Otara in Rwanda

Otara in Rwanda

to name endangered baby gorilla

Sri Lankan entrepreneur, philanthropist and animal rights advocate Otara Gunewardene was invited by the Rwandan Government as an honorary guest to name a baby Mountain Gorilla at the annual Kwita Izina naming ceremony.

The Kwita Izina baby Gorilla naming ceremony, held on the first Friday of September every year, is based on a traditional Rwandan naming ceremony held for new born babies and has been a part of the Rwandan culture for centuries. The infant Gorillas are named by conservation, business, sports, fashion and show biz icons from around the world.

It was introduced in 2005 to raise awareness of conservation efforts, as the Government of Rwanda, through the Rwanda Development Board, has achieved great success in protecting the endangered Mountain Gorilla population and has worked diligently with conservation partners, the private sector and the community to conserve their natural habitat.

Before the introduction of the ceremony, infant Gorillas were named by park rangers, researchers and scientists, following in the footsteps of late American primatologist and conservationist, Dr. Dian Fossey, who named all the Gorillas she was studying back in the 70’s in order to accurately observe and learn about them.
This year, thousands of Rwandans and conservation champions gathered at Kinigi, Musanze, on the foothills of Volcanoes National Park to celebrate the 15th Kwita Izina baby Gorilla naming ceremony, aimed at raising awareness about Rwanda’s conservation efforts. It was attended by 1000 VIPs from around the world, 4000 invitees and 30,000 members of the community in Rwanda. All the honorary baby Gorilla name-givers were also given the opportunity to trek through the mountains and visit the Gorilla family they will be naming in their natural habitat.

Magnificent animals

The event generally spans a week and includes special activities related to conservation, educational exhibits and community projects held in the capital city of Kigali. Otara Gunewardene was chosen for her philanthropic and environmental advocacy work through her charitable organisations, Embark and the Otara Foundation. Embark focuses on improving the lives of street dogs in Sri Lanka, while the Foundation aims to conserve Sri Lanka’s environment and wildlife, to not only protect Sri Lanka’s rich biodiversity but to educate future generations to conserve what makesSri Lanka truly unique.

“It is an honour to be recognised by the Rwanda Development Board and to be given this opportunity,” Gunewardene said. “Having visited Rwanda with my family last year to address local entrepreneurs at the First Lady’s Imbuto Foundation, I was impressed by the successful conservation efforts undertaken by the country to save, not only the Mountain Gorillas, but their entire eco system as well.”

“These magnificent animals share 99 per cent of our DNA, but were expected to be extinct by the millennium due to detrimental human activity. The incredible efforts by the Rwandan government led by President Kagame, for whom conservation is a priority, is something to be admired. As a passionate wildlife enthusiast and conservationist I am so pleased to be a part of the Rwandan government’s efforts to protect the mountain Gorilla population.”

Among other popular personalities that joined Otara at this year’s naming ceremony were Rwandan President Paul Kagame as Guest of Honour, former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe, British supermodel, Naomi Campbell, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed, former Manchester United Manager, Louis Van Gaal, former Arsenal FC Captain, Tony Alexander Adams MBE and Grammy award winning artist, Ne-Yo.

This year, the 25 baby Gorillas that were named are members of the Amahoro, Umubano, Hirwa, Igisha, Isimbi, Muhoza, Kwitonda, Sabyinyo, Susa, Pablo, Kuryama, Mafunzo, Kureba, Musirikali and Ntambara groups.

 

Mother of two

Otara Gunewardene, a mother of two, had the pleasure of naming the newest member of the Pablo family, Kira, derived from the names of her two sons, Kiran and Rakhil, which also means “bless you” in Kinyarwanda, the Rwandan language. As a result of Kwita Izina and other conservation efforts, the population of the endangered Mountain Gorillas has increased to 604 in 2016 in comparison to 480 in 2010 and the
region’s lowest of 242 in 1981.

“As we give names to 25 baby Gorillas today, we celebrate our conservation successes and thank the community, partners and friends from around the world for their invaluable support to protect these remarkable animals. And while Mountain Gorillas remain an endangered species and more work is needed to ensure their long-term survival, the most recent census tells us that the Mountain Gorilla population in the Virunga Massif has grown by 23% since 2010 to 604 individuals. This success is the result of governments, communities and conservation partners working hand-in-hand to protect the species and its habitat”, remarked the Rwandan Development Board’s Chief Tourism Officer, Belise Kariza.

This unique species of Mountain Gorillas has been listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) since 2006 and are found only in national parks across Africa, in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Today, Kwita Izina serves as a platform to celebrate the importance of conservation and the role ofsustainable tourism in protecting Africa’s rare and endangered species.

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Dialogue in  Ethiopia

Dialogue in Ethiopia

Envoy Discusses with the Regional President Employment Opportunities for

Sri Lankans in Tigray Region

The Asia Pacific Group of Ambassadors representing Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka had a 3-day visit to Mekelle, capital of the Tigray Regional State of Ethiopia on an invitation extended by the President of the Regional Government from 04 October 2019.

The programme included visits to industrial park in Mekelle, the historical Al-Nejashi mosque, and Mekelle University, and meetings with the Chair of the Regional Investment Commission, Chair of the Cultural and Tourism Bureau of Tigray and officials of the Tigray Regional Government.

Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the African Union Commission Sumith Dassanayake had a meeting with the President of Tigray Regional State, Dr. Debretsion Gebremichael. The Ambassador sought more employment opportunities for Sri Lankan nationals at the industrial parks in the Tigray region. He also briefed the Regional President on the political and economic developments taking place in Sri Lanka.

Ambassador Sumith Dassanayake also requested the assistance of the regional Government to attract Ethiopian investors and tourists to Sri Lanka.
The President assured more opportunities for Sri Lankans and requested the Ambassador to arrange a high level business delegation from Sri Lanka to visit his region. He also informed that opportunities are available for investment in the fields of energy, mineral industries and agro business. Concluding the visit, the envoys attended a joint press briefing chaired by the Regional President.

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No more  anger or hate

No more anger or hate

Lewis Allen speaks the language of Love after tragic Easter experience

Lewis Allen, prominent international gem dealer visited Sri Lanka as the Guest of Honour for the FACETS International Gem and Jewellery Exhibition. His speech at the opening ceremony echoed the deepest feelings of love, empathy and forgiveness that are needed today in the aftermath of a tragedy, which many are yet to come to terms with. Extracts from his speech have been transcribed below to share the message among all.

The message that I want to convey today is that love and peace conquers everything. The world has enough hate, and the world has enough war, and the world has enough division, but I think all we can learn from the attacks on Easter Sunday on April 21is that if you fill your heart with love, then that conquers all the darkness in the world. After the tragedy I received many emails from relatives and friends asking, “How can people do this?” “How can people have so much disregard for other lives?” I also got so many emails filled with hate and anger, and some asked me “How can you ever go back to Sri Lanka?”

My answer was that I love Sri Lanka and my family loves Sri Lanka, and that the world doesn’t need any more anger, the world does not need any more hate. The world needs more love. If the people responsible for the tragic events of Easter Sunday had more love in their lives, they would not have done this.

I think it’s a blessing that my son Jason is still here; he was sitting next to my wife Monique when the suicide bomber blew himself up at the Cinnamon Grand breakfast. I believe that the universe and the world has big plans for my son Jason, and that kept him here because love conquers everything. As long as we treat people with love and respect then things like this will never happen.

Children’s hospital

I have always loved this country. It has a big history and it has helped me spiritually as well as in my business life. My friends here opened their homes after the tragedy and helped me to have the ceremony for my wife. They also helped me take care of the children and get Jason out of the hospital. They were by my side the whole time at the hospital when I was looking for my wife and son.

I have had so much of success selling Sri Lankan gems, and I wanted to give back to the country. So I approached some of my friends here with the idea of building a school in Ratnapura. However, they informed me that the area could really use a children’s hospital because there was no such hospital in Ratnapura. The poor sick children were often kept on the floor of the general hospital. So we came up with the idea to build it together with a few friends from the gem industry. It took a year and we opened the hospital on the 30th of June 2017.

My wife was never able to come to the hospital because the children had exams and other commitments. So on the Saturday before the Easter attacks we were in Ratnapura and we had gone up to the roof of the hospital, which has two floors and 107 beds, and we had the foundation to build the 3rd and 4th floors. We were talking about this addition. The head doctor told us that since the opening there had been 13,100 children treated at the hospital. The area had suffered a dengue epidemic and the doctor said that 3000 or so children had been treated.

My wife heard this and she was so happy. Throughout the drive back to Colombo she kept telling me about how proud she was of me and Punsiri and Priyantha and Subash and my friends for helping to make this world a better place and she kept asking me, “Are you going to build that 3rd floor?” and I said “Yes, I already talked to Punsiri about it and
we’re going to build that 3rd floor”.

Sunday breakfast

And then on Sunday morning she went down for breakfast at the Cinnamon Grand. That was our favourite hotel and my wife loved the Sunday breakfast there, and before she left for breakfast she said again, “I’m so proud of you and your friends in Sri Lanka for helping to make this world a better place, and you’re going to build that 3rd floor” and I said “Yes Monique, I’m going to build the 3rd floor, we’re going to do it”. About a half hour later a suicide bomber walked into the breakfast and my whole life changed.
But the blessing is that Jason was sitting next to my wife and he only suffered minor injuries. He’s here to help make this world a better place. And this country is going to come back stronger with more love and with more unity. Ever since I’ve been coming to Sri Lanka all the different people, and languages and religions, all my friends, Sinhalese, Muslim, Tamil, they’ve all got along in perfect harmony.

A part of the magic of Sri Lanka is that everyone can live together. Even yesterday when we were driving from the airport and I saw the lights on, and the traffic, and people working, I told my son Jason, “You see, life goes on, people get back to work. We’re all the same, all we want to do is provide for our families, take care of our loved ones and be happy and have a nice peaceful life”. So God bless Sri Lanka and its people, and I’m sure that love and peace conquers everything. Thank you.”

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Leaving it  to Chance

Leaving it to Chance

Lasantha Amarasinghe took every hurdle as an opportunity

Large, spacious, yet also compact, The Chance Sports, located at the YMBA Colombo, is less an outlet than a gallery. Whatever the sport, whoever the player, it promises to deliver the right stuff, a promise it has kept for well over two decades. Given the immense contribution it has made to the sports gear industry (an industry, one must add, that has, historically, never thrived in the country), OSL Magazine decided to track down its founder, get his story, and identify just what the philosophy driving him and his business was and is. For it is true that businesses can collapse and with them business empires, but the story of their founding, and undoing, tends to outlast their survival and end. Lasantha Amarasinghe, cricketer, coach, now entrepreneur and in many ways philanthropist, the founder of The Chance Sports, would no doubt agree. “The problem,” he tells us right at the start, “is that we prefer to take than to give.”

Coaching

Lasantha’s story begins in the late 80s. Having played for Isipathana College and done his O Levels, he felt he had to pursue his passion for cricket. While waiting for his results, he got enrolled at the Colombo Cricket Club, where he played under Roger Wijesuriya, Charith Senanayake, Ashley Silva, Roy Dias, Asanka Seneviratne, Roshan Mahanama, and Jerome Jayaratne. He played the whole range of Divisions 3, 2 and 1, when Roshan Mahanama observed the skill with which he played and took him under his wing.

“The CCC was pretty much an elitist outfit back then. You had these players from Royal, S. Thomas’, St Peter’s, and St Joseph’s dominating the picture. Sure, we had players from Ananda, Nalanda, and the Central Colleges as well, but they came later. Conversations were mostly in English, and players were ranked according to the school they came from. In that sense I was an outsider. A person like me could be subordinated to a low position. Fortunately, given that I played rather well, they let me stay up.”

At that time, Roy Dias invited him to join his personal coaching class. He did the coaching examination in 1989, and gained the opportunity to coach under, and with Roy Dias, Rumesh Ratnayake, Amal Silva, Devaka Mahanama, Roshan Mahanama and Lionel Mendis. Later he began to coach on his own, individually, for companies, schools and clubs, a career of 30 years.

Soon enough, Lasantha got to fulfil every up-and-coming player’s dream: a tour to India in 1994. Without beating around the bush he says that the experience was “eye-opening”, and not because of the picturesque landscapes and cultural sites. “There were shops selling top class sports gear in the cities. I hadn’t realised how important it was for a cricketing nation like ours to have a thriving sports gear industry. Unless you had money or big connections, it was impossible for an aspiring player like me to buy the right stuff. That was when I decided that, come what may, I’d step in and fill the need myself back home.” Not that he gave up his idea of becoming a coach, but as they say, greener pastures beckoned him on: “I figured out that I’d be contributing a lot more.” After all, there were players and coaches already, enough and more of them.

Risky investment

The Chance Sports began in 1997. It was, from the start, a risky investment, “because no one had done it.” If Lasantha wasn’t exactly a pioneer there, he was in the least an innovator “filling a gap.” With virtually no experience in the field of business, however (except for a course in Management), Lasantha fell headlong into a never-ending series of mishaps, misadventures, and misdemeanours. The experience was worth it, but reflecting on them now, he almost seems embittered. While we talk, his assistants come and ask him a question or two. Ever mindful of business affairs he attends to them, only to come back to us quickly; a habit he no doubt picked up in those first 10 years, “when I learnt that in Sri Lanka, if you are a small time business owner, you need to wade through tough times, tough people, and tough misadventures.”

What happened? “We didn’t have social media back then. There were no CCTV cameras. No smartphones and no way of connecting with people. Thus it was an easy time for robbery, pilferage, theft, corruption. I saw enough and more of them while running my shop. Forget theft, forget pilferage; the levels of corruption and nepotism I had to endure, the hiking debts I had to meet, and the lack if not downright absence of empathy from many of those other businessmen I’d helped over the years, was, to say the least, disappointing. Soon enough I found myself in debt to the tune of more than LKR 40 million. Ironically, many of those debts were in the hands of top level or highly successful medium level business owners. I can’t mention names, but I can and will say they are prospering heavily now. Back then they ignored me. And at my time of need, they failed to help me. I harbour no grudge, but I remember.”

In that sense Lasantha took up every hurdle he had to face as an opportunity, even an advantage; not long afterwards he was at it again, only to be pulled down again (when a fashion store undercut prices) and to start his shop anew. Needless to say The Chance Sports of today is not The Chance Sports of 22 years ago, a point Lasantha, by implication, firmly underscores and puts across to us. What is important to him is that this did not become an excuse for him to not help others: “No one was there for me when my business was making losses, but once I got off the ground, I did my best to help everyone, even those who’d tried to undercut me. I do not like to boast, but I feel that those in business should try to give as well as to take.”

Free ride

Which brings us to his next big point: the absence of charity and charisma among even the most renowned, awarded, and highly ranked blue-chip businesses in Sri Lanka. “We at The Chance Sports prioritise several CSR projects, including donations to children’s villages, orphanages, temples, churches, and so on. We do so indiscriminately, not because we crave for publicity but because we honestly and sincerely feel that businesses do not engage with their society enough. The project that’s closest to my heart is our cricket scholarship programme. So far we’ve given bursaries in the form of gear to hundreds of gifted school players. I put my heart and soul into it because it’s a cause I’ve been close to ever since I started as a coach. Believe me, we have talent. What we need are those in positions of power, in business or politics, to come forward and help those talents come out and thrive. Unfortunately for us, this is not happening.”

And why? For Lasantha, the reason is quite simple: “Governments keep on promoting the myth that it owes the people a free ride.” In other words, doling out has become the order of the day. “This saps into entrepreneurship. What happens is that top business leaders, a good proportion of them, do the bare minimum to help the less well off, and the government perpetuates the convenient fiction that it’s there to serve the people free meals.” No one, at least the way Lasantha sees it, tells us the hard truths that need to be told: “That we need to work hard, we need to pick up skills, and we need to make the hard yards.” According to him, a man’s journey really begins with his O Levels: “If you fail those exams, and you don’t feel like continuing with your A Levels, the solution is simple: get into vocational training, pick up any skill, from plumbing to carpentry to repair work, and prosper. If you do your A Levels and enter University, well, good for you, but ensure you end up with the right boss.”

In an article published in 1961, the American sociologist Bryce Ryan argued that over here, the dominant work ethic was defined and determined by certain peculiar criteria, including the belief in the superiority of employment in government service and inferiority of manual employment.

Trishaw economy

He further pointed out that the priority was not money, despite the prevalence of a lower middle class, but status. In other words, status, not economic considerations, determined employment and education choices. Decades later, can we say that the situation has changed? Yes and no: while the motivation to earn higher salaries is greater than it would have been in Ryan’s day, the belief that one must not be engaged in manual labour still, in a large way, persists. Lasantha offers his two cents on this: “Personally, I think the first obstacle for any aspiring businessman is his mother. She cajoles him away from vocational training and bemoans it if he’s working at night. Our mothers don’t want us to become carpenters, plumbers, and repairmen: they want us to enter the usual so-called lucrative fields.”
This has, unfortunately, resulted in a conundrum: “While fewer and fewer young people get into manual employment, the less fortunate and less endowed among them tend to pick out jobs as trishaw drivers. The government has not looked into regulating and ensuring quality in such industries, so what happens is that these youngsters waste away the better part of their lives in professions where they cannot fully tap into their potential.” The solution, as always, is to tap into vocational training, but “the government, whatever the party, has never really prioritised that. Speaking for myself, we need a lot of reforms done if we are to go ahead. We need to teach our children English, properly. We need to teach them to behave, to be courteous. We talk of becoming another Singapore. But without changing ourselves, can we?” For Lasantha, moreover, people have found a convenient scapegoat here: in the politician.

“Attacking the 225 in parliament has become a trend. My view is that they are all overworked and they do their bit, though they are no innocents. On the other hand, those who ought to get the blame walk away scot-free. Like public sector workers, many of whom tend to strike even though they were educated, trained, and hired at public expense. Or even certain popular business figures, whom I can’t mention here. It’s easy to blame the 225 because they are right there at the top. But they are merely scapegoats; that’s it. True, they’ve taken this country down the wrong path through these decades. And I’m not talking about one party or person here. But we’re missing the bigger picture.”

Lasantha reflects on the state of the economy, for which he blames the politician: “We had a magnificent opportunity in 2009. We could have opted to stabilise the rupee and industrialise, instead of pouring in millions and billions to mega-development projects which ended up reducing our foreign reserves. Sadly, we didn’t. See where we are now? That’s why policymaking needs to improve, and on ALL fronts.”

He concludes by telling us that The Chance Sports will be opening a new, three-story showroom, the biggest in the country, at the Cycle Bazaar in Borella, on 7 December. He extends an invitation for everyone to join him there.

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