By Randima Attygalle
Sri Lanka’s scouting chronicle is almost as old as the pioneering movement in England launched by Lord Baden Powell in 1907. The scout movement here was launched locally in 1912 by the British civil servant, F.G. Stevenson, at Christ King’s College, Matale. Next year Dharmaraja College, Kandy, established their troop under the stewardship of J.H. de Saram. "Since the troop in Matale did not function continuously, 1st Dharmaraja Troop is considered the oldest scout troop in Sri Lanka to have functioned continuously with an eventful history to claim," Former Deputy Chief Commissioner of Scouting, Shantha Madurawe reflected.
An illustrious Rajan scout himself, Madurawe had been bestowed with highest accolades including President’s Scout and Silver Lion. The founder of the Old Rajans Scout Association, the first ever such association in Sri Lanka, Madurawe has had the privilege of chairing all eight international scouts events held at Dharmaraja College from 1987 to this year’s Rajans International Scout Gathering of Centennial (RISGO 2013). Having held many a prestigious position at the Sri Lanka Scouting Association from 1978 to 2009, when he migrated to Australia, including International Commissioner, National Training Commissioner and Deputy Chief Commissioner, Madurawe’s scouting faculties have been honed by his international exposure at many international jamborees as well as his tenure at the Asia Pacific World Scout Organization.
We caught up with this affable old Rajan when he flew home to be part of his alma mater’s centenary scouting celebrations - RISGO 2013, to turn the pages of Dharmaraja College’s scouting chronicles which have truly lived the maxim ‘Be Prepared’ over a century.
"Dharmaraja’s contribution towards the national scouting movement is yeoman. Whenever one talks about Sri Lanka’s scouting, no one can omit the word ‘Dharmaraja’ from it. We Rajan scouts are proud of our Lakeview Park International Scout Centre which is the most scenic and the largest scout centre in the island," he says. Lakeview Park which expands to 54 acres was assigned to scouts in 1924 by the then Principal, the late P. de S. Kularatne. In 1984 the centre was renamed Lakeview Park International Scout Centre which is modeled on the famous Gilwell Park, London. Today Lakeview Park is an experience itself for any scout-local or foreign, visiting the premises.
Dharmaraja College has organized eight international scouting events to-date, all bearing testimony to the prowess of ‘Rajan scouting’. "As part of the centenary celebrations of the school, the first Dharmaraja centenary JIM was held in 1987 during the tenure of Principal A.P. Gunaratne, an occasion which was graced by President Jayewardene. RISGO jamboree which is just concluded marking 100 years of scouting at Dharmaraja College was another first by Rajan scouts, with participation from over 30 countries representing all six regions in the world - the largest ever scout jamboree to be held in Sri Lanka," Madurawe recalled.
Fashioned on the theme of ‘Towards Global Leadership’ RISGO proved to be a forum of unity and solidarity. Enabling over 6,000 scouts, guides and leaders to experience adventure including land and water activities and survival skills, RISGO also had cultural activities and entertainment thrown in for good measure. The tour organized for the foreign participants to see Sri Lanka’s development projects and historical sites was a signature feature of the RISGO. The jamboree was declared open by Asia Pacific Region Scout Director, Abdullah Rasheed.
King’s Flag held high
The first landmark of Rajan scouting dates back to 1917 when Dharmaraja scout troop won the ‘King’s Flag.’ This was traditionally awarded to the troop in any of the British colonies with the largest concentration of King’s Scouts. Rajan scouts secured the same in two more consecutive years – 1918 and 1919. "Rajan scouts have also made history by winning the Island Merit Flag as the best scout troop in the country on more than 20 occasions during this period and they are also the present holders of this award," Madurawe said. They also had the honour of providing a guard-of-honour when the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) visited the island in 1922. The guard-of-honour which was drawn up on the platform of the Kandy Railway Station was personally inspected by His Royal Highness, making history as the first scout troop in the East to receive such recognition. 1st Kandy Dharmaraja Scouts also had the rare privilege of honouring the Father of Scouting- Lord Baden Powell, when he first visited Dharmaraja College in 1921 and in 1927.
School boy Everest expedition
The Himalayan Expedition by a first ever Sri Lankan schoolboy team in 1985 was another feather in the cap of Dharmaraja’s unparallel scouting chronicle. Several such expeditions led from 1985 to 2008, by experienced mountaineer Ajith Jayasekera, another illustrious Rajan scout and the present warden of the Pedro Scouting Camp, Nuwara Eliya was another watershed in its history. "Scouts from Dharmaraja have also held many top positions in the national scout movement through the years. The founder of scouting at Dharmaraja and its first Group Scout Master, J.H de Saram, was the first Ceylonese Chief Commissioner of the Scout Movement. Hemapala Ratnasuriya, K.B. Alahakoon, S.L.B Kapukotuwa, Saliya Rajakaruna, Sarath Mataraarachchi are a few others among many Rajans who made a committed contribution to Sri Lanka’s scouting movement," asserted Madurawe.
Needs of the time
Madurawe who has served the Sri Lanka Scout Movement under nine Chief Commissioners finds his stint as the National Training Commissioner the most rewarding post he held. Identifying certain wants of the time, Madurawe said, "it is essential that the scouting movement receives more state support including that of the Ministry of the Education. Even the private sector can play a more active role in this regard. All leaders, especially those in charge of scout troops and cub packs should be more recognized for their voluntary contributions towards the development of the movement." Decentralizing the scouting movement among provincial and district administrators as opposed to centralizing them at a national level is also perceived as a contemporary need by Madurawe. He also encourages the formation of open scout troops at community level, without depending on schools alone.
"Scouting is a non political movement. Leaders occupying the highest seats of this movement should necessary be individuals equipped with knowledge and experience in scouting. The influence at regional as well as world level should also be minimized as far as decision-making at national level is concerned," observed Madurawe who emphasized on the importance of enhancing activities at district and provincial levels. His concluding words, "what is vital is not the increase in the number of scouts but enhancing the quality of scouting," seemed to be an endorsement of the truth of Baden Powell’s words - "Try to leave this world a little better than you found it and, when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best."