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Meet Gandhi of Sri Lanka: AT Ariyaratne

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Sri Lankan
Photo: sarvodya.org

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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US Restricts Visas for Cambodians ‘Undermining Democracy’

As a response to anti-democratic actions, Trump administration restrict VISA for Cambodians

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Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends a ceremony at the Angkor Wat temple to pray for peace and stability in Cambodia, Dec. 3, 2017.

The Trump administration announced Wednesday it will restrict visas for Cambodians “undermining democracy” in the Southeast Asian nation following the dissolution of the main opposition party and a crackdown on independent media.

The State Department said it was a direct response to “anti-democratic actions” by the Cambodian government but did not disclose which individuals would be affected. It said visa records are confidential under U.S. law.

Spokeswoman Heather Nauert called on the Cambodian government to reinstate the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was dissolved by Supreme Court order last month, and free its leader Kem Sokha, imprisoned since September. She also urged Cambodia to allow civil society and media to operate freely.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power for more than three decades, has sought to neutralize political opponents and silence critics ahead of national elections next year. Kem Sokha has been charged with trying to topple the government with U.S. support, which Washington has said is a baseless accusation.

Supporters of Kem Sokha, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, stand outside the Appeal Court during a bail hearing for the jailed opposition leader in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Sept. 26, 2017.

Nauert said Cambodia’s actions run counter to the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991. The United States and 18 other governments signed the accords, which ushered in democracy after the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s, then occupation by Vietnam and civil war.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will restrict entry into the United States of “those individuals involved in undermining democracy in Cambodia,” Nauert said in a statement, adding that in certain circumstances, family members of those individuals will also be subject to visa restrictions. The department cited a provision of U.S. immigration law under which individuals can be denied entry if the secretary determines it would have “adverse foreign policy consequences.”

The White House has already terminated U.S. support of Cambodia’s national election committee, saying last month that the July 2018 vote “will not be legitimate, free or fair.”

“We will continue to monitor the situation and take additional steps as necessary, while maintaining our close and enduring ties with the people of Cambodia,” Nauert said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks during a press availability at NATO in Brussels, Belgium, Dec. 6, 2017.

​Monovithya Kem, an opposition spokeswoman currently in the U.S., welcomed the visa restrictions and called for targeted financial sanctions on senior officials in Hun Sen’s government. Kem, who is the daughter of Kem Sokha, urged the U.S., Japan, Australia and the European Union to coordinate responses to the “crisis” in Cambodia and help win her father’s freedom.

Like many prominent opposition figures, Kem has fled Cambodia as she fears arrest.

Hun Sen has been in office since 1985 and has held a tight grip on power since ousting a co-prime minister in a bloody 1997 coup.

In recent months, the government has intensified restrictions on civil society groups and independent media outlets. In September, it shut down the English-language Cambodia Daily. Authorities have shuttered radio stations that aired programming from U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, whose reports they allege are biased.

The government also expelled the U.S. National Democratic Institute, which helped train political parties and election monitors, accusing it of colluding with its opponents.

Hun Sen has moved Cambodia closer to China in recent years and become increasingly critical of Washington. However, he’s been complimentary of President Donald Trump.

Speaking at Asian leaders’ summit attended by Trump last month, Hun Sen praised the U.S. leader for non-interference in affairs of other nations, but complained the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia was not adhering to the policy. (VOA)

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India sends Emergency Fuel Supplies to Sri Lanka

According to Indian public broadcaster Doordarshan, Modi assured all assistance from India to Sri Lanka following Siriena's request for emergency fuel supplies and petrol shipments.

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emergency fuel supplies
India is sending additional fuel to Sri Lanka, confirmed PMO onTwitter (representative image) Wikimedia

New Delhi, November 9, 2017 : Following reports of Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) rejecting a shipment of petrol from Lanka IOC (LIOC), the Sri Lankan subsidiary of Indian Oil, India on Wednesday made emergency fuel supplies to Sri Lanka following a telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena.

“In the telephone conversation with Sri Lankan President @MaithripalaS, PM @narendramodi conveyed that India is sending additional fuel to Sri Lanka and assured India’s continued support for development cooperation,” the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) tweeted.

According to Indian public broadcaster Doordarshan, Modi assured all assistance from India to Sri Lanka following Siriena’s request for emergency fuel supplies and petrol shipments.

LIOC has made available 3,500 kilo litres of its own stock to CPC, Doordarshan said in a shared tweet.

A ship with an additional 21,000 kilo litres of petrol also left for Sri Lanka and additional petrol is being made available from Kochi refinery in Kerala.

Citing CPC sources, the Sunday Times said an emergency fuel supplies’ shipment that arrived at the Colombo harbour on October 17 had been tested for a second time and rejected on a quality test.

However, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he did not agree that LIOC was responsible for the current fuel shortage in the country and said two oil shipments would be arriving in the country within two day, acording to a report in the Colombo Page.

“Apart from petrol shipment arriving on November 8, another shipment is due from India on November 9, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe informed the parliament on Tuesday responding to a question raised in the parliament regarding the fuel crisis,” the statement said.

It said that Wikremesinghe said a discussion was held with the Indian High Commissioner in this regard and the Indian ship would arrive either November 9 or 10. (IANS)

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Top 5 Affordable Travel Destinations where Money will be the Last Thing on your Mind!

Indian currency seems weak when compared to international currencies. Hence, planning a trip to New York or California is not easy

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affordable travel destinations
Japan will have your heart at first sight! Pixabay

How many times has it happened that you longed for an exotic foreign trip, but gave up on the idea because of upsetting figures in your bank balance? Indian currency seems weak when compared to international currencies. Hence, planning a trip to New York or California is not easy; everybody knows these are expensive places and you will have to think twice before your NYC dreams come true.

But what if we tell you there are countries in the world that you can visit and gather equally thrilling and exotic experiences, at much lesser price?

Yes, there are countries that can be on your travel bucket list, where money will be the last thing you will worry about! These places are not only unique and undoubtedly beautiful, they are relatively cheap and our Indian currency will prove a stronger, higher currency when compared to their own currencies!

So, what are you waiting for? We bring you our top 5 picks for affordable travel destinations and you should get packing!

 1. SRI LANKA

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 2.37 LKR (Sri Lankan Rupee)*

Sri Lanka is the first in our affordable travel destinations list!

affordable travel destinations
Sri Lankan beaches are a sight not to be missed. Pixabay

Despite being extremely small in size, Sri Lanka is a heavenly abode that makes it to the post of top five biodiversity hotspots in the world!

Dive in with the blue whales or watch spinner dolphins play against the setting sun! Go on a wildlife safari and spend days playing with elephants in the water.

affordable travel destinations
Elephant safari in Sri Lanka. Pixabay

Sri Lanka is a haven for back-packers, packed with Dutch architecture from the times of Sri Lanka colonialists, and exotic scenic locales, it is closer to home and yet, everything that any far-off international destination could possibly offer!

 

 2. JAPAN

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 1.70 JPY (Japanese Yen)*

Cute buildings, cute people, cute food, and cute everything else! Second on our list of affordable travel destinations is Japan.

Food is an integral part of Japan, and something that the Japanese wholly embrace as a prime part of life.

Japan’s history is intrinsically linked to the Buddhist, Shinto, and Taoist faiths- the reason why a visit to Japan will be no less than a serene and tranquil experience.

affordable travel destinations
Japan will have your heart at first sight! Pixabay

Japan is categorically blessed with natural beauty with the country boasting of extremely rare and fascinating flora and fauna – experience the magnificence of Mt. Fuji in summer and spring, and visit the streets completely covered with cherry blossoms in March and April- Japan will present you with sights that will simply take your breath away!

 

 3. ICELAND

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 1.66 ISK (Icelandic Króna)*

Iceland convincingly makes it to the third spot on our affordable travel destinations list. Iceland is situated just below the Arctic Circle, which means the country has 24-hour daylight from mid-May to late July. Isn’t that already stimulating?

And who hasn’t heard of Iceland’s famous northern lights? The county is undoubtedly one of the world’s best places to witness the magic of the northern lights or aurora borealis. The best time to witness the magic of these celestial marvels from September to mid-April.

affordable travel destinations
The northern lights, do they even look real? Pixabay

Iceland’s rich water supply is undoubtedly its most valuable natural resource. Why are we telling you about this? Iceland has natural pools that can be found all around the country, calmly seated in natural environment.

affordable travel destinations
Iceland has natural pools that make for magnificent sights! Pixabay

Fun fact : People of Iceland do not have surnames. They follow the traditional Nordic naming system in which a person’s name includes their father’s first name.

 

 4. HUNGARY

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 4.00 HUF (Hungarian Forint)*

From its cosmopolitan cities to the charming countryside, Hungary will provide you with innumerable reasons to make a stop here. Nonetheless, it is going to be a decision you will not regret. From mouth-watering food to traditional folk culture, Hungary offers something for everybody, which is what brings the country on the fourth spot in our affordable travel destinations list.

Hungary’s countryside is filled with naturally magnificent sights- from natural landscapes in the Hortobagy National Park, to extravagant caves of Lillafured, your Hungarian vacation will be both peaceful and beautiful!

affordable travel destinations
Szechenyi Chain Bridge. Pixabay

Hungary will be the best option if you’re looking for an affordable vacation – with affordable food, drink, and many of the country’s attractions being totally free to visit such as the Chain Bridge)

 

5. VIETNAM

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 353.78 VND (Vietnamese Dong)*

The last on the list of affordable travel destinations is Vietnam. With its fascinating history, succulent food, gorgeous beaches, old towns, islands and waters, Vietnam should definitely be on everybody’s bucket list.

affordable travel destinations
Sunrise at Vietnam is to die for! Pixabay

Street food is a trademark of Vietnam and you will find countless food stalls on street sides throughout your trip that you can gorge on! Vietnam will also not disappoint mountaineers, or adventure seekers- you can either rent a motorbike and drive to the scenic mountains in the north or along the length of the country from north to south – but beware, this thrilling ride is not for the faint-hearted.

Don’t forget to share with us if you do plan a trip to any of these places!

* Conversion rates are subject to change.