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On President’s orders, SLAF celebrates 70th anniversary developing Kanugahawewa village

The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) is engaged in fulfilling the responsibility entrusted to them by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to develop the village of Kanugahawewa in Kebethigollewa during his ‘Discussion with the Village’ programme.

Accordingly, 70 houses are being constructed in the Kanugahawewa village to coincide with the 70th Anniversary of the Air Force.

The fourth phase of the President’s ‘Discussion with the Village’ programme was held on December 30 last year in Kanugahawewa, Kebethigollewa with the aim of resolving some of the issues faced by the village folk.

While the Air Force had planned to celebrate its 70th Anniversary in grand style by organising an air tattoo, the President had instead instructed the Air Force to utilise these funds and develop the Kanugahawewa village in keeping with the 70th Air Force Day which falls on March 2.

Under this development programme, temples, Dhamma schools and school buildings in the area are being developed, including an electric fence to prevent elephants from encroaching into the village and damaging the villagers’ crops and endangering their lives.

Therefore, the Air Force is conducting many development projects in the Kanugahawewa village, including the construction of new houses for 70 families who thus far did not have permanent houses. In the first stage, 10 houses will be constructed and handed over to the owners. This stage will be completed by March 2 in line with the 70th Air Force Anniversary.

In the second stage 15 houses will be constructed and handed over to the owners and in the third stage the rest of the housing project will be completed.

The Daily News visited the village recently and spoke with some of the residents who were receiving new houses as well as those who are scheduled to receive new houses in the next stage of the programme.

“For people like us building a house like this is only a dream. We are very grateful to the President and the Air Force for building a permanent house for us and making our dream a reality,” said one of the residents who is scheduled to receive a new house in place of his mud and thatched roof house which is in a dilapidated condition.

Pictures of the medical camp organized by the Tri Forces that was held in Kanugahawewa village recently, as well as pictures of the construction of permanent houses by the SLAF. Pictures by Mei Ling Hsu

Also speaking to the Daily News W.M. Sujani said, “It is not a small feat to build houses for people and it is a meritorious deed to give these people houses in which they could live comfortably. I will be receiving my house in the second stage of this project. I am waiting eagerly to receive my house. My three daughters are also very excited.”

Sujani and her husband Sanka Mahesh Tillakaratne live in a small mud house with their three daughters Sakunika, Sasali and Sanjana. There is hardly any room to move around and they sleep, cook and do all their studies, etc, in this little space. Sakunika is the only one schooling and she has to walk three kilometres to school and the same distance back every single day. In addition, there is an acute shortage of drinking water and they either have to walk three kilometres to fetch water from a spring or purchase water at between Rs. 35 to Rs. 40 per gallon of water. This water they use sparingly. If there is rain, they harvest the rainwater and use it for washing and bathing, but when there is no rain, they use a small amount of the drinking water to wash their faces only.

It is hard to imagine how the people of Kanugahawewa village are struggling to survive with such limited resources. Although there is a tank in sight, the farmers in the area prevent them from utilising that water as they need it for their cultivations. With such limited resources, these people somehow manage to grow some vegetables in their gardens which they use for their daily consumption.

In addition to their hardship to survive and raise their families with the greatest of difficulties, sometimes wild elephants enter their village and destroy their houses, their crops and at times, even their lives.

According to Sujani, the elephants can easily destroy their mud houses and when they know elephants have entered their village, she gathers her children and runs elsewhere to safety. “We live in utter fear as these elephants can kill us in one strike if we are in their way. We grow vegetables in our gardens for our consumption and also engage in farming amidst all odds and when the elephants come and destroy all that we have toiled for, our lives are shattered as we have to start from scratch again and we don’t have the money to do that.”

Hence, these families in the Kanugahawewa village are grateful to the Air Force for constructing permanent and sturdy houses for them and most of all, the electric fence to stop the elephants from encroaching into their village.

In addition, the Army, Navy and Air Force medical personnel conducted a medical camp for the people of Kanugahawewa last Saturday (20) where an eye clinic, dental clinic, mental health clinic and other general clinics were conducted.

Every resident of the Kanugahawewa village was subjected to complete medical screening during this clinic and a medical file was opened for each of them comprising their entire medical history from their blood group to all their ailments, in keeping with the President’s concept of enabling all citizens to hold a medical file which would be useful when obtaining treatment at any hospital.

The Chief Incumbent of the Kanugahawewa Abinawarama Viharaya, the Kanugahawewa Grama Niladari and residents of Kanugahawewa discussed their needs with the Divisional Secretary who drafted a proposal on what was needed by the people. Based on the proposal, the Urban Development Authority has planned to develop the village of Kanugahawewa as a Model Village together with the Sri Lanka Air Force. The entire project is conducted under the guidance of the Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana who appointed a Steering Committee led by SLAF Director Ground Operations Air Vice Marshal Camillus Labrooy.

Other members of this committee are Air Commodore Udula Wijesinghe, the Senior Staff Officer of the Directorate of Civil Engineering and the Base Commander of SLAF Base Vavuniya, Air Commodore Deshapriya Silva.

Kanugahawewa village is located around 22km from Vavuniya town. The Kanugahawewa Vidyalaya conducts classes up to Grade 5 and the school now has around 86 students and seven teachers including CSD teachers. Speaking to the media, the Principal of the Kanugahawewa Vidyalaya W. Anuratillake said, “After the President visited the village, we have received teachers and even an English teacher. So we are very grateful to him and the Air Force for renovating and upgrading our school and teachers quarters.”

He said that in this village all the families are low-income families and believes that providing education to the children is the only way to get them out of poverty. He said that all the children in the village of school-going age are attending school currently.

Kanugahawewa village is home to 314 families and approximately 942 civilians. Based on the needs of those in Kanugahawewa, renovation of the Kanugahawewa Abinawarama Viharaya and Kanugahawewa Vidyalaya, houses for those who cannot afford to build a house on their own and many other development projects have been undertaken by the Sri Lanka Air Force.

Signifying the commencement of the development project of this Model Village, Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana on January 28 placed the cornerstones for the teachers’ quarters at Kanugahawewa Primary School, a bell tower at the Kanugahawewa Abinawarama Viharaya and for 10 houses which will be constructed during stage 1. The Commander also symbolically commenced the construction of the 13km-long electric fence which will in time protect the villagers from the elephant threat they face at present. This construction has been undertaken by SLAF Station Morawewa under the leadership of the Commanding Officer Group Captain Hiyumal Dharmadasa.