This post describes my first journey in 1994 when we went along with Dinali Fernando and Rapti de Silva who had agreed to work on project in Girandurukotte.

The pictures are of Dinali and Rapti and then St. Joseph’s Kegalle and Mrs Ratnayake, in retirement, and then Hindu College Trincomalee, schools that grew very familiar over the next few years.

New ventures

Next day, Monday December 6th, I dropped more books at the Matale and Peradeniya GELT Centres and addressed the Peace Corps, though where that was is not recorded. Then it was the Polgolla AUC, where the Wesley College Teacher Haig Karunaratne was visiting, perhaps to speak on using ballads in teaching English which he specialized in. I gave him a left to Colombo, but we dropped in on the way at the Katugastota Centre and both centres in Kandy, St. Sylvester’s and Hemamali, and then the Peradeniya and Gampola and Mawanella Centres. And we also visited the St. Joseph’s Centre in Kegalle where the Principal was Mrs. Ratnayake, a dedicated and capable educationist, whom I knew from having arranged a visit for her to England a few years earlier. I presume most of these visits were simply to drop books and check on work since there would not have been time to talk to students since I covered so many on this day.

I had one more night away on work that year, when I went to Rahangala with Nirmali, driven by Codipilly’s Sarath, and then on December 11th I flew to Bangkok for I was due to spend Christmas with my friend Robert Scoble in Kuala Lumpur. I got back to Colombo only late on the night of Wednesday January 12th and peregrination began the following week when Kithsiri took me on Monday the 17th to Aluwihare. We took with us the two youngsters who had agreed to work on a project the European Union was funding through the English Association, to teach English to the children of settlers in the areas opened up for cultivation through the Mahaweli Scheme.

These were Dinali Fernando, who had been a Cultural Affairs Trainee at the Council, and was not a colleague at USJP, and Rapti de Silva, the brightest of the students I had taught along with Richard for Advanced Levels after we had been sacked from S. Thomas’. She had then gone to America for her degree, but was now back in Sri Lanka, having come back to help with looking after her family. Since she was at a loose end, I snapped her up, and found her an indefatigable and conscientious worker.

We visied GELT Centres at Giriulla and Narammala and two in Kurunagala and Ibbagamuwa en route, and were warmly welcomed by Ena, whose hospitality overwhelmed the girls. Early next morning we went to the Trinco AUC for interviews and Examination and Study Board meetings and then had lunch with a Women’s Group at Elephant House, doubtless arranged by Siron. The Hindu College GELT was not in session when we dropped in after lunch, but I met the Coordinator at his house, and we then went to the Kantale Centre but could only speak to the Principal. I realized then that these distant Centres required more supervision, and also better training for the staff so they could cope with initially very low levels of English.

This describes one of the most exciting trips I did with Kithsiri, and that he should have stuck it so early in our time together is a mark of his dedication. Going to Mutur was not something many people would have done, in those days of grave LTTE threats, and the sound of gunfire that could be heard at night indicates how difficult things were. But the primitive conditions we experienced made clear how deprived the area was, and I was very glad I had gone, as Kithsiri was too.

I have no pictures of that long ago visit to Mutur, so this is of a later trip across Trincomalee Harbour when I had a full naval escort.

The Mutur adventure

Siron Rajaratnam was a very determined woman and told me on that evening in Trincomalee that she had arranged for me to conduct a seminar for teachers in Mutur, a very poor area which had to be reached by a ferry across Trincomalee Harbour. And since there was no way I could refuse her request that I go to Mutur, after she had explained how deprived the area was, next morning, after interviews at the AUC, we took the ferry. Siron came with me though she told me while we were on board that she could not swim and feared the journey. But she felt she could not let me go alone, and I still see her standing straight near the prow as we crossed the sea. Fortunately, though in those days Mutur was deemed a dangerous place since the LTTE operated from very near the town, Kithsiri too agreed to come with me.

Siron took me to the Divisional Secretary Mr Thangaraja whose quarters were primitive enough, but he had arranged a room for Kithsiri and me in an outhouse and I think he provided us with simple meals at night and in the mornings. After seeing us settled, Siron went back to Trincomalee while Thangaraja took me for a drive round town, and told me how near the LTTE was in the jungles around us. And Kithsiri told me he heard shooting in the night, though I had blissfully slept through it.

I conducted a seminar for a range of teachers including those on the GELT next day, with a class for GELT students in the morning and one for school students in the afternoon. Where we had these I have not recorded, though I have a dim memory of a very simple room. After the work I have recorded a visit to the public library and then it was back to the Divisional Secretary’s quarters, which seemed a very bleak place as dusk fell and we recalled the gunfire heard the previous night.

But there was nothing more that night, and next day I went to the Mahaweli School to check its hall, perhaps because Siron was determined to have another seminar. While we were there we heard shooting and took shelter with the Assistant Divisional Secretary before another seminar session. But then we got back to Trinco, picked up the car which had been left there,  dropped the DS at his home and then drove down to Nalanda where we spent the night at the Resthouse.

This account moves from a visit southward to our first trip together to Trincomalee. The pictures are of the walauwe at Getamanna, the first with Kithsiri though at a later date, along with Jinadasa who has served there for many years.

From South to North

After lunch at the old family house in Getamanna, I went to the Centres at Walasmulla and Weeraketiya and Tangalle and Ambalantota for brief meetings with students and to leave books. I realize now that the routine I fell into later, of having discussions with students at three Centres every day, was not appropriate now for what was important was to see as many Centres as possible, get books to them, and indicate that the Coordinators were deeply concerned about what was going on, which had not been the case previously.

In addition to those four Centres I also got to the one at Embilipitiya but it had closed by the time I got there. That night we stayed at a pleasant place called the Centaury Guest House which overlooked a reservoir. But exceptionally as to the places we stayed at, it provided driver’s quarters at no extra cost, so Kithsiri could not share the view and I therefore refrained from beer and worked solidly at the guide I was preparing to teaching the then secondary school textbook series, English Every Day.

Next morning  we left books at the Embilipitiya and Pelmadulla and Ratnapura Centres and had lunch at the Ratnapura Resthouse before getting to the Balangoda GELT to meet students. Then it was the Board of Study at Belihuloya after which we inaugurated a seminar for school students, which we ran over the next two days, getting back to Colombo on the Sunday afternoon.

On the following Tuesday, November 30th, after a talk on poetry at the National Institute of Education in the morning, and seeing the UGC Chairman along with Oranee, I set off up the coast with Kithsiri to the Wennappuwa and Marawila and Chilaw GELTs. At Puttalam which we also got to the GELT was on holiday, and the Resthouse was full, so we stayed instead at a place called the Ranketha Inn. I have not stayed at the Resthouse there, and though I think I have not missed much for it is a squat modern building, it would be nice to add it to my schedule.

Next morning we went to deliver books to the Puttalam Centre and those in  Anamaduwa and Nikaweratiya and Maho before going to the Anuradhapura AUC to talk to students and staff. I then visited the Anuradhapura and Vavuniya GELT Centres and then went to the Vavuniya AUC to meet the Coordinator. He had arranged for us to stay that night in the AUC Guesthouse, though it did not do meals so we had dinner at the Resthouse.

Next morning I spoke to the AUC students and then went to the Kekirawa and Hingurakgoda and Polonnaruwa GELTs in the afternoon to meet students and staff. Then it was on to the Trincomalee AUC which had its Board of Study late so I could make it, and I stayed again that night at Fr. Leo’s where Siron came to visit.

This is about my second GELT trip with Kithsiri, beginning with a visit to an out of the way centre, the sort of area where the course could achieve wonders.

The pictures are of Sacred Heart Convent and the Tangalle Resthouse.

A second GELT adventure

Next morning, Monday November 22nd, I set off with Kithsiri, first to the Eheliyagoda RESC where I gave a talk on teaching the poetry elements in EED and then we went to Kalawana where we picked up a bite before visiting the Centre. It was a small one, but essential, for this was an area from which very few students got into university, and they had had almost no English in school. Fortunately the coordinator was committed, and we kept the Centre going over the next few years.

From there we went on to the Matugama and the Kalutara Centres, both well run, and then spent the night at the Ambalangoda Resthouse by the beach, a beautiful old building. I did some work on more materials next morning, and also dropped books at the at the Ambalangoda Centre and then went to the Niyagama AUC to check on its Peace Corps volunteer. I went then to the Baddegama GELT Centre where the coordinator was missing, but I spoke to the students, and then I went in turn to the Centres at Southlands and Sacred Heart Convent in Galle, both very encouraging.

That night we stayed at the Weligama Resthouse which, though on the wrong side of the Galle Road looked out over the sea. Next morning I visited the Kamburupitiya AUC but Liyanage was not there so I went to his house, and then we had lunch at the Resthouse. I then went to the Education office and to Rahula but since the DELIC coordinator was not there I went to his house, so I could deliver the books I had bought for that Centre.

Then I visited the three Matara GELT Centres at St. Thomas’, Mahanama and St. Servatius, all of them well run. But by the time I got to Dikwella the Centre there was closed though I was able to speak to the Principal. All school principals were deemed the Centre Coordinators and paid an allowance for this, and most did support the Academic Coordinator actively,

That night we were at the beautifully situated Tangalle Resthouse and next day I went to the Tangalle Centre to leave books and then went to Getamanna to my father’s old house where his brother Eddie and his wife Girlie gave me lunch. Kithsiri came to love them as much as I did, and they reciprocated, for they would have him to sit at table when I ate with them, which I believe was not a courtesy they extended otherwise to drivers or other staff.

Before lunch I had gone to visit the estate at Madola which my father had bought for me and my sister a few years earlier, and where he had started training youngsters in different fields. A relation of his ran it for him, and seemed to be doing a good job though my father was keen that I should take an interest in the work and perhaps contribute to it myself through English teaching.

I describe here a complicated return after that first GELT trip, when a lot of time was wasted, reinforcing my desire to have a vehicle of my own for such journeys. The pictures are of Poramadulla MV Rikilligaskada, the Kandalama Hotel and the main hall at the Buttala AUC which was originally a Gam Udawa site.

A long return

From Welimada, on that first long journey to see GELT Centres, we went to the Polgolla AUC, dropping in at what in time became a favourite GELT, the one in a beautifully situated school at Rikilligaskada, to leave books. I spoke to the Director of the AUC, Mr Herath, a former school principal whom I later worked with in the Ministry, and whose daughter taught for me at the Sabaragamuwa AUC when I became Professor of Languages there. After addressing the few students there, for it was not a popular AUC, I visited six GELT centres in Kandy and Matale, though I did not spend much time in them but simply delivered the books for the course. And that night, since Ena was not in residence at Alu yet, we spent the night at the Matale Resthouse which we always associated thereafter with a splendid lemon pudding they provided.

Next day I had a different item on the agenda, for I had been in touch with Aitken Spence about Corporate Social Responsibility with regard to the hotel they were building in Kandalama. They had had to face some opposition, and their claim that employment would be provided to the youngsters of the area did not find credence, on the grounds that the children were not taught English and would therefore not be taken on even for basic service.

So they thought of working to improve English teaching in the area, and I met their representatives in Dambulla and visited a few schools and met some teachers. They did hire some of them to provide free English classes after schools, using the simple primary level material we had produced while I was at the Council, but I do not think the programme was sustained enough for any great impact.

In the afternoon I went to Alu, after we had lunch at her second Restaurant, K2 as she termed it, by the main road, and Kithsiri then left. I stayed on for a blissful two nights at Alu though Ena arrived only on the next day. She had been keen I meet the friend she had gone to Colombo to bring, Paulina Dupont Dean who had been a great companion when she was working in the British Virgin Islands.

That was the weekend, and then on the Monday I left early in a lorry Ena had hired for me, taking along carts to distribute to schools on a project we were implementing, funded by the Australians, to provide-mini-libraries, The colourful carts, which could be trundled along, were the cupboards for the books that were supplied.

That trip ended at the Buttala AUC and I got to Colombo with the Director, who however stopped all the time including more than once for what he termed a small drink. I stayed in the van throughout, and could not be angry for he was an amiable soul, but I decided that would be the last time I depended on the kindness of strangers and that henceforth I would make my own arrangements for transport.

Writing up these travels brings back to me the sheer joy of my work on the GELT, the long drives all over the country and the intensity of my afternoon schedule, trying to cram in as much as possible.

That first trip epitomized the range I covered, for though I tried to see three centres near each other, in between I travelled long distances to make the best use of my mornings, though in some cases I was also able to do other work, at AUCs or with Departments of Education all over the country.

The picture is of the Talawakelle Resthouse, looking much more attractive than I recall. Unfortunately there is no picture of the pleasant Badulla Resthouse on the internet.

The GELT Centre schedule

On that first GELT Centre inspection trip we went fro Hanwella to Ruwanwella, which I have noted was good, and then went on to Hatton, only to find the Resthouse full. But Talawakelle was near enough for us to get to and find a room and, though not as nice as Hatton, the Resthouse was perfectly comfortable. And Kithsiri was quite content to watch television while I prepared some drafts for lesson materials.

We left in time to get to the Rahangala AUC next morning to meet students and staff, and then had lunch at the Badulla Resthouse, which provided us with turkey curry, something I have not found at any other Resthouse, and not even at Badulla afterwards. I suspect one of the turkeys they had on the premises has died, and they had made good use of it. It was certainly a very good lunch.

And then intense driving for Kithsiri commenced, for that afternoon I went to the Badulla and Bandarawela and Welimada GELTs, though the last of these had finished by the time I got there. At the first the Coordinator was only just in time, but the second I have recorded was good. And exhausted then we stayed that night at a guesthouse in Welimada, the Welimada Paradise Inn, going next morning to the Divisional Office where the Coordinator worked to try to meet her. She was out but I left books for her, and though I was disappointed later I felt that she was amongst our better coordinators, and did a good job too with regard to English in the District.

It was after that experience that Kithsiri and I developed to a fine art a system of seeing three centres in a day, getting to the first even before it was supposed to start, at 2 pm, so I could talk to the students, dashing off to the next, and then leaving that to get to the last just before 4.30 when it closed. I would of course keep students and staff on, though letting anyone go if they needed to catch a bus.

Kithsiri would later tell me how students would skulk to avoid me at the beginning of the course, but at the end they would be quite bold about speaking, which he attributed to not just the skills the course bestowed but the confidence we engendered. Much of this was because of the Speech course Oranee had devised, and the projects she initiated, which we said should be presented orally, a challenge to which students lived up admirably.

This post describes, after another journey with another Codipilly driver, my first journey to look at GELT Centres in operation. The pictures are of the Medawachchiya Resthouse, not too bad for a relatively new building, and the beautiful old Hanwella Resthouse.

The beginning of GELT inspections

We got back to Colombo next afternoon after that night at the Ruhuna University Guesthouse, after visiting the Niyagama AUC and then having  lunch at the Monis establishment at Maggona which had been a byword for rusks when I was a child. Kithsiri I found was easy about meals, quite happy to eat whatever we could pick up during the day, though he did full justice to the filling meals we would order in the different resthouses where we stayed. I made it a point then, with someone who did not really mind about the quality of food and accommodation, to try to stay in as many Resthouses as possible, though we also soon identified which were a joy to visit, for scenery or food or sometimes for the helpfulness of the staff – as with the ancient figure we met in the Ambalangoda Resthouse, a beautiful building that was later destroyed, whom we then came across, bewailing the days of the British, at the Saranga Inn at Wellawaya.

But my next trip in a Codipilly vehicle was with yet another driver, Sarath who was also very good, up to Vavuniya for a seminar for teachers I had agreed to conduct along with Nirmali Hettiarachchi and Paru Nagasunderam, stalwarts of the new programmes. We went through Anuradhapura, for a Board of Studies meeting at the AUC, and then got to Vavuniya to find that the accommodation arranged for us at the Agriculture Bungalow was quite awful, with dreadful toilets I could not expect the ladies to use. The Vavuniya Resthouse too was a dump where I could not ask the ladies to stay, so we went back to Medawachchiya and had three comfortable nights there, going in to Vavuniya every morning for a full day’s work – including being chief guest one afternoon at an English Day at the Convent, which also happened to be a GELT Centre.

I asked Mrs Codipilly for Kithsiri on a regular basis after that, which also worked out fine for the firm could then keep its experienced drivers for tourist work. And so when the GELT finally began, in November 1993, it was with Kithsiri that I began my inspection of its various centres round the country.

My schedule for the inspection of GELT Centres that I embarked on was intense, but this was only in the afternoons, which was when the GELT classes were held, in schools after the students had left. So on Wednesday November 10th I left with Kithsiri, after a meeting of English Instructors at USJP and then a Faculty Meeting, in time to have lunch at the Hanwella Resthouse and then get to the Hanwella GELT Centre by 2 o’clock. But the Coordinator was late, and the paucity of students made me wonder about this Centre which indeed we closed after the end of this course.

After a journey with another Codipilly driver, I record here my first longer trip with Kithsiri. This included a stay at the beautiful Ruhuna University Guesthouse high above the sea, with a bath after we had clambered down the rocks.

The pictures are of Ruhuna University, not the Guesthouse, but an even better example of Bawa architecture, the Moneragala Education Office and the Habarana Resthouse, all beautiful buildings.

The Ruhuna University Guesthouse

I asked for Kithsiri the next time I needed a car from Codipilly, but he was not available and instead I had Palitha, who was however the best and most congenial of the other drivers. That was a very long trip, which took in the Sammanthurai and Trincomalee AUCs, and education officers en route, with nights in Amparai and Moneragala and Habarana and at Father Leo’s orphanage in Trincomalee which was where the AUC Director Siron Rajaratnam housed me when possible. In Moneragala, I recall, I tried before we got to the Resthouse to see the Education Director at his house. It was behind the Education office, down a winding path under tall trees, and I was wondering whether I was lost when I found a security point where a youngster  had to stand guard on his own. But he told me that the Director was away, so I had to head back in gathering dusk to the car where Palitha was patiently waiting.

It was on the way back from Trincomalee, when we stopped at Aluwihare for lunch, that I realized that, obliging as Palitha was, he was very much a traditional tourist driver. He told me, having seen what Ena produced with some awe, that he told tourists he was taking around that the place was closed, for the tourist driver circuit avoided her place since she did not give them the massive commissions they got from sales in other places. 

But three days later I got Kithsiri again, for another trip to the Kamburupitiya AUC. I took with me Mr Saparamadu, the principal administrator in the GELToffice, for the course was due to begin and we checked on the schools where we had centres in Kalutara and Galle. He then headed back while I spoke to the AUC students and then, after lunch at the Matara Resthouse, went on to the District English Language Improvement Centre at Rahula, where the Coordinator Mr Pushpananda was an avid proponent of our books.

I was due to visit Niyagama the next day and Razzaq had arranged for me to stay at the Ruhuna University guesthouse, a beautiful Bawa building overlooking the sea, high on a hill opposite the university itself. And then began what I can only describe as the lyrical evenings of leisure I had with Kithsiri during our hardworking journeys over the next decade.

We had got to the guesthouse early, and had time to clamber down the rocks to the sea for a bath while there was still bright light. Then however I had to get to the District Education Office to meet the Director, Karunapala de Silva, who was also impressed by the work we were doing for teachers. And then after a beer in the picturesque guesthouse, we were served a fabulous dinner by the keeper, Sunil whose speciality was half a roast chicken with a plethora of vegetables.

This post recounts my first meeting with Kithsiri, when he took me to two of the AUCs I had not known before. The pictures are of the AUCs in the south, transformed now into the Agriculture Faculty of Ruhuna University and the National Vocational Training Institute, Niyagama

A first serendipitous trip

Fortunately I knew something of the GELT rogramme already when I was appointed to coordinate it, for I had produced supplementary materials for it when it was first set up in 1988. But while its first coordinator, Wilfred Jayasuriya, had set up an impressive network of centres, over 100 I think when we took over, the content of the course left much to be desired.

In addition to changing this, which was not at all difficult given the effectiveness of the AUC course we were implementing this, I had too to monitor work at the Centres, since it was clear from simply examining attendance records that, while some centres were doing a good job, others were not giving anything of value to the students. And so I decided that, with Oranee well able to look after the office work, I should make it a point to visit all the Centres I could get to.  

But the GELT course had not yet begun when I made my first trip with Kithsiri. That, on September 22nd 1993 was to see for the first time the two AUCs in the southern provice.

Kithsiri worked at the time for Jerome Codipilly, who was the most reliable of those who had provided the British Council with transport. He was recommended as such by our receptionist, Reggie Bolling, when I needed a vehicle for some project work I had undertaken through the English Association, and I found his drivers entirely reliable. They were also – with one exception – polite and helpful, for Codipilly trained them well.

It was fortuitous however that I got Kithsiri. I had called Mrs Codipilly, who looked after things in Colombo when Jerome was away, to ask for a vehicle, but she said none were available, or rather that there was no driver. But five minutes after she had rung off, she called again to say she had an excellent driver but he spoke no English. Since only I was travelling, I said that was no problem, and early the next morning Kithsiri turned up.

He looked about fifteen but Mrs Codipilly has assured me that, though young, he was an excellent driver. And so he was, while since he was in fact their resident mechanic, he could deal with small and even big problems that sprang up in any vehicle he was driving. And having lived with the Codipillys for years, he was extremely helpful, totally wiling to carry the books which I had to deliver for the courses we had started.

We managed with some difficulty to find the AUC at Niyagama and, after I spoke to the Director, a simple soul called Razzaq, and the more sophisticated English coordinator, we went on to the Kamburupitiya AUC which occupied the old Gam Udawa premises. The coordinator there, Liyanage, was in fact connected to me, and was extremely conscientious. I then went on to see one of the GELT coordinators who had impressed me, Mrs Nizam in Matara, before before returning to Colombo with a student though from where he was I cannot recall.

Having finished the record of my travels while at Oxford, I start a new series today to alternate with my travels within Sri Lanka while I worked at the Council. I am still dealing with what I did in the eighties in those posts, but I move now to the nineties, and a new dimension to the work I was doing when, in 1993, I was asked to undertake a great deal more.

What made this all very easy was my great joy in travel, enjoying again and again the sheer beauty of this country. And this was enhanced by the best of travelling companions whom I found by chance in the latter part of 1993.

The pictures are of those who initiated and contributed massively to the programmes I worked on, Arjuna Aluwihare, Mahinda Palihawadana and Oranee Jansz.

New responsibilities nationwide.

The peripatetic existence I had begun to lead in the nineties had become more intense when I left the British Council in 1992, with the most important aspect of my new job at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura being to look after the English Diploma course at the Affiliated University Colleges which the University Grants Commission had set up.

The concept, the brainchild of the UGC Chairman Arjuna Aluwihare, was taken up most actively by the University of Sri Jayewardenepura under a dynamic Vice-Chancellor Prof S B Hettiarachchi. And Aluwihare’s vision of this experiment transforming English at tertiary level, rejected with contumely by the universities that had traditional English Departments, Peradeniya and Kelaniya and Colombo, was avidly taken up by the USJP Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Prof Mahinda Palihawadana.

He and Aluwihare roped me in, for they had had previously to work with a junior if committed lecturer, Geetha Premaratne, and when she went to Australia I had no option, to make sure the programme continued successful, but to leave the Council and join USJP. Obviously the university expected much to be done there too, and I did transform the degree programme there, and try to reform the university’s English Language Teaching Unit.

Meanwhile the English Diploma commences in three more Colleges in addition to the three with which USJP had begun, Belihuloya and Rahangala and Anuradhapura. The new courses were at Buttala, run by USJP, and at Vavuniya and Trincomalee which belonged to the Jaffna and Eastern Universities respectively.

But then in the middle of 1993 I was also asked, perhaps because the UGC saw how well students were doing under the new system I had started, to also take on coordinating General English at all the AUCs, except for at the one in Kuliyapitiya supervised by Kelaniya University. So now I had to also visit the two Ruhuna AUCs at Kamburupitiya and Niyagama, the Colombo one at the former plywood factory on the High Level Road, the Peradeniya one at Polgolla, and the South-Eastern one at Sammanthurai which I believe was in those days under the Eastern University.

That made eleven Affiliated University Colleges altogether that I had to visit, to check on programmes. And then in July I was also appointed to coordinate the pre-University General English Language Training programme, together with Oranee Jansz of the USJP ELTU.

Rajiva Wijesinha

January 2022
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