Blind Walk is one of the award winning projects that focuses on alleviating the plight of the visually impaired, by taking steps to make their lives better. Introduced to Sri Lanka in the year 2016, Blind Walk was conducted with the aim of making people experience the lives of the visually challenged. Another valuable intention of the walk is to raise funds in aid of the visually impaired persons in Sri Lanka while encouraging people to pledge to donate eyes following their demise.
Blind Walk is organized by the the Rotary Club of Colombo Mid Town, along with their sponsoring Rotaract Clubs; Rotaract Club of Colombo Mid Town, Rotaract Club of ACBT, Rotaract Club of University of Colombo Faculty of Management and Finance and Rotaract Club of Achievers Lanka Business School. In 2020, Blind Walk was organized with the theme Hope in Sight, portraying the importance of one’s vision. Although the physical event had to be cancelled due to the unfortunate re-rising of the Covid-19 Pandemic, Blind Walk took a new twist, keeping firm to not forget the beautiful cause it was initiated for.
Blind Walk 2020 took the form of a Talk Show, and was conducted on the 15th of October 2020 adhering to the health care regulations in the country. It was hosted by Rtr. Aaamina Ismail, President of the Rotaract Club of University of Colombo, Faculty of Management and Finance. She was accompanied by two guests; Rtn. PHF Mayur Varia and Rtn. PHF PP Hussain Fazlebas. The Talk Show was conducted through a virtual platform which was featured as Rotaract’s First Online Donation Campaign. The Blind Walk talk show was streamed live on YouTube via Rotaract TV channel.
To start off, Rtn. Mayur enlightened the audience on World Sight Day. He said that it was initiated with the aim of raising awareness about blindness and preventable blindness which is a continuing global issue. World Sight Day which falls on the second Thursday of October each year, is also the reason why Blind Walk is held during this time. He went on to discuss the two concepts of Preventable Blindness and Vision Impairment, and spoke about how Preventable Blindness can be easily cured by using a pair of spectacles or undergoing a cataract surgery. However, many people especially in rural areas, suffer tremendously due to Preventable Blindness due to their lack of knowledge about the cures or not being able to afford them. Therefore, he strongly stressed on the importance of educating the public on this matter and providing them with the support they need.
Rtn. Mayur acknowledged that Sri Lanka pioneered the Corneal Transplantation which is a popular method to give sight to people today. He was proud that Sri Lanka is maintaining high rates of Donors to even provide corneas to foreign countries.
Thereafter Rtn. Hussain spoke about the History of Blind Walk. He said that it was inspired by ‘Project Vision’, originated in 2013in Bangalore by Fr. Dr. George Kanamthnamby. Following that, Blind Walk was initiated with the aim of encouraging people to donate their eyes at death, in order to control the increase of blind people in the World. In 2016, Sri Lanka had been invited to be a part of it by Father George himself, and Rtn. Hussain who was the President of the Rotary Club of Colombo Midtown, had accepted it. With that, Sri Lanka had been a part of Blind Walk 2016 which was simultaneously held in 55 locations spanning five countries.
Furthermore Rtn. Mayur spoke about the short term and long term impacts of not treating preventable blindness. He highlighted that it is not merely the ‘sight’ of a person that blindness takes away, but that it also affects the function of their brain and other parts of the body. He further mentioned that this will be an unnecessary burden on society. He said that this has become a serious issue amongst adults as well as school children, which has hindered them from achieving great heights which they are capable of. Therefore, he said that it is essential that people are given treatment as early as possible.
Next Rtn. Hussain briefed the audience about how Blind Walk had taken place over the past few years. Sighted people were blind folded and made to walk about a kilometer, giving them the feel of the lives of the visually impaired. He spoke about the astonishing reaction of the participants afterwards, as to how people manage their lives without vision as well as how privileged one is to be gifted with it. He mentioned that the walk was usually followed by a musical programme, and in the year 2016, was conducted by children from the Blind School. Blind Walk had taken place in 2017, and after a break in 2018, had come back in 2019 with a remarkable participation of 150 individuals in the walk alone, resulting in over 120 eye pledges. Rtn. Hussain believed Blind Walk has served its purpose over the years, which is to make people understand enough to pledge their eyes.
Rtn. Mayur again spoke about the seriousness of the situation in Sri Lanka, and said that at least 10% of School children are visually challenged. He stressed on the importance of treating preventable blindness at an early age, so that the future of these children are not wasted. He said that something as simple as a pair of spectacles or a cataract surgery may be life changing to some children, and that it may pave the path to many wonders that they have the potential for. Rtn. Mayur ended by saying that we need all the support we can get for this cause.
On an ending note Rtn. Hussain shared the impact Blind Walk has made over the years.He again spoke about how it has inspired more and more eye pledges in the country and that Blind Walk 2019 also collected funds which were directed to visually impaired School Children in Sri Lanka through a programme called ‘Vision 2020’.
Further to that, Fr. Dr. George, founder of ‘Project Vision’ shared a few words on what inspired him to initiate it. He said that the donation of eyes could be one of the best strategies to bring sight to a visually challenged person, and through eye donation about 20% who are visually impaired today can be given sight. He ended with the beautiful words, ‘Let us all commit to allow our eyes to love after our death’.
Followed by this District Rotaract Representative Rtn. Rtr. PP Kasun Sigera joined the talk show and expressed his thoughts of Blind Walk. He praised the Rotary Club of Colombo Mid Town and the organizing Rotaract Clubs for working toward such a phenomenal cause.
By the end of the session Blind Walk 2020 had reached a monetary pledge of LKR 211,000 which will be directed to the visually impaired persons in Sri Lanka. With that, Rtr. Aaamina ended the session with one last reminder for everyone to try to become someone’s Hope in Sight.
Written by: Rtr. Rukaiya Shahabdeen
Edited by: Rtr. Kalani Siriwardena
The time, I’m writing this blog, is usually when the intensity of the IPL reaches its pinnacle, but unfortunately not this year. The first thing I know in Mohali is the Kings XI Punjab team and its glorious home stadium, Punjab Cricket Association Stadium. But our collaboration with the Rotaract club of Mohali gave me the opportunity to explore more about this splendid city of Punjab.
Mohali is majorly inhabited by the Punjabi and Sikh community, so the gurudwaras here are worth paying a visit. A Gurdwara or Gurudwara, which has the meaning “door to the Guru”, is a place of assembly and worship for Sikhs. One of the best religious places to visit in Mohali is the Amb Sahib Gurudwara. The white coloured Sikh Shrine is a fine example of the Sikh architecture and a peaceful place to visit.
Amb means mangoes in Punjabi, which is very similar to amba in Sinhala and ambiram in Tamil, and the religious place is named after the sacred mango tree which bears sweet fruits throughout the year which are served as prasad to the devotees. Legend has it that Guru Har Rai Ji, who was the 7th of the ten gurus of Sikhism, blessed the place. It was the guru’s wish and command that the tree bears fruits all through the year; a wish that has continued to this day and is nothing short of a miracle given that mango is a seasonal fruit.
A recommended destination for nature lovers is the Sukhna Lake. It is actually located in the town of Chandigarh which is lying North-East of Mohali. Moreover, this is a manmade lake which was created by damming the Sukhna Choe stream that flows down from the Shivalik Hills. The splendour of nature attracts hikers, photographers and painters towards the scenic beauty of this lake. The spot is also favourable for water sport activities like skiing, surfing and sculling. Especially during winter, exotic migratory birds settle around the lake making it a delight for birdwatchers.
Situated alongside the Sukhna Lake is the Rock Garden of Chandigarh. This is a massive 40-acre exhibition of art pieces and sculptures. Also known as Nek Chand’s Rock Garden; this masterpiece is an outcome of creative imagination and fifty years of single-handed labour by a government official Nek Chand in his spare time. Having a total of about 5000 statues within its bounds, this sculptural project is a true example of ‘Best From Waste’ as these pottery-covered concrete sculptures of dancers, musicians, and animals are made from urban and industrial wastes such as discarded pieces of broken pottery, bottles, auto parts, plumbing materials, street lights, electrical fittings, broken sanitary ware and so on. This has now become a long-standing symbol of the city.
Another serene destination of the city is the Dr. Zakir Hussain Rose Garden. This was named after India’s former president, Zakir Hussain and it is surmised as one of Asia’s largest rose gardens. The garden is said to be home to various beautiful plants including several hundred species of roses and medicinal plants. Walking through it is a true delight as the rose plants have been planted in neatly laid out flower beds. It’s appealing to watch the well-planned garden with paths for walking and jogging, an open-air gym, play area for kids and a small library. The most popular event at this garden is the Rose Festival that is held in February each year. Competitive events of varying nature like flower cutting and flower arrangement, landscaping, photography and Rose prince and princess take place.
Another must-go-to place is the tallest victory tower of India, the Fateh Burj. This memorial acknowledges the spirit and courage of the Sikhs. It was here that Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, one of the most respected Sikh warriors, won a decisive battle against Wazir Khan, commander of the Mughal army. Along with the tall stature, the memorial includes six mounds with the statues of Banda Singh Bahadur and his five generals, delivers a picturesque view which mesmerizes everyone who sees it.
Rtr. Jegatheesan Gowthaman
Anuradhapura currently serves as the capital city of the North Central Province and is considered the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The Sacred City of Anuradhapura was established around a cutting from the ‘tree of enlightenment’, the Buddha’s fig tree, brought there in the 3rd century B.C. by Sanghamitta, the founder of an order of Buddhist nuns. Anuradhapura, a Ceylonese political and religious capital that flourished for 1,300 years, was abandoned after an invasion in 993. Hidden away in dense jungle for many years, the splendid site, with its palaces, monasteries and monuments, is a haven for Buddhist worshipers in Sri Lanka.
Rising dramatically from the central plains, the enigmatic rocky outcrop of Sigiriya is perhaps Sri Lanka’s single most dramatic sight. Near-vertical walls soar to a flat-topped summit that contains the ruins of an ancient civilization, thought to be once the epicentre of the short-lived kingdom of Kassapa, and there are spellbinding vistas across mist-laden forests in the early morning.
Situated in the Southern Sri Lankan Coast in the Bay of Galle just 132 KM from Colombo, the Galle Fort is one of the most extraordinary historical and archeological sites of the world. The fort was first constructed by Portuguese in the late sixteenth century and fortified expansively by the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century. It is a stunning blend of archeology, architecture, and history in the backdrop of the tropical atmosphere. Its appeal lies in that it is not just a historical monument.
Legend states that after Lord Buddha was cremated following his death, his remains were distributed among the different realms for worship. Apparently of all these remains, his four canines were the holiest of all.
Of the four canines; the right canine was supposedly taken for worship by the King of Gods, another canine was taken by the king of the land Gandhara (an area which now is Pakistan), while the third was taken by the Nagas (snake people) who worshipped it in a golden shrine room, and the final left canine was given to the King of Kalinga in East India. The golden-roofed Temple of the Sacred Tooth houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha. During Puja, the heavily guarded room housing the tooth is open to devotees and tourists. However, one can’t actually see the tooth. It’s kept in a gold casket shaped like a Dagoba (stupa), which contains a series of six Dagoba caskets of diminishing size.
Yala National Park is located in the southeastern region of Sri Lanka and extends over two provinces of Hambantota district of southern province and Monaragala district in Uva province. The entrance to the park is at Palatupana, 12km from Kirinda. The distance from Colombo to the entry point of Palatupana is 305 km. The rocky outcrops scattered over the park provide vantage points to enjoy the sprawling areas with Sri Lanka’s dry zone landscape: low scrub and woods. Still more, the southern border of the park being the south-eastern coast, the brackish lagoons and dunes enhance the distinctive charm of the Yala National Park.
-Rtr. Amiteshwar Pratap Singh (Rotaract Club of Mohali)
It was nearly after three weeks of waiting that our delegates from Pune, India were to arrive in Sri Lanka on the 16th of October, for the Inter-District Youth Exchange Program (IDYEP). This was a joint project organized by the Rotaract Club of Achievers Lanka Business School and 13 other Rotaract Clubs.
The responsibilities to entertain the guests throughout their five-day stay were divided among all host clubs. Arrangements were made to pick them up from the airport and welcome them to the country. However, the members of the Rotaract Club of Achievers Lanka Business School were to meet our guests for the first time on the 17th, for a joint meeting followed by dinner.
It was a Thursday evening, a usual meeting day for the Rotaractors at Achievers, although the crowd and the excitement were much bigger. Over a hundred members from the host clubs, as well as a few members from the district, were present for the meeting. The Rotaract Club of the University of Peradeniya, although not being present physically, did not forget to join us through Skype.
Our five guests from Pune arrived soon after, and the Rotaract District Representative Rtr. Krishan Balaji warmly welcomed them on behalf of the clubs. A formal meeting was conducted followed by the usual proceedings. The audience was briefed on the upcoming projects of the host clubs, by their respective presidents. Rtr. Krishan Balaji also addressed the gathering and appreciated the presence of our guests. He emphasized on the importance and value of such projects, in building better friendships and cultural understanding across borders, and thanked the host clubs. One of the guests also spoke on behalf of the others and thanked the clubs for having them. She mentioned that they had a lovely stay in Sri Lanka so far and that it was a beautiful country with very hospitable people. The meeting was adjourned with that at about 7.30 PM, for fellowship.
However that was not the end of the evening, or rather, it was just the beginning. There were quite a few ice breakers planned before the crowed could set out to dinner. The Rotaract Club of Colombo Mid Town was ready with a quiz for the audience, which boosted the spirit in everybody. The members of all clubs and the guests were divided into teams so that they could mix with new people, and the quiz was conducted. The members participated enthusiastically (and maybe a little competitively) and it was made to be a very fun-filled evening.
This was followed by an open mic session organized by the Rotaract Club of Achievers Lanka Business School. This was unsurprisingly featured by Rtr. Thisura, our very own Secretary. Due to time constraints, we had to keep it short to a few minutes. Nevertheless, Thisura never fails to entertain a crowd when a mic is given to his hand!
The night was getting darker and the crowd was getting hungrier, but everyone was still busy. The Presidents were exchanging Letter Heads with the foreign clubs, and the members were busy grabbing photographs and having their last-minute catch up with our guests who were to leave for Kandy the next morning. Finally, after a long session of mingling, the crowd made up their minds to set out to dinner.
The dinner was organized by the Rotaract clubs of Achievers Lanka Business School and Colombo Uptown and was held at Dutch Burgher Union, which was within walking distance from Achievers. Members from the two organizing clubs and few others joined, and everybody enjoyed a delicious Sri Lankan cuisine together. After another hour or so of more chatting and photographs, we had to put an end to the night.
We had to say our good-byes to our friends, as they were not returning back to Colombo. It was indeed a difficult good-bye, as they had touched our hearts deeply during their short stay. However, we could not be more grateful for their visit, the little things learned, memories created, and friendships enhanced!
Rtr. Kalani Siriwardena
The Sinhala and Tamil New Year (Aluth Avurudu in Sinhala) is a very important occasion for both Sinhala Buddhists and the Tamil Hindus of Sri Lanka. The uniqueness of this occasion is the celebration of the beginning of the New Year as well as the ending of the old year at the auspicious times stated by astrologers.
There is also a time period in between, which is called the ‘Nonagathaya’ (neutral period). During this transition time, the Sri Lankans are encouraged to refrain from routine actions and engage solely in religious activities. People stop all their day-to-day activities and visit the temple to accrue merit and get blessings from almighty.
Rituals begin with a bath on the last day of the old year and viewing the moon on the same night. People apply ‘nanu’ on their head and body before bathing. This is believed to have a purifying effect on the body and the soul.
The New Year is celebrated with boiling milk in a new clay pot, symbolizing prosperity as the milk spills over from all sides of the pot. After that, milk rice is cooked. A number of traditional Sinhala sweetmeats such as ‘Kokis‘, ‘Aasmee‘, ‘Kewum‘, ‘Aluwa‘ and ‘Weli Thalapa‘ are also prepared to serve near and dear ones.
At the temple, the villages gather to have anointed oil on their heads by the head priest. This ritual is also performed at their own homes, where the oldest family member anoints the herbal oil on the heads of other family members.
When departing for work people wait for the auspicious time to leave and begin their chores in the New Year with zeal and vigor.
Rtr. Amiteshwar Pratap Singh
In this blog, I am going to take you on a journey through the beautiful culture of Punjab courtesy of our friends at the Rotaract Club of Mohali. The majority religion practiced in Punjab is Sikhism and there are five Gurudwaras (or places of worship) in Sikhism known as the Panj Takht, translating into the Five Thrones. These sites hold the utmost importance in Sikh culture and are places of assembly and worship for Sikhs. They are also welcome to people from all faiths without discrimination. Three out of these five holy sites are situated in Punjab, namely the Akal Takht Sahib, situated in the world-famous complex of the Golden Temple in Amristar, Takht Sri Kesgar Sahib in Anandpur and the Sri Damdama Sahib in Bathinda.
When we delve deeper into Punjabi culture we can learn about their two main cultural festivals. The first of these is known as Baisakhi and is celebrated on the 13th or 14th of April each year, very much like the Sinhalese and Tamil new year. It is a harvesting festival and also commemorates the dawn of the new solar year. Secondly, there is Lohri, celebrated on the 13th of January. It marks the end of winter and a traditional welcome of longer days and the sun’s journey to the northern hemisphere. It is traditionally celebrated by lighting a bonfire in the night where a crowd gathers and enjoys the night together.
Further, Punjab is known worldwide for its traditional dances; the Bhangra and the Gidha. The Bhangra is associated with the dawn of the new year of Baisakhi as we stated previously, and it is associated with harvesting and also draws its name from one of the major products of the harvest- the bhang. The Gidha is also a popular dance for the women of the Punjabi region.
Now let’s stimulate our test buds by getting to know a bit about delicious Punjabi food. The cultural food of Punjab is called Makke di roti and Sarson da saag. The roti is made from maize flour making it a distinctive yellow in color, while saag is a side dish made from mustard greens with added spices.
That was certainly an illuminating journey down Punjabi culture and I would like to express my gratitude to the Rotaract Club of Mohali for giving us this opportunity to take a small peek into the wonderful culture of Punjab.
Rtr. Rahul Jeyanthan
#WeLoveTheSea, which was a Global Action to clean the beach, happened on the 15th of September 2019 at the Wellawatta Beach organized by more than 10 Rotaract Clubs. It was truly amazing to see how many Clubs had come together to clean the beach of its garbage contained shore. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country famous for being an island surrounded by the big blue sea, and this sea is Sri Lanka’s precious diamond. However, it is sad to see that people tend to overcrowd the beaches and pollute its shores, which harms not only its sustainability and purity but also its marine life. However, on the 15th of September Rotaractors from multiple clubs got together and cleaned the coast starting from one side to the end of the other side.
Rotaractors arrived at the Wellawatta Beach at 9.30 a.m. on the 15th and the clean-up commenced at 10.00 a.m. There were sacks marked with ribbons in different colors (Black – Plastic, Brown – Glass, Pink – Rubber and cans, Green – Polythene, Cream – Metal, None – Degradable) to indicate what type of waste should go in the sack to make it easy for the collection of garbage and disposal of it as well. Each person had a sack to which they collected the relevant type of garbage into, and it was amazing how hard working everyone was because each sack contained garbage which had been collected along the coast. A while later it started to rain, but nobody hesitated to finish the job they started, everyone kept collecting garbage into their respective sacks, and it was surprising when individuals who had come to do their daily exercise at the beach too helped to clean the beach, which was something unexpected and beautiful to see. Moreover, a family who lives in the beachside as an appreciation of the hard work, made everyone who had volunteered to clean the beach, a morning cup of tea, which was very generous of them since everyone was soaking wet from the rain.
At first, it seemed like the beach was pretty clean, but the deeper we got in, we found a lot of little pieces of debris. Towards the end, we came back to the starting point and all the sacks were kept in one place. All the volunteers that morning removed a massive amount of garbage and prevented them from polluting the ocean. It was nice to see how strong we all are in number being able to help the environment united, as one, and the energy between the Rotaractors was amazing, and the appreciation and gratefulness from the bystanders were tremendous. Besides the actual act of cleaning the beach, it was evident that when people come together for such great causes it not only makes the cause so sweet, but it drives people to do more good, not individually but together as a community, because at the end of the day, Sri Lanka belongs to all of us equally.
The sheer amount of garbage produced in the country—7, 500 MT daily—coupled with inadequate waste disposal facilities, has adversely affected our ocean’s ecology. Therefore, by doing such beach clean-ups it makes sure that plastic pollutants, to a certain extent have been prevented from going into the sea and harming the innocent ever so graceful marine life. 2/10 sea turtles die of consuming plastic bags mistaking them for jellyfish, and how sad and cruel is that? Due to dumping, and unethical ways of disposing the land produced garbage, many animals in the ocean go through tough times and end up dying, and initiatives like beach clean-ups is a very good start in protecting the ecology.
It must also be kept in mind that the ocean is for everyone, the sandy shores are for everyone, the beach is for everyone, and by keeping the beaches clean we not only help the marine life, but also it becomes a cleanly place for every living being including US humans, no matter how ironic it may seem since it is also the very same US who pollute the beaches. Not to forget the fact that this promotes tourism too! Sri Lanka is famous for its beaches and keeping them clean will surely attract many tourists!
It is of no doubt that everyone who joined hands to help our mother nature be clean in this hour of need, not only did a good cause, but also went away with some beautiful memories and newly built friendships which will be redefined throughout.
Rtr. Bipash Suriyage
Cover Page courtesy of Rotaract Club of SLIIT