffna General Hospital. The walk named Trail, a journey of 27 days was undertaken from July 1 to 27. The Trail was initiated by the Colours of Courage Trust, a nonprofit organization which from its inception in 2008 has dedicated itself to provide the infrastructure for the treatment of cancer in Sri Lanka, a noble task where early detection and care could save numerous lives.

A noteworthy feature of this walk was that numerous people, rich and poor, young and old, spontaneously supported the walk which symbolized a noble gesture providing relief to children in the North who are afflicted with cancer. Some walked a part of the distance to record their support for a noble venture. There were others contributing in cash or kind to raise the necessary funds for the Pediatric Ward.

The brains behind this noble exercise was Sarinda Unambowe, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a leading commercial organization who with the support of his friend and colleague, Nathan Sivagananathan, also the CEO of a successful business undertaking and Director of the Colours of Courage Trust, launched this most worthy project. The willing support and generosity of many others enabled the vision of Sarinda to be made a reality.

The walk captured the imagination of a vast cross-section of the people of this country. It yielded Rs 186 million up to early November 2011 but what was worthy of note is that it did not come from a few of the most affluent but from a large cross-section of the people.

From a Buddhist stand-point, it is significant that a majority of those who participated in this great effort were Buddhists indicating their adherence to those qualities emphasized in the Dhamma, namely, Metta and Karuna or goodwill and compassion towards all living beings without any discrimination. In this case, these qualities were generously extended to the Tamil people of Jaffna who have suffered most from the ravages of three decades of war. This endorses the contention of our beloved Foreign Minister, the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, who declared to the world that the Sinhala people and large are not racists.

It is unfortunate that this great event did not receive in adequate measure the publicity and recognition that it so richly deserve both at home and abroad. At a time that Sri Lanka is being severely criticized regarding Tamil civilians killed or wounded by the repulsing of terrorism, this noble event should have been highlighted to reveal the overall humane nature of our people.

It was heartwarming to observe the popular support for this great walk and its objectives from all walks of life. During the walk, it is reported that a man shirtless, emerged from a mud hut to put a few rupees to the trail till. Furthermore, schoolchildren from their savings gave whatever they could for this noble cause. Schoolchildren lined the streets to clap and wave at the walkers while school bands from numerous schools performed to encourage the walkers. The bands were also playing for the children in Jaffna and the North afflicted with cancer and to provide some entertainment so as to offer momentary relief for the walkers from their pain and agony.

Well-known cricketers, Mahela Jayawardena former Captain, Tilakaratne Dilshan present Captain and bowler Dilhara Fernando were among those who joined this walk, on certain days as support for the walk. Eighteen walkers covered the entire distance of 679 kms over 27 days without a break. With swollen and damaged feet, they were encouraged by the invaluable cause for which they had committed themselves. Sarinda’s father, Stanley Unambocwe, at 79 years walked for 18 days with a short break in between.

We generally tend to look upon successful business magnates to be over-conscious of material gains and neglect social responsibilities, but these pioneers were of a different mould. They not only organized the walk but many of them walked the entire distance spanning 27 days and 670kms. Twenty six others achieved this feat with great discomfort for an outstanding cause.

The government has to be commended for taking decisive action to end terrorism that reigned in the island for three decades and the substantial economic development that is taking place today. However, there has been a sharp deterioration of moral and spiritual values, both in Sri Lanka and in many other countries, with the rise of the underworld, abundant violence and serious threats to life and property. Corruption has become the order of the day. It was earlier confined mainly to the public sector but now unfortunately it is penetrating the private sector as well. There is also the abuse of power by those in authority to the detriment of the welfare of the country and its people. Some are being harassed because of their views and actions when what is require is tolerance and patience as advocated in the Dhamma. The silence of religious leaders, including the Maha Sangha, in this sad situation is most disturbing.

In sharp contrast, we have the attitude of the King of Thailand in his dealings with the people.

When the army came to ensue that the Palace was safe and not adversely affected by the recent major floods in Bangkok his response was that there should be no special treatment for the Palace, but to assist the people who are suffering from the deluge. It is said that he has always wielded power and authority for the welfare of the people.

It is heartening to note that there are dedicated people ready to initiate projects or good causes and the general public willing to give a supporting hand when the cause is noble and the sincerity of the organizers are impeccable.

The recently concluded, walk, the Trail, was above all a triumph for the innate good nature of man. We salute the organisers and all those who participated and supported this noble event in whatever way they could in the true Buddhist spirit of Metta and Karuna – goodwill and compassion for all living beings without any discrimination. Let this walk be an inspiration to others to engage selflessly in good deeds of this nature.

Global warming, natural disasters, climate change and health: Other ways of reducing GW include less use of paper by encouraging communication on-line and re-cycling of paper. Re-cycling of garbage and production of biogas and fertilizer is another example of an environment friendly venture. Concept of minimalisation should be popularised so as to reduce the usage of fuel-powered personal items. As demonstrated in most Western countries and China, cycling should be encouraged by providing cycling lanes in urban areas. If public transport is improved, the need for the use of private motor vehicles would be reduced thereby consuming less fossil fuels. In Colombo, the results of terrible traffic jams during the rush hours is a good example of environmental pollution at it’s worst, reduction of work-hours and wastage of personal finances.

Web Editor’s Note: Way back in the middle of the year I was approached by email quite independently by Skanda kumar up in the hills, Singham in Vavuniya and Renton de Alwis in Kiula –all recommending this project. It was something towards which I gladly contirbuted [and note here that a receipt was duly received]. It was by pure chance that i met Sarinda Unamboowe at a relative’s wedding in Colombo and iscovered thta he had got on warmly with Singham when the latter joined the walk at Vavuniya. Even at that point I was not aware that SARINDA himself was key a figure in thinking up this venture and organising it.

From personal knowledge I can tell the world that SINGHAM has been one of the unsung heroes of local NGO relief work in the north and east after the tsunami and thereafter in assisting the IDPs at Menik Farm after the alst stages of Eelam War IV. It is therefoe serendipitous that Sarinda Unamboowe and Singham should have met, walked together, and become machang.


The Fort of Jaffna: renovation nears completionIn “heritage”

Jaffna and the North today: Jehan Perera’s visitIn “accountability”

The Politics of the Sri Lankan Tamil Cause in Tamil Nadu: A critical view from across the watersIn “communal relations”


Filed under communal relations, cultural transmission, disaster relief team, historical interpretation, human rights, landscape wondrous, life stories, patriotism, politIcal discourse, Rajapaksa regime, reconciliation, rehabilitation, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, social justice, sri lankan society, tamil refugees, unusual people, welfare & philanthophy

6 responses to “Ordinary Perera, Nadarajah and Bandara: Hands, Feet and Donations across the Length and Breadth of Sri Lanka

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