2nd September 2001
Sports| Mirror Magazine
By Dilrukshi HandunnettiThe Young Learners' Centre at the British Council throbbed with life as we entered, children happily flitting about in colourful costumes. And despite their tender years, they showed much commitment to their 'theatre' cause as they rehearsed, the clicking camera being the only source of distraction.
To celebrate the second anniversary of the YLC, Workshop director and popular dramatist Palitha Silva selected an Oxford play script by Adrian Flynn to whet their appetite for the world of serious drama.
"Hot Cakes" has a serious undertone, but it is certainly not geared to cater to adults alone. There's a lot of meaning contained in this for our youngsters, points to ponder over when they have to suddenly grapple with life's hard knocks," says director Silva.
Flynn's story centres round Maria, a young girl who attempts to run the family business-a bakery with the help of her friends when her parents seek a divorce. The family break-up prevents the parents from continuing the business and young Maria steps into 'adult' shoes to keep home fires burning. Her little friends come to her aid, eager to assist her efforts. But trouble surfaces at a crucial juncture.
According to Palitha, the story is about children who brave life despite their emotional scars, the sudden changes that take place in their lives following the breakdown of the family unit resulting in instability and vulnerability in their young lives.
" Many might believe the theme is too adult- but instead of dealing with make believe stories, we opted for something which would make our future generation turn the searchlight inwards."
Sonari Suriarachchi(13) who plays Maria said that she was proud of the fact that she was entrusted with the lead role.
"There is so much we could do in our characters," she said.
Dinendri Indratissa who plays Clare has acted in many similar stage plays but rates "Hot Cakes" as the most significant production. " I have done drama for a while, but this is the first time that we have done so much of exercises in preparation for a play. This makes it easy to concentrate, get our lines right, and to project what we are expected to project," notes Dinendri.
Head of the Young Learners' Centre, Ranmali de Silva said she was very happy with the output of these children. The young learners' theatre group includes an enthusiastic bunch of 30 children with a passion for the theatre
The cast also includes Kishari, Adila, Kavinda, Devaka, Suchitta, Sheshadri, Vidula, Deepthika, Mithila, Telara, Shenella and others.
The sets and props are by Sahan, Krishantha, Rovina, Rashmini and others.
Ranawana from the British Council handled the lighting while Miriam Gooneratne designed the costumes.
"Hot Cakes" will be staged for members and invitees on September 7 and
8 followed by a public show on September 9 at the British Council, Colombo.
By Nilika de SilvaEach day more than five children drop out of school in the Valachchenai area, due to displacement and the problems brought on by the war. When the environment is suitable for them to return to their classrooms, many of them don't come back. Unable to cope with the work, and the added embarrassment of having fallen back, they opt for the easiest solution, to become permanent dropouts.
But a programme begun in January this year with funding from Save the Children, Norway and helped by the Zonal Education Department in Kalkudah hopes to arrest this trend. Three hundred children who had dropped out of school were selected to follow special classes held in various parts of the Batticaloa district, to help them return to the school room.
While the uncertainties flung at children on the margins of a war zone leaves lasting scars, the regular routine of attending school daily, is in itself a strength and security to these youngsters making their precarious way along the road to maturity.
Staff Assistant of the Zonal Education Office (Kalkudah), Valachchenai, Mr. A. Lawrence told The Sunday Times that each year some 2,000 children drop out of school.
An interesting feature of the programme is that students who have completed their schooling are selected for the job of teaching 'catch-up' classes for a monthly payment of Rs. 1,500.
While some students travel about 15 kms, children from all over Kalkudah, make their way to the 'catch-up' classes held in nine centres, i.e. schools such as Jayanthiyaya Muslim School, Kawatamuna Al Ameen Vidyalaya, Ponduwalachenai Government Tamil School and Kalmadu Vivekananda Vidyalaya.
The idea of catch-up classes first came from Noordeen Mohamed Nazeer(34), a teacher from Oddamawadi in the Batticaloa district. Seeing the handicap children faced due to missing school, Mr. Nazeer came up with the idea of starting a programme whereby the children could be guided by a non-formal method of education to reach the required standard. "After following the programme, the student would be able to rejoin school," he said. This would in other words minimise the damage suffered.
UNICEF too is joining in to play a big role.
In all 900 students, of them 415 girls, will attend the course this year, Mr. Nazeer said.
Apart from the 300 who joined the initial course another 600 students commenced classes on July 2, this year, Thirty-six teachers from the area have been enlisted for the classes which take place in various parts of the Batticaloa district including uncleared areas such as Valachchenai, or Wahara, Koralankerni and Senkaladi.
Meanwhile, a similar 'catch-up' programme is to be initiated by Save
the Children Norway in the Ampara district.
In this issue there are reviews of two Sri Lankan cases which recently received considerable publicity: the Eppawala case, and the unsuccessful challenge by well known human rights activist, Sunila Abeysekera, of the censorship regulations. Other articles include a Supreme Court decision on land acquisition, and a challenge of the defamation charge brought against the Centre for Monitoring Elections Violence (CMECV) by the Wattala Police while monitoring the local government elections in June 1999.
There are also reviews of two landmark international court cases in
South Africa and Canada. The former on the law of defamation, and the latter
on the question of whether the province of Quebec has an unilateral right
to secede from Canada. In the section on General Issues, there are several
articles which deal with matters of significance: the legality of President
Kumaratunga's "second term" ; a challenge to the patenting of 'Khomba';
Amendments to the General Law of Marriage that permits child marriages;
Discrimination in the granting of residence visas to male foreign spouses
of Sri Lankans and contradictions inherent in fundamental rights jurisdictions.
Few know what happens within those walls, for the president is secretive to the point of paranoia. He ensures that his movements remain unpredictable even to the elite Presidential Guard and the much-feared secret police of his Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
Mugabe, 77, who has torn up the rule of law, orchestrated a reign of terror and brought his country's once-strong economy close to collapse, is seldom seen in public now. His swollen neck and face are apparent evidence of steroid treatment; the talk is of prostate cancer.
But inside the palace a terrifying dialogue is going on. For the president believes himself to be haunted by the ghost of a man many believe to have been a victim of his rise to power: Josiah Tongogara, the charismatic guerrilla leader of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla).
Tongogara was widely expected to become president in 1980, with Mugabe as prime minister, but no sooner had Zanu won the independence election than Tongogara was killed in a car crash. As the African tradition of the politically convenient crash has become entrenched, so doubts have grown that the death was really an accident. Mugabe had made it clear that he wanted "total power"—and with the popular and comparatively moderate Tongogara as president, he would not have had that.
Staff at the presidential palace are seriously alarmed at the state to which Mugabe has been reduced by Tongogara's "ghost". It is said to be tormenting him with accusations that his mismanagement has destroyed the revolution for which they fought together.
In the tradition of the Shona, the Bantu-speaking people who comprise three-quarters of Zimbabwe's population, the spirits of the dead have easy contact with the living and have the power to "possess" an individual. Normally they are benevolent and protect him—but if angered they can bring sickness. Mugabe believes he is dealing with an ngozi or aggrieved spirit, a far more dangerous proposition.
The ngozi is the spirit of someone who died violently or in extreme anger or bitterness. It never finds rest until full retribution has been made; it continues to haunt until fully placated, when at last it is allowed to join the rest of the spirit world. Accordingly, Mugabe is trying his best to soothe the ghost. An extra place is set at dinner for Tongogara and food is served for him.
Presidential staff are alarmed because Mugabe has been "seeing" Tongogara for more than six months. "What we're all really worried about," said one source, "is that he might lose it altogether, like he did after Sally [his first wife] died."
The president has sought the help of nyangas (witchdoctors) far and wide, but nobody seems able to help except the Rain Goddess at Sengwa and the Oracle of Mlimo at Njelele. Since the former is Ndebele and the latter Tonga—both persecuted minority groups—neither is willing to come to his aid.
He has also sought help from the Serbian Dr Vlad Rankovic, the government psychiatrist, who is not believed to be sympathetic to the "haunting" theory behind the president's evident anxiety attacks and has prescribed anti-depressants. Mugabe, though a nominal Catholic, appears not to have sought the assistance of the church. As he ages, he seems to have returned increasingly to traditional Shona beliefs and has seldom been seen in church since his marriage to Grace, his young second wife.
His anxiety increased considerably in the weeks approaching last June's eclipse, a foretelling of evil in Shona belief. The deaths of Border Gezi, his youth minister and favourite, Moven Mahachi, the defence minister, and Hitler Hunzvi, the war veterans' leader, also unsettled him. Although he ordained a media campaign insisting that the eclipse was not a harbinger of evil, "it was the president who most needed convincing", one source said.
Awkward questions are still being asked about the car accident in which Mahachi died two months ago. There are reports that Mahachi, concerned at the destabilisation of Zimbabwe, had talked to some army leaders about the circumstances in which the military might intervene, and that news of these unwelcome conversations had reached hardline Mugabe supporters.
Grace Mugabe is believed to date the deterioration in her husband' s psychological state from the parliamentary elections last year, in which the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won nearly half the seats and gave notice of a determined challenge in the presidential election, now only eight months away.
The stress of the approaching contest should not be underestimated: Morgan Tsvangirai, the formidable MDC leader, is trying to take it all away from him. Mugabe's response has become more and more frenzied.
He has threatened the MDC torn up the law book and launched ever more vicious attacks on white farmers.
Mugabe is even suspicious of his wife. Not long after the elections he decided that Grace had been planning to abscond, taking their two children with her; opinion is divided as to whether she really had been planning to leave or not. Their relationship has still not recovered from the tremendous row and Grace has been largely confined to the presidential palace ever since. Certainly, the CIO operatives who accompany her every time she goes out to the shops or to functions have been left in little doubt that their role as bodyguards is secondary to that of ensuring that she does not leave.
There is little sympathy for her, though: "She's had her fun- and now the bill is coming in. Tough," said one source.
-The Sunday Times, London
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