By Naveed Rozais
A small gathering was held on 4 October to recognise and facilitate some of Sri Lanka’s tireless animal activists who work towards the betterment and upliftment of community, farm, and wild animals.
Held at Park Street Mews, the ceremony was jointly hosted by a group of animal welfare activists, Harpo’s Hotels, Cafes, and Restaurants Founder/CEO Harpo Gooneratne, and the team at Park Street Mews.
The gathering was held to honour various animal welfare activists and the people who support them at the ground level to look after and uplift animals in their communities, sometimes at risk of their jobs and personal safety. These kind animal lovers and carers come from all walks of life and all parts of the country, going above and beyond to support other animal welfare activists and community animals.
Construction sites tend to be places where dogs congregate, and the staff working at these sites like having these dogs around as the dogs are great companions for them, in addition to providing an element of security by sounding out intruders at night. However, the owners of these sites consider these dogs a nuisance, sometimes going so far as to threaten staff with the loss of their jobs if they’re caught feeding the dogs that congregate at these sites. Despite this, many of the staff at these sites help local animal welfare activists to feed these animals and help treat them when they fall sick, often forming genuine attachments with them.
This kind of support from ground staff proves invaluable to animal welfare activists looking to uplift the lives of animals in their communities. The initiative to honour these ground staff and other animals welfare activists was the brainchild of animal welfare activist Visakha Tillekeratne in order to recognise and celebrate not only animal welfare activists, but also those without whom animal welfare activists would be unable to do their work, from street cleaners, security guards, and building site supervisors to three-wheel drivers and domestic helpers. Activists were presented with certificates of appreciation, mugs, and gift vouchers.
Activists honoured at the event included Pichchmuththu Paramanathan, Lechuman Jegatheeswaran, Suppiah Dayanidi, R.A. Swarnalatha Weerasekere, Austin Peiris, Desmond Kumara Peiris, Ravi de Silva, Hettiarachchige Seneviratne, Deepika Wanniarachchi, D.D. Chandrani, Chandrika, Hema Kate Lily, N.K. Ruwan Pathirana, Wipulasena Wijenayake, Duniyasha Perera, Anjana Selvanayagam, Nadeeka Dharmaratne, Jonathan Solamon, Manoja Weerakkody, Madri Jayasekera, Manel Jayasekera, Renuka Nagodavithana, Debra Macan Markar, Otara Gunewardene, Anusha David, Abeeth Dangalle, Kumudini Saravanamuttu, Marie Perera, Sahana Ravishankar, Shilpa Samaratunga, Christine Perera, Grero, Rosy Senn, Unee Pathirage, Mahesh Narandas, Shiona Weerasekera, Dominic Perera, Roshan Chitty, Nilmini Welivita, Panchali Panapitiya, Dinesh Gamage, Dr. Ishika Madushani, Dr. Nalinika Obeysekera, Hector and Krishanthi Rondon Fuentes, Surangani de Silva, Ira de Silva, and Lalani Perera.
“We have dedicated our lives every day of the year to improve (the lives of) a lot of our four-legged friends. This year we thought it was only fitting that people islandwide who despite straightened circumstances and other impediments continue to do their best for animals and all creatures great and small,” Tillekeratne said.
A highlight of the proceedings was the tribute paid to two renowned animal welfare legends, Sagarika Rajakarunanayake and Deepal Wijeweera.
Rajakarunanyake has been instrumental in uplifting animal welfare in Sri Lanka, both through her animal welfare organisation Sathva Mithra Group, which she has worked on tirelessly since 1993, and through her personal lobbying to then President Mahinda Rajapakse on instituting the “No Kill Policy” regarding stray dogs in Sri Lanka. Rajakarunanayake brought to the President’s attention the World Health Organisation (WHO) protocol of controlling rabies through catch, neuter, vaccinate, and release, inspiring the President to order the No Kill Policy into effect.
Rajakarunanayake addressed the gathering, sharing how satisfying it has been for her to devote her life to working towards animal welfare, and how encouraging it was for her to see how the strength of animal welfare activists and the power of their voice have grown from her initial days working in the field. Rajakaruananayake also shared that as animal welfare activists, we have a duty to lend our voice to the environmentalists and ask what big changes are being made and when.
Wijeweera, another tireless animal welfare activist, was also honoured at the ceremony. Wijeweera has become a familiar sight around Colombo over the years, feeding community dogs every day without fail, despite ill health and personal difficulties. Wijeweera was, unfortunately, unable to attend the ceremony due to ill health.
Sri Lankan Brand Ambassador for World Animal Day and Embark Founder Otara Gunewardene also spoke on the occasion, speaking on Rajakarunanyake’s invaluable contribution to local animal welfare.
The ceremony concluded with a performance by animal welfare activist Nilmini Welivita.