Hooked on a hobby

Keychain collector Mohamed Razeek shares his passion with us…

By Shabna Cader
When do you realise that you have an interest in something? Is it when you know you’ve got too many of something in your home? Or when you see what interests you and there’s a spark in your eye. What happens 25 years later? As a collector of sorts myself (from picture frames to sea shells, books to bangles and yes key chains) I can only answer the first two questions. Mohamed Razeek, however, has the answer to all three. As an avid key chain collector from the 1980s, he’s got over 1,200 currently housed in a shelf at his home, is a chap who is highly interested in each and every key chain he’s got and after 25 years, still collecting and counting!
From the moment of initial contact over the phone Mohamed seemed extremely enthusiastic. In person he is just that and more; warm, humble and talkative. It isn’t hard to miss the large shelf that houses his precious key chain collection for it stands tall at the entrance of the hallway. I immediately head towards it and Mohamed opens the case so I can have a better look. There’s a few of the Holy Kabbah in Makkah, one of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a couple with a picture of Michelin tire, soda bottles with the likes of Pepsi and Mirinda, a fish bone, name tags of various countries including Australia, Dubai, Egypt and Canada – countries and places from which he has received key chains.

“Truth be told, I have not purchased a single key chain. I believe it takes away the thrill of collecting them. For 25 years I was working as the Sales Executive of Auto Drome located in Union Place. I was just as talkative then as I am now and our customers loved that. Whenever someone came around they would shower me with gifts and souvenirs. There were pens, caps and most of all, key chains. I was hooked since then,” said Mohamed.

When colleagues, friends and extended family members realised that Mohamed was making a hobby out of collecting key chains, they began to gift him just as often. If a family member happened to travel abroad it was a key chain he/she brought back. It was the same with his colleagues and other clients at work. It didn’t matter what shape, size or colour – these shiny objects were Mohamed’s spark in the eye. “What’s not to like about collecting anything? It gives me something to do when I hang them according to my liking and even when I take them out every three months to have them wiped and dusted clean. It isn’t as tedious as it sounds; I enjoy collecting them and will accept anything that is given to me. People know that whenever they go someplace, it is a key chain that I will ask for on their return. 90% of my key chains are from foreign lands and from all corners of the world including Canada, Dubai and Australia,” he added.

They’re neatly hung in a shelf that with a thousand and more hooks to keep them safe and orderly, instead of cluttered about. Surprisingly the shelf was made by Mohamed himself! Initially he had kept his key chains in a glass shelf, placed with a particular gum which did not last too long. He noticed a colleague had hooks very much like he does now, which gave him the idea of building his own glass shelf to house the key chains. I reach over and take a few in my hand for a closer look and Mohamed comes over with a bunch of new key chains in special boxes.

“I received some of these in the past few days,” he said, hurriedly opening them so I can have a look. One in particular was a key chain that could be separated into two and became two key chains – this black and yellow ying-yang styled key chain was sent from Australia. There were also a few colourful ones with catchy phrases on them, a lighter; a cigarette shaped one and a Rubik cube amongst the older collection. He looked at me excitedly and said that a friend had only recently heard about his vast collection and had promised to gift him 200 or more key chains off his own collection. Mohamed probably needs to widen or build a large shelf for the key chains at the rate friends and family gift him plenty more.

“After collecting over 1,000, even my family has begun to show some interest, including my son who had some friends gift me some and my daughter who is currently residing in Dubai. My wife has also shown a keen interest and supports me very much in what I do.”
Mohamed is the Customer Relations Manager at Rainbow. On days and time spend at home; he does a bit of carpentry work, gardening and loves to read. When I questioned him about other passions in life he mentioned his pen and sticker collection. “I started collecting them about the same time I started with the key chains because they came from the same people – the clients from my previous workplace. The collections are not however as large as my key chain collection. This is what truly gives me much joy and enjoyment,” he added with a smile on his face.
If anyone would like to gift or send Mohamed Razeek key chains please feel free to contact him on 0773 710347.


Transformation Through Art

By Arthur Wamanan and Sarasi Paranamanna
The hands that held on to guns and artillery launchers barely two years ago showed another side of their talents when they held onto paint brushes and pastels.
The Bureau of the Commissioner of Rehabilitation organised an exhibition where the creations of the former combatants who were rehabilitated and who are still being rehabilitated were displayed. The exhibition “Transformation Through Art” took place at the Colombo Art Gallery on April 25 and 26.

The effects of a conflict that robbed the ex combatants of their childhood and their youth have worn off. The creations clearly depicted hope and optimism which had blossomed in their hearts. These people who were once carrying arms have clearly transformed into artistic beings. The artistry and skill which were displayed in each painting gave us an insight of how sensitive and creative they are.

Many of the artworks displayed at the exhibition depicted their past and their hopes for the future. In other words, they had expressed their feelings on what they had missed out in their lives that were tarnished due to the 30 year old conflict. Their creations bore the testimony to their inner selves. The images they saw through out the years must have been bloody and dark but today they are filled with an array of colours.
Bright colours, bold strokes all indicate towards their positive attitudes. Their dreams to live, love and enjoy were portrayed through the paintings. The spiritual upliftment they have received was also evident. The pure love of Mother Mary, the grace of Jesus Christ and Lord Bhuddha’s birth and also Hindu Gods were sketched form their pencils which added a more optimism for the exhibition.
It was indeed a pleasure to receive an insight to their dreams. Some dream of a prospered country. Some dream of having families or meeting the love of their life. Whatever it was all of those paintings were embedded with hope which added a greater depth to their creation.

“The former fighters have been given the opportunity to express themselves and to live the lives the way they want,” Commissioner General Rehabilitation, Brigadier Sudantha Ranasighe said.
Handicrafts and ornaments made by the former fighters were also on display. Ornaments, key tags made out of coconut shells, wax ornaments were exhibited displaying their skills at carving and artistry.
The Exhibition was declared open by Senior Minister of Human Resources, DEW Gunasekera. Minister of Rehabilitations and Prison Reforms Chandrasiri Gajadeera and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Patricia Butenis were also present.


Women: The other side of the coin

By Arthur Wamanan
Pengal Naattin Kangal, is a Tamil saying, which describes women as the eyes of a country.
Many women around the world have made a mark for themselves. Sri Lanka too is no exception when it comes to women who have made impacts on the national and international arena.
Sri Lankan women have made a mark in various fields. The country boasts of the world’s first woman prime minister in Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Likewise, many others had also made their mark in the fields of politics, sports, business and entertainment. You name it, women are there.
But there is also the other side of the coin. Women have been suffering silently for decades due to the war. Many had lost their lives. Thousands of women who were affected are yet to get back on their feet. The horrors of the past continue to affect their present even though there are no more artillery barrages or gunfire.
Women activists in the North point out that the affected women still need outside assistance.
Director, Centre for Women and Development, Saroja Sivachandran pointed out that rough estimates indicated that more than 8,000 women had been affected by the war and had to look after their families.
She said that thousands of women have been put in a situation where they have to look after their families on their own, without any support.

“The entire communities in the area have been affected. Therefore, they are not in a position to help each other to a great extent. The women have no other option but to look after themselves and their families on their own,” Sivachandran pointed out.
S. Gowri is one of those women who had lost her husband during the final stages of the war. Living in the outskirts of Kilinochchi, she has now taken up the responsibility of looking after her children by doing a small business on her own.
“Life is difficult because I have to look after my children on my own. I have a few relatives who are living nearby. But, I cannot go to them all the time, because they too have been affected and are trying to get back to normal lives,” she said.
She manages her household with the unstable earnings she gets through her small business. “I cannot educate my children like this.”

The other major issue that faced single women was security. Activists point out that it is still an issue, as many of the women are vulnerable. Sivachandran says that the absence of a male in the household has exposed women to several security threats. “In most of the cases, they live alone with their children. Therefore, they are in a helpless situation when someone forcibly enters their house,” she said.
Gowri, while admitting that this was indeed an issue for single women, added that women who are supporting their families single-handedly needed to be given special attention.
Sivachandran pointed out that there had been instances where the women had to seek desperate measures to ensure their safety and security. Culture and tradition has sidelined women who had lost their spouses, limiting them within a circle and not allowing them to break free. She added that such women can decide for themselves on their lives.
“There have been quite a few instances where women have married a military person. This is a welcome sign,” she said.

She also pointed out the importance of a change in mentality of men in the war affected areas. She said that women too should be given the freedom to choose their lives. “This kind of attitude should come from the men who are from the area as well. If the men can remarry, why can’t women do it for their security?” Sivachandran questioned.
Several programmes had been launched by the government and private organsations on empowering women who had been affected by the conflict.
Recently, the Girl Guide Movement of Sri Lanka initiated a programme to assist the affected women by assisting them in vocational training and building confidence within them.
The eyes allow us to go the correct way instead of making us stumble. As the saying goes, women are the eyes of the nation. The country needs them to be on the right path.

Girl Guides extend a helping hand

Several programmes have been launched targeting the women who have been affected by the conflict. Though the majority of the women are from the war-torn areas in the North and East, there are those who are living in other parts of the country. These women have lost their husbands and sons in the battlefield and are now fighting a daily battle to survive.
Recently, the Sri Lanka Girl Guide Movement (SLGGM) initiated programme, War Affected Women Empowerment (WAWE), to assist the women affected by war. The first phase of the project is scheduled to kick off in June and expected to go on till December or January.
The main goal of the project is to develop the skills women who were affected by the war and to enable them to get back on their feet through their own abilities and perseverance. The project will be targeting three categories of women who have been directly or indirectly involved with the conflict. They are the wives of disabled soldiers, former women combatants, and women who were not involved with the conflict but whose lives were affected.
Director Communications, SLGGA, Dilmini Peiris, said the initial phase of the programme would deal with empowerment of the wives of disabled soldiers. The women will be given training on dressmaking, home-gardening and handcrafts.
The women will be trained in workshops at Matara, Anuradhapura and Homagama
Peiris added that ex-combatants too had joined the organisation and would assist the training programmes.


Dutch rebuild their own canal after 300 years!

By Shabna Cader
The system of canals and waterways has been in existence from the reign of King Vira Parakrama Bahu VIII of Kotte. Original canals existed on the Western coast of Sri Lanka, owing to the ease of transporting goods from inland to the nearby harbours, ready to be shipped to countries including China, Burma and Rome. There is ample evidence in historic scriptures to prove that the tiny island of Serendib was indeed an ideal country located on the Western Trade Route and often large ships docked in the harbours before leaving for longer journeys.

Although most of the canals and waterways have not been conserved, preserved and maintained to the standards of the yesteryears, they continue to exist even today; blocked by solid waste and overgrown vegetation. The canals today are in a degenerating state, stench that is unbearable and home to thousands of mosquito breeding sites that are heavily affecting the lives of the people who live in the precinct.
The Vystwyke Canal in Crow Island is a classic example of a neglected and degenerated canal. It is roughly two metres deep, two and half kilometres long and was built by the Dutch over 300 years ago. The canal begins from the Kelani River and is connected to sea near a Kovil in the very area. Today the canal is greenish black in colour, thick and oily, with rubbish and garbage thrown in, mosquito larvae and tree branches floating about.

C. A. Wijeweera former NHDA Chairman and resident of Crow Island decided to take matters into his own hands when multiple government institutions like the Department of Irrigation refused to acknowledge that the canals is part of their concern and in keeping with their line of work. “I have made plenty of attempts to see that something in the name of good will be done but whoever I contacted has flatly refused to take responsibility,” said Wijeweera. “Quite rightly it should be the responsibility of the Department of Irrigation but even they have denied and refused to make a difference. Even after letters to the President it was doubtful anything good will come out of it so I decided to take matters into my own hands. This isn’t for me however, it is for the people in the area, the community and the country,” he added.

October 2010 brought Crow Island an unexpected visitor; Leoni Cuelenaere, the Ambassador for the Netherlands visited the Vystwyke Canal. Wijeweera has submitted a letter to her, regarding the conservation, preservation and maintenance of the canal in the month of September. After inspecting the canal, she agreed to financially support the reconstruction phase of the canal through her heritage fund. “It was ironic that the canal was originally built by a Dutch and we still have the Dutch people’s support even today when we’re planning to conserve and preserve 300 years later,” said Wijeweera.

The construction work began over three months ago – the proposed plan is to dredge the entire canal, to construct a barrage at the river end to divert water to the canal, construct an outlet to the sea end, build gabion walls along the two canal banks and construct a tall chain link fence on the gabion walls. “Since the Lady Ambassador has come forward to support our cause, the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation has also shown interest in this matter,” added Wijeweera. Phase I of the project will be complete and inspected by the Lady Ambassador and Secretary to the Minister of Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa will also be present at the event on May 7.

Over 15,000 people live in the peripheral surroundings of the Vystwyke Canal. Wijeweera highlighted that plenty often fall ill and over 75% of the population are exposed to the polluted water. It is a known fact that organic and wastage from factories, companies, homes, industrial emissions, etc., often end up in these canals. Starting with the canal that seeps through Crow Island, Wijeweera hopes that attention will be given to the other canals and waterways in the country.

“These waterways are ideal mosquito breeding grounds and the people in the areas are those who fall victim. With regard to the Vystwyke Canal, we are indeed deeply grateful to the Lady Ambassador of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands who have willingly reached out to support us. Completing most of the construction work has been a great challenge and we couldn’t have done it without the embassy’s support,” he added.