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Meet Gandhi of Sri Lanka: AT Ariyaratne

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By Aanya Wipulasena

Moratuwa, Sri Lanka: The Gandhi of Sri Lanka, an 84-year-old Buddhist who has worked for nearly 60 years to bring education to rural areas, is stepping up his public role. Appointed late last year as one of three civil society representatives to Sri Lankas Constitutional Council, A. T. Ariyaratne now helps ensure democratic rule and good governance by taking a primary hand in appointing high-ranking public officials.

But the revered peace advocate remains dedicated to his grassroots efforts, which he says are steeped in his personal heritage.

I was born in a village and I know how important it is to empower people at the root level for real development, Ariyaratne says.

Ariyaratne is from Unawatuna, a small coastal village in Sri Lankas south. He became a science teacher at Nalanda College, a boys school in Colombo and, in 1958, he led a group of teachers and students in a program to help students in a remote village in Kurunegala District, in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka. That was the first of many trips by groups to help rural schools, and soon, the focus expanded from education to overall improvement of life in remote villages.

That work became Lanka Jatika Sarvodaya Shramadana Sangamaya, a social service organization known in Sri Lanka as simply Sarvodaya, which means awakening of all in Sanskrit. Ariyaratne is its founder and president.

The child development center represents just one type of Sarvodayas work. Villages submit requests for specific projects, whether a new well, medical clinic or other infrastructure or development. Projects are built by volunteers from all over the country. Sarvodaya District Centers also identify projects in needy areas.

In the process, people build bonds across religious and ethnic barriers, Ariyaratne says.

Caste, creed or religion does not affect us, he says.

For Buddhists, the Sarvodaya movement is an avenue for learning more about their religion.

A. Perera, a former additional secretary to the Ministry of Education and a former director general of the National Institute of Education, says that though he was born a Buddhist, he didnt understand the essence of Buddhism until he met Ariyaratne in Sarvodayas early years.

As a youth, Perera, now 85, joined his grandmother in worshipping at the temple every Full Moon Poya Day, which is a Buddhist religious holiday in Sri Lanka. But he only carried out these outward gestures of Buddhism, to identify as a Buddhist, rather than to live as one. Perera says his focus was earning money.

Ariyaratne, on the other hand, lived out the Buddhist principles that were preached in the temples, Perera says.

He takes Buddhist principles and applies them in daily life and communal work, Perera says.

Ariyaratnes message of serving people challenged his single-minded focus on income, Perera says.

Until I joined Ariyaratne at Sarvodaya I was finance-oriented and did not have any spiritual development, Perera says. Ariyaratne changed these attitudes in people.

Perera has been working closely with Ariyaratne since that time, both as a volunteer and, at one time, as Sarvodayas general secretary.

Ariyaratne stands apart from other social leaders because he treats everyone he meets with equal respect, says Fazrul Rahman, the senior chief moulavi (Islamic leader) of Kandy, the capital city of the Central Province and one of Sri Lankas major cities. He has been partnering with Sarvodaya for more than 15 years.

What Ariyaratne follows applies to Islam, Hinduism or Christianity alike, he says in a phone interview.

Ariyaratnes wife of 55 years, Neetha Dhammachari Ariyaratne, 73, says her husband lives out his beliefs in everyday life. Their six children grew up with children from various ethnicities and social backgrounds, she says.

Not once did he stop our children from interacting with others, she says. And the children did not need lessons of religious harmony 8211; they saw how their father did it and followed his steps.

In spite of the accolades and high position, Ariyaratne says his wish remains the same as when he began his community work more than 50 years ago.

I want everybody who comes in contact with me to look at the world and society with loving kindness, he says. Then translate that loving kindness into compassionate activities.

(The story originally appeared in bignewsnetwork.com)

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North Korea warns US to Not Misread Peace Overtures as Weakness

North Korea has warned the United States not to misread its overtures of peace as a sign of weakness, as U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un prepare to hold their first-ever summit.

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But the North Korean spokesman said Sunday that movement of U.S. military assets in the region and talk of human rights violations also have hurt the peace process.
North Korea and US agitation, VOA

North Korea has warned the United States not to misread its overtures of peace as a sign of weakness, as U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un prepare to hold their first-ever summit.

“The U.S. is deliberately provoking the DPRK at the time when the situation on the Korean Peninsula is moving toward peace and reconciliation,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told North Korean state media Sunday. DPRK — the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — is the North’s formal name.

The official was referring to U.S. claims that Trump’s policy of maximum political pressure and sanctions are what drove the North to the negotiating table.

The criticism comes weeks before the U.S.-North Korea summit planned for later this month or early June, and after last month’s historic meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Read also: Israel Warns Iran, Hints Towards a War in Middle East

At that meeting, Kim promised to work toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and to move North Korea’s clocks ahead by 30 minutes to correspond with the South Korean time zone, a pledge he fulfilled Saturday.

Beware of moving ‘back to square one’

But the North Korean spokesman said Sunday that movement of U.S. military assets in the region and talk of human rights violations also have hurt the peace process.

The official was referring to U.S. claims that Trump's policy of maximum political pressure and sanctions are what drove the North to the negotiating table.
US President, Wikimedia Commons

“This act cannot be construed otherwise than a dangerous attempt to ruin the hard-won atmosphere of dialogue and bring the situation back to square one,” he said.

Trump has indicated that the date and place of the summit have been chosen, and said he believes the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Koreas might be a good venue. Singapore was also believed to be a potential site.

Before Trump meets with Kim, Washington is hoping to gain the release of three Korean Americans accused of anti-state activities. Trump hinted that the release of Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim was in the offing.

There was no sign of an imminent release, though the men had reportedly been moved to the North Korean capital.

The White House, meanwhile, has announced a separate meeting between Trump and Moon at the White House on May 22 to “continue their close coordination on developments regarding the Korean Peninsula.” (VOA)