Cave rescue restores faith in mankind..

Cave rescue restores faith in mankind..

A few weeks ago, 12 boys went to explore a cave in Thailand along with their coach.

At the time, they never imagined that what would have been a boys’ day out would become a drama watched by an anxious world, saturated with prayers from all faiths.

But that’s exactly what it became.

As news stations around the world waited for news with bated breath and experts came together to look for ways to get the trapped boys and their coach to safety, it brought to light the heroism of Thai special forces and countless volunteers from specialised military operations such as SEALS from all over the world.

Amidst the anguish of mothers and families, only too familiar to mothers everywhere who wait anxiously for their children to return home from trips, excursions and the like, there was something else that struck me.

It was the power of humanity that assures me that yes, there is hope for mankind.

Love and compassion is not dead as the world or its media would like us to believe. For a moment frozen in time, it was love in action. The men leading the rescue were fathers themselves ; this mission was personal.

The cave rescue showed the world that despite the gloomy predictions, there is enough reason for our children to look forward to kindness and mercy in the world.

Not only because so many experts came together to put their lives on the line in wading into a treacherous cave to rescue boys they have never seen or known ; also because the story brought the world into a tight circle of caring – across social media platforms, reaching the furthest places and beyond.

From Elon Musk to the prayer warriors of your corner church, the world stood together, wanting nothing but the best for the trapped boys and their coach. It was a beautiful moment history would record for the next generations to see that humanity can be a beautiful thing, Still.

In an age when a singular preoccupation with the smartphone often means we miss tender moments that connect us together, the rescue meant something to all of us. It restored our faith in humanity – as a community, united through a thin but powerful line of technology that enabled each of us to connect with the heroes on the ground in Thailand, celebrated the rescue as never before.

It was not just the rescue effort but the commitment undertaken with an iron resolve to ensure that there would be no looking back. From the determined Thai SEALS one of whom sacrificed his life towards setting the children free, to the British and American SEALs and other cave diving specialists who gathered at the mouth of the cave to lend their shoulders to the effort.

Thailand was not alone. The world was with them, united by more than just a popular effort, one that touched every mother’s heart, one that resonated with people everywhere. From Facebook updates to prayers seeking divine intervention, people all over the world stood together in wishing nothing but the best outcome of a chaotic situation.

And there we find a cause for celebration – not only because as I write this, the boys have been rescued and the heroes quietly slipping away back into their lives. But also because for a moment frozen in time, humanity came together in one singular effort that cut across national, geographical, political, ethnic and religious borders.

Tonight my children can sleep tight in knowing that kindness is very much alive out there somewhere ; and when needed, it can flow right in.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

divided we stand..

divided we stand..

 

My son’s good friend Hameed Zahran passed away tragically around this time last year.

His friends mourned him across religious and ethnic divides.

It never occurred to them – or to my son that this was a Moslem who died. He was their friend, the boy next door who strummed his guitar and sang out loud during breaks. The first one to volunteer for anything.

He will stay in their memories that way.

For years, I have sworn by my daughter’s Paeditrician  the trusted Dr Azyan Shafik, a student of late Dr Stella who was a legend and a stalwart in Sri Lankan paediatrics.

It has never occurred to me or to anyone of us that he is a Moslem.

Whenever we are in the mood for well prepared, tasty biriyani, we look no further than the trusty old Majestic Hotel. The owner is a Moslem,  but it has never ever occurred to me to question his faith before tucking into the delicious rice.

Often enough, we order sawaans from Moslem owned eateries – mostly because they are easy to serve and often suffice for big groups of guests.

No, we don’t wonder about the religious beliefs of the eatery owners.

A step further, when Thajudeen was mourned across the divide as a clear case of misconstrued justice for a human being, I don’t recall anyone mentioning his faith.

Why has it suddenly become a dangerous factor that is forcing us to pause and take stock if ethnicity or as in this case, a religious group, is something to be worried about.

Having recovered from years of blood shed and mayhem, if anything I want to teach my children as Sri Lankans, is to think Sri Lankan. Not to be limited to a time or a space that calls for narrow straight jacketed thinking that smacks of insecurity and bias.  To even think that someone in the orbit of tomorrow must consider a person’s religious or ethnicity before his or her qualities as a human being, should be worrisome to us all.

Hear me out here – yes, there are extremists on both sides.

As there always are. But the majority of Sri Lankans, whether Moslem, Sinhalese, Tamil or Burgher , are not and are only happy to lead their lives and mind their business.

If a nation can be governed through insecurity gnawing away inside about a particular ethnic or a religious group who could be positioned as a threat, then we have learnt nothing from our deeply scarring experiences with the 30 year old war. We have only burdened the next generation with prejudice, colouring their world view for good.

We are no longer in isolation today. We are a part of the vibrant international community, whose larger than life presence on social media can pick up vibes in seconds and form opinions without facts.

We have opted to forget that in such a interlinked world, no ethnic or a religious group can stick to their corner and cry wolf. It doesn’t work that way. If someone can play on your insecurity, then you have not evolved much.

When we shop or hunt for bargains, we don’t choose to dwell on the shop owner’s ethnicity.  When we choose a product or a service, the religious affiliations or the ethnicity of the owners, often does not come into play. We choose what we want. It really doesn’t matter.

Some of Sri Lanka’s biggest and best known companies which employ thousands of Sri Lankans of all ethnicity and religions, are owned by Moslems. There are Moslems working side by side with fellow Lankans in companies owned by Sinhalese.

Matters not to anyone to question the ethnicity or the religious affiliations of the owners when applying for a job.

Where would we go if we give in to extremists? Where would our children be able to come together as a nation to go past the mistakes and the mishaps we have come through as a nation, to celebrate unity in diversity?

My son schooled at the great school by the sea, S. Thomas College Mount Lavinia where he learnt the best lesson of all – getting along with all shades of fellow Lankans. Although a Christian school, STC was a great place that brought together Sri Lankans of all faiths and ethnicity. Even today, my son and his class mates do not see themselves through the coloured lens of ethnicity and religion – but as Sri Lankans of Generation Z.

That should be the goal of us all.

 

 

 

Respice Finem – TCK, you rock.

Respice Finem – TCK, you rock.

When the whole drama of the little boy without a school ( forbidden word – HIV –  he is not infected , it is confirmed ) unfolded, what broke my heart was the way in which the little tyke sat, alone and downcast, his face turned away from prying cameras. The little blue shorts and the crisp white shirt reminded me of my son’s first day at the school by the sea. Seeing adults trying to outdo each other in shouting out against his admission to the school of their children, made it worse. This was Sri Lanka. In the 21st century.

As the little guy waited with vacant eyes, there was the silence, loud and clear. Folk on social media argued , appalled by the agitating parents and the school authorities. It was a moment when Sri Lanka would showcase her heritage, her pride and joy, her cultural upbringing, her deep sense of hospitality and her hope for her future generations.

It took a school with a strong and deep Christian heritage from the hills of Kandy, to break the deadlock. And to stand up and tell the world despite the protests, the concerns, there were people whose ethics would not permit them to sit still and do nothing when the call was for sanity and for acceptance. To the end. Respice Finem. In the hallowed traditions of the Trinity College Kandy, the values imbibed within its precincts by men the calibre of Rev. Senior who loved Ceylon and composed the beautiful hymn for Sri Lanka, the tune of which is adapted for Danno Budunge, which caused a storm in a tea cup recently when the well known soprano Kishani Jayasinghe sang it.

And so Trinity it was. It was heartening to see the Principal of TCK sign a MOU with the Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam in the presence of Bishop Dhilo, Bishop of Colombo. It was a brilliant move, Trinity – one that showed Sri Lanka and the world that as a Christian school built on values of humility, love and empathy, what it takes to make a difference is action not words. As empty words were exchanged between all parties, verbal swords were crossed and opinions aired, Trinity College moved in with deed, sealing the end of a poignant tale with agape love, as embodied in Christ’s mission to the world.

With a son who just left S. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia, I deeply appreciate the wonderful cultural mix of Christian schools,not just as a Christian but also a Sri Lankan. At STC or at TCK, and also at Ladies College where my nine year old daughter schools and all other Christian schools, the children have the opportunity to mix and blend wonderfully – Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Moslems work and eat together, laugh together and learn together. To me, it is a truly beautiful representation of the multi cultural country Sri Lanka is. This little boy will get to experience a culture at TCK that is rich with diversity, that represents the true heart of Sri Lanka. Prejudice along racial and religious lines will be far from his orbit.

Thank Heaven for that.

He will have the opportunity to be a man of courage and conviction, a true Sri Lankan who someday, will give back to society what TCK taught him.

When the story broke, I looked around for any links that I may find in my immediate environment to TCK. And found some  that made me glad to claim a distant yet a link nevertheless, to this great school – my uncles from my mother’s side , the Devendra clan, taught there. My husband’s clan, Dodanduwa Weerasooriyas have had and continue to have Trinitians among its members. Its most illustrious Weerasooriya was Arnolis Weerasooriya who left the college in early 20th century to serve God ; Arnolis is credited with the arrival of Salvation Army in Sri Lanka. The next illustrious member of the Weerasooriya clan to have graced the halls of TCK was David Paynter, whose mother was Anagi Weerasooriya, wife of Rev. Paynter. David Paynter’s beautiful legacy of murals are etched in the chapels of STC and TCK – brilliant creations glorifying Christ, from the hands of a true master. The chapel at Trinity College is featured on a stamp as well and is recogniszed widely for its uniquely Sri Lankan architecture. My father-in-law Maurice Weerasooriya was also a Trinitian, one of the many Christian boys from Galle who went there.

So Trinity, you made us proud. We salute you because you showed everyone that you could make a difference. Stand up and be counted.

” For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” – Matthew 25:35

 

Zuckerberg style paternity leave..is it relevant?

zucker1

Reading about one of the world’s busiest men running the Facebook empire wanting to take paternity leave got me thinking. Does this mean that Silicon Valley is officially recognizing paternity leave as an important step in encouraging and empowering men to share the responsibilities that come from a new born in the family? If so, it certainly sounded good.

Tech companies have always encouraged maternity/paternity leave in the hope of retaining talent. Yet most have not made much use  of the facility, it seems, for fears of missing out on the pace of work. Even in the case of Marisa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, who chose to take minimum time out with both of her pregnancies, worked throughout.

Comparisons aside, Zuckerberg’s statement is a powerful one and highlights the importance of giving family due time. In tech driven businesses, this can be a tough call. Not that it is easier elsewhere. Careers have been put on hold for those wanting to go all the way in caring for children. In the case of Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, it is even more poignant because the couple miscarried earlier. The significance of wanting to spend time with the new born and be around the new mother in a role that both empowers and assists her,must mean considerably to the Facebook founder.

So, does this mean that paternity leave is important for all men whose wives are due to give birth? Or is it just more of the politically correct statements and standpoints to show the world that gender is a key issue in Silicon Valley?

Paternity leave, I’m certain, does help. I remember the aftermath of having my daughter, recovering from a bleeding fibroid and facing the post natal depression blues. Having my husband around helped. It was not just sharing the work – it was also being able to share the fears, the uncertainties, the complications and being able to be comforted and soothed by the person closest to you and the family. Sometimes, what matters is the fact that your husband is around – not even doing anything but just being there so that you can be assured everything is alright. New mothers need an extra hand in reassurance, as we all know.

Undoubtedly, Zuckerberg has set a new standard for all the young, tech driven fathers out there. As a parent who is also a millennial, his decision speaks much for the restoration of faith in families, in fathers wanting to spend time with children and in giving family priority over work. It tells the young generation that work could never replace family, which in itself is a strong delivery. It puts the concept of getting married, having children, raising a family in a new light – for the better.

Now that the founder of the social media giant Facebook confirms paternity leave is ok, we should see the concept gaining momentum at places of work. Argued, evaluated, thought over, mulled over – call it what you may. Every new mother would benefit from an extra pair of hands – especially from the one  who is closest to her.

 

 

 

Cherish the moment…

Cherish the moment…

So many tragedies, so many tears – from the shooting in Oregon to the flooding in South Carolina grabbing headlines the same week…ISIS is still wreaking havoc in the Middle East and at home, we still haven’t established who killed little Seya..it’s a dark world and it is easy to drown in all in sorrow, in one big heap..

But we are a people of hope…I speak as a Christian who believe that my Redeemer lives..I also speak as a mother and a wife and I believe that we must be able to cultivate our moments that empower us to overcome the sadness, the bitter world around us. It is so easy to go along with the flow and feel the negative vibes but we must swim upstream.

Many of us get through the day absorbed in what we do – often, our work. We connect to the world on our computers and smart phones and it becomes so easy to be wrapped up in our own little worlds. Can we step aside and connect with those around us? Can we spend a moment to cherish with our children, aging parents, a lonely co-worker, a neighbour who recently lost a loved one? Could we reach out to other people and maybe take some of the loneliness, the anger, the frustrations away?

It is the moments spent in the company of others that enrich our souls – that make us who we are.Too many of us hide behind our phones or our lap tops as we connect and entertain ourselves ; it is important to switch off the devices and switch on what makes us who we are – the human connections that enrich us.

Dinner table conversation is a good place to start. Teach the children to connect to one another – they are increasingly connected to devices too and sometimes, we are guilty of using the very devices as babysitters. Two year olds are entertained by iPads and by five, they don’t need company, they’ve got it all together, entertaining themselves.

Cherish the moment. Get off the computer and take your daughter or son to a walk in the park. Let not the darkness around us get in. We can light a candle in our own lives – it can and must come from us.

Just last week, we visited some of my husband’s relatives in the country – the beautiful surroundings of Dodanduwa, Hikkaduwa. The old house had been beautifully restored and the sprawling garden and a cool well was a treat to behold. Just sitting in the old verandah, doing nothing but listening to the sounds of nature, laughing and catching up with a few, many such a difference in our lives that day. It gave me a memory to cherish. I can still close my eyes and see in my mind’s eyes the fireflies gathering as the night fell, the sunset slowly coming over the greenery of many hues.

Let us not let a troubled world trouble us too. We can and must take refuge in what we do everyday -find the time to cherish moments spentwith each other.

Casting the first stone…

Casting the first stone…

In the aftermath of one of the most despicable crimes against humanity committed against little Seya, we have entered the next phase and justifiably so. We must find the perpetrator and if possible, hang him. Some want to give him over to a mob while others want ISIS style execution. Given the heinous  nature of the crime, by all means yes. But if only we have the right man.

It was more a case of venting out our outrage, our righteous anger that burns against a man whose deprived mind was capable of doing things that a normal human being would not even consider.  And rightly so too ; every mother, every father, every one else wanted a part of seeking justice for Seya.

Unfortunately, the law enforcement officers still haven’t been able to find the man. The father was first considered a suspect and then the grandfather was a likely candidate too. As social media forums flowed with hate, the focus then shifted to a 17 year old who was said to be in possession of porn on his computer. But, as I write this, no proper culprit is found. Yet, in our pursuit for justice we as a nation have already judged and passed sentence on people who have not had anything to do with the crime.

As absurd as it may sound to some, one wrong doesn’t make another right. Every man present that night in Seya’s neighbourhood is not, must not be a suspect. The job of the law enforcement is to seek out the real killer ; speculation can only ruin life for by standers such as the girl’s father, grandfather or the 17 year old boy whose future, by now, probably looks quite bleak just by the virtue of his arrest on suspicion.

Hunting killers is a painstaking business – some police officers have taken years to follow in the trail of perpetrators before pouncing on them. Nazis who killed women, men and children in cold blood are still being hunted down and persecuted despite the fact that many of them are now in their nineties.

Sometimes, striving for swift justice to ease our own pain is not enough. Neither is assuring ourselves that someone, anyone must be caught and brought before justice. We must be able to wait upon justice, seeking the actual killer and not someone who may have done it or who could have done it. It will then become a mere courtroom drama and lose steam down the line, causing many to lose faith in a system of justice we want to believe still works, despite all the flaws.

Seya and the many other little girls and boys being abused, groped and violated, want us to deliver the kind of justice that doesn’t make sensational news on media just so that we can rejoice for the wrong reasons. They, I’m sure, if they could speak, would want us to act with wisdom , they would want us to outsmart the killer and the Paedophile and call their bluff.

They would want us to develop a system that would not just bring one killer to book but also plug the holes where more would-be perpetrators can score. They would want us to come together as a society to build a safe environment for children as much as we can. They would ask us what lessons we learnt from their stories so that other children can be spared the misery.

We owe them that much. Not just to cry out for anyone’s blood but to make sure, with our heads as well with our hearts, to ensure that we can find the killer using right evidence and not heresy.  That we are capable of rising above emotion and deal with it as a responsible, civilized society that can unlearn wrong perceptions and learn the lessons the little angels are teaching from up there.

In the meantime, let’s do what we can do – become better , more vigilant mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters so that in our own way, we can prevent another child from being abused.

We owe it to us and our children- and to Seya.

When angels fall…

When angels fall…

I am the mother of an eight year old girl who still likes to play with her Barbies. She doesn’t like to sleep alone. Like many other little girls, she likes to dabble with my make up and dress to impress.

I joined millions of other Sri Lankan mothers, sharing a grief that was theirs and mine,  when I saw the crumpled body of little Seya on prime TV. I felt violated when TV stations chose to show such macabre scenery ; not done in  civilized country. Come to think of it, there should be a ban on showing shocking images of bodies on media but we still haven’t gone there, it seems, despite all the talk about being civilized above all else.  Seya’s hour or two in the devil’s grip still evades me – I don’t want to even think about it. I’m sure no one does. Two little girls killed within a spate of a week – one along with her parents in Minuwangoda and the other, taken from her bed and sexually assaulted, her little body thrown in a ditch.

Now before we let ourselves loose on the emotional wagon hitched to demanding better laws, we need to address ourselves as mothers and fathers. Are we doing enough to make sure our children are safe – not in strange places but in our own homes and in our own personal spaces? Seya was taken from her bed – I wish her mother bothered enough to check the first time her father noticed the little girl was not on the bed, instead of assuming that she had gone to the grandmother’s room. We are mothers in charge of children whose very fate depends a lot on us – we cannot assume things. We need to always double check, always make sure the children are safe because one never knows when human beings can turn evil. And usually, the purveyors of such evil are among those closest to us.

Mothers and fathers need to be vigilant – parenting is a full time 24/7 job. It doesn’t stop when the kids grow up either. You need to be in the know, on the ball, connected to the daily rhythm of your children and generally be the eyes and ears all around. If you cannot, then you are not cut out for parenting in the 21st century. You need to get it into your system by default.

Sure, we need better laws. More importantly, we need better execution of existing laws – we need to upgrade the severity of punishment for crimes against children and women speedily, brought to a level of action, not just talk. We have heard a lot of talk but we need to be able to get things done – I certainly hope the new Minister in charge of Women’s & Children’s Affairs, Mrs Chandani Bandara will get started down that road.

We need to remember Seya – not now, but tomorrow and the next year. We know we forget a lot of things however sad, however appalling, when the story winds down. But we need to keep remembering so that somewhere in Sri Lanka, a little girl or a little boy will not face the same fate as her. We need to remember to lock our doors, check out strangers and pay more attention to what is happening around us.

When the perpetrator is found – I pray to God he will be – we need to make sure that as a society, we deal with such evil in a way that will deter others. We also need to have in place measures that will work towards minimizing sexual crimes ; a key step in this direction would be clamp down or restrict access to on porn sites ; Google recently bestowed upon us the infamous title of the country seeking the biggest slice of sex related material on line. We hope that the Good Governance Government will take the right steps in that direction.

We have too many lessons in the death of an angel to forget – it is my prayer and I know it is your prayer too ; may this be the last such tragedy we will hear about. RIP Seya – Sri Lanka weeps with your family..