New Lease of Life for Kanugahawewa
By Udeni Saman Kumara
The trip to the Kanugahaweva village in Kebithigollewa 15 years ago, on 17 June, is still vividly etched in memory. Just 24 hours before that the LTTE had detonated a bus bomb. By the time we reached our location there were no people present in the Kanugahaweva village. Most of the thatched houses were left desolate while most villagers carrying their belongings had trekked 13 kilometres to the nearby village of Kebithigollewa.
Most of the dogs too had accompanied their masters while only cats were left behind in Kanugahaweva. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, on being informed about the bomb blast rushed to Kebithigollewa and instructed officials to construct temporary housing for the displaced villagers. We then went to the Halmillavetiya Temple and on seeing the Dhamma School that had been operated by the late monk under minimum facilities brought tears to our eyes. The Forces personnel worked day and night to safeguard the deserted villages. The displaced people who had spent a few nights at the Kebithigollewa MV were then put up in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), which were built close to town. Since 2008, the people of Kanugahaweva had lived in IDP camps.
The people of villages such as Halmillavetiya, Yakaweva and Sinha Ulpatha had left their dwellings and headed to the Kebithigollewa town and their temporary abode turned out to be the Kebithigollewa MV.
Some 68 people had perished in the bus explosion that occurred in the Kebithigollewa area. Their closest relatives too had become victims of the explosion. Some were permanently disabled while most of the villages resembled ghost towns. Though by this time terrorism had been wiped out the people were still burdened with a number of social, economic and political issues. Sectors such as health and education were in disarray while there were pressing issues pertaining to land, rivers, dams, anicuts etc.
Due to the roads being in a dilapidated condition, the transport sector was also in chaos. The road network was in a veritable mess. The State service only arrived in Kanugahaweva area at snail space. The solitary school that was being operated in a building was not patronised by the teachers. The students did their learning thanks to the intervention of the officers of the CDF.
From the day people decided to leave their villages, the paddy fields remained unattended. The only Buddhist monk who had resided at the Hamillawetiya Galkanda Purana Raja Maha Viharaya had also become a victim of the bus bomb. Hence, it was a gruelling task for the villagers to resume their day-to-day lives in the aftermath of the bomb blast. They were left with no livelihood and the pressure began to tell on them with survival being such a harsh reality facing them. They were also given plenty of promises but all went unfulfilled and they were fed up of the political establishment of the day.
On 30 December last year, incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived in the Kanugahaweva area in Kebithigollewa. That was to take part in a programme titled ‘Village Discourse’ (Gama Samaga Pilisandara), which has been initiated following a concept mooted by the President. The only hope left for the people in Kanugahaweva was the arrival of the President at their village. The President’s arrival no doubt brought renewed hope for the elders and youth alike of the area.
During the programme ‘Village Discourse’ the President identified burning issues faced by residents of Kanugahaweva. Those are no longer pressing issues for them with the President deciding to delve deeply into it personally to resolve matters forthwith.
In the meantime, the SL Air Force had been planning to mark its 70th anniversary. Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana decided to celebrate the anniversary on a grand scale. The organising of the commemorative programme was handed over to the Air Force Commander by the President.
The President made his second visit to Kanugahaweva on 4 April this year. During a span of four months the Kanugahaweva model village had come alive due to the personal intervention of the President. By this time, work related to 12 houses had been completed. The total number of houses being built numbered 70. That to mark the 70th anniversary of the SL Air Force. The President declared open the newly constructed playground, teachers’ quarters, dormitories and the washrooms of the Kanugahaweva Primary School.
Principal of Kanugahaweva Primary School, Anura Thilaka, says, “Our school, which is situated in the Kebithigollewa Education Zone in the Anuradhapura District, is one of the most underdeveloped schools here. I say this because we are operating this school amid pressing problems and the barest of facilities available. We also had to put up with an acute shortage of teachers as well.
“It was a burning issue for us for over a long period. Those who were serving in the CDF began to teach our students and that too a temporary solution to the problem. Our students conducted their educational activities under such trying circumstances.
“But, the President promised to resolve these issues through his ‘Village Discourse’ programme. He first of all resolved the issue with teacher shortage. Afterwards, with the intervention of the SL Air Force, other shortcomings were also addressed effectively. After the construction of the teachers’ quarters, the President handed over the key. The playground too was developed. He also provided us with a SMART classroom. Today our school in Kanugahaweva resembles that of a school located in a major city. I take this opportunity to commend the input of the President and the SL Air Force for our school, turning a new lease of life.”
Meanwhile, Chief Incumbent of Kanugahaweva Purana Raja Maha Viharaya, Ven. Galkendewe Sumanarathana Thera, said, “Our temple is the sole place of worship in the village of Kanugahaweva. There were no buildings attached to this temple. Even the previous Chief Incumbent had resided in a temporary shelter.
“With the SL Air Force taking the initiative to revive the Kanugahaweva village they also decided to renovate our temple premises as well. Hence, most of the structures located at our temple have now been rebuilt by the Air Force. In the future the remaining structures would be rebuilt. With the arrival of the President the village and temple underwent a massive transformation.”
Besides the development of the school and the temple, a 15-kilometre elephant fence has also been established to mitigate the elephant-human conflict. With the intervention of the Air Force Seva Wanitha Unit, a stock of school equipment and uniforms were also donated to the students. The handing over of official deeds to lands of those who had occupied State land also took place as part of the ‘Village Discourse’ programme.