Friday, April 19, 2024
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Unity Fosters Inclusivity and Diversity Entails Celebration

The Speech made by Dr. Lionel Bopage at an Afternoon Tea Party held at the Huntingdale Community Hall in Victoria, organised by the Sri Lankan Australians Inc.

Dr. Lionel Bopage (Melbourne, Australia)

Greetings, Dear friends, and a warm good afternoon to all of you.

Today, I am speaking on behalf of Sri Lankan Australians, a recently formed association with a vision of unity among Sri Lankan expatriates residing in Australia. Our aim is to foster inclusivity, transcending the barriers that often divide communities, by embracing and valuing our differences. We recognise that cultural diversity not only entails tõlerance but also celebrates the invaluable contributions that diversity offers, enriching us all in the process.

Our endeavours have been marked by numerous successful initiatives. In Canberra, we spearheaded various collective events, including multicultural and interfaith gatherings. One such event, “Unity In Diversity,” united communities from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Fiji during the National Multicultural Festival. Additionally, amidst the devastating bushfires of 2003, we organized a highly successful fundraising event, rallying together Sri Lankan residents of Canberra.

In Victoria, our collaborative efforts have been equally impactful. Following the catastrophic floods and landslides in Sri Lanka in May 2017, we mobilised resources to support Dudley Senanayake Maha Vidyalaya in Pitabeddara, Dehigaspe, Morawaka, Matara. Overcoming logistical challenges, we ensured that our contributions directly benefited the school, amounting to $ 8,285 and donating LKR 1,086,306.

Our commitment to transparency and accountability was unwavering, evidenced by stringent accountability measures and on-site monitoring of project progress. This collective endeavour exemplified the unity of Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, and Burgher expatriates in Victoria.

Subsequently, in Victoria, we orchestrated several impactful initiatives:

Twenty organisations and individuals joined forces to raise and donate $ 19,000 directly to the Country Fire Authority in Victoria and Victoria Zoo to aid in bushfire relief efforts in 2019.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, thirteen organisations and numerous individuals from Victoria and New South Wales collaborated under the ‘Vic Lanka Covid Aid Collective’ to provide assistance to affected Victorians, particularly those of Sri Lankan descent including unemployed, students, new migrants, temporary visa holders, asylum seekers, and the mentally distressed. The $ 10,000 raised provided vital support to individuals through various means, including cash donations. In addition, we provided material assistance, mental health services, legal and employment advice and advocacy.

Recognising the dire situation in Sri Lanka during the pandemic, we expanded our efforts under the banner of Sri Lanka Covid Aid, partnering with reputable organizations such as Sarvodaya, Red Cross, Rotary Club, and Lions Club. Later, Sri Lanka Association of New South Wales and SriLankaCovidAid partnered with Rotary Clubs in New South Wales, India and Sri Lanka to provide desperately needed expensive medical equipment and other critical medical & survival requirements.

We provided Teaching Hospital Ragama, General Hospital, Kegalle and Base Hospital, Talawakele of desperately needed fully-equipped high-dependency units. We collaborated with Rotary Club in New South Wales and the Rotary International to raise about $67,000. Sri Lanka Covid Aid with Sri Lanka Association and Austra-Lanka Muslim Association of New South Wales raised $15,000, which the Rotary International and various Rotary clubs topped up to the total value of $67,000.

Amidst the economic turmoil in Sri Lanka in 2022, we established SaveADream bringing together associations and individuals in Victoria, NSW and Brisbane to address urgent needs, particularly saving the lives of new-borns and infants by providing urgently needed Nitric Oxide gas cylinders, neonatal drugs, and other devices and equipment.

To raise funds, we organised the “Dance for A Cause” dinner dance in Victoria, a Biryani Drive in Victoria and New South Wales, and other activities such as on-line fund-raising and ticket book sales. We raised approximately $50,000 including $9,514.00 from the dinner dance.

With the funds collected we were able to donate eight Nitric Oxide Gas Cylinders to Castle Street Hospital for Women; reagents and consumables for blood gas analysers worth $5,000 to Castle Street Women’s Hospital, Colombo; and 10,000 Personal Protective Equipment Kits and other medical necessities for Covid frontline workers in Sri Lanka. In 2023, we distributed nutritional food to families with malnourished children under the guidance of the District Medical Officer in partnership with Rotary Club, Batticaloa.

Our commitment to community empowerment was further demonstrated through initiatives such as the Art, Photo & Book Exhibition in April 2023, which highlighted the rich cultural tapestry of Sri Lanka’s diverse communities. The exhibition displayed the works of over seventy-five artists, photographers, and authors, about 1,000 English, Sinhalese, and Tamil books, mainly authored by Sri Lankan Australians, alongside about one hundred artworks and four hundred photographs by members of all Sri Lankan communities

It included the annual Victor Melder lecture organised by the City of Monash Libraries in honour of the extensive library of books on Sri Lanka Victor still maintains. Later, Mr Hemal Gurusinghe will share certain ideas regarding the Victor Melder Library.

Our latest initiative, ‘Empower Lanka: Building Bridges for the Community’ aims to uplift marginalized communities in rural Sri Lanka through targeted interventions in education, healthcare, and social integration. Our partnership with Rotary International will extend financial management including tax deductibility and disbursement of funds. The projects include:

  1. Paediatric mobile ventilator and Ultrasound machine for Mullaitivu Hospital
  2. Renovating the well at Weuda Royal Central College, Kurunegala and
  3. Basic medical equipment for Cancer Unit of the Ratnapura Hospital
  4. School equipment for Wettewa Primary School, Galagedera.

In addition, we also deal with a project to provide musical instruments needed by the students of Ampara Rajagama Maha Vidyalaya.

I can provide further details about these projects during our later conversations.

We invite your generous support in realising our vision of a brighter future for those in need. We have kept a donation box at the door and envelopes on tables if anyone wishes to do so. By joining hands and actively participating, we can pave the way for a more harmonious and inclusive community, setting an example for others to follow.

In closing, I extend heartfelt gratitude to our committee members, donors, sponsors, and all who have contributed to our collective endeavours over the years. Special thanks to Sri Lankan Australians Inc. for hôsting this gathering and to each one of you for your unwavering support and assistance. I am not naming them individually as there are too many to mention.

Thank you.

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