“They laughed at me, they humiliated me, and they called me a fool for wanting to do this. But now, even the President himself engages in what I started! That should tell you how much all of this has improved.” These were the passionate words of Western Provincial Councilor Jayantha De Silva. Mr De Silva has become synonymous with the Pragna Pradeepa Project, which has consistently brought joy to its beneficiaries since its inauguration in 1988. He is set to stage the 31st anniversary celebrations of the project mid-next month. He stated that the festivities would commence at 6 pm on March 15 at Campbell Park. The event is to be accompanied by a large book donation programme and music festival.
“The children enjoy getting on stage and receiving gifts, especially those from poorer backgrounds. It makes them proud and it gives them joy,” said Mr De Silva. Over 100,000 children are expected to be at the event, where refreshments, books, clothes and stationery will be given to the children as part of a massive donation programme. He said that the donation programme would be followed by a cultural show, where renowned bands such as Sanidapa are set to perform. He stated that this project started with the aim of helping hundreds of children in Sri Lanka. He added that he has been able to affect the lives of over 100,000 children in the country, which is a testament to the longevity and reach of his brainchild project.
A tireless social worker, Mr De Silva envisioned a world where political affiliation, income levels, race nor creed stood in the way of learning and education. While all of you see now is the success story, he had to endure harsh words and a lack of support at the project’s inception. “The only reason I am where I am today, is patience,” was Mr De Silva’s reply in response to the question about how he endured the initial humiliation. “I was patient, and now the entire country knows what Pragna Pradeepa is,” he reflected. He said the most persistent challenge that he faces is that funding was always and will always be a problem to his venture. “The project now caters to over 100,000 children.
The publicity campaign for the event needs to reach the poor children in places such as Anuradhapura; this is not an easy task to accomplish. Providing refreshments to such a number of children, putting together a music show, this all costs a great deal of money.” He has spent enormous sums of his own money on this venture. He stated that while it is a sacrifice, he has noted improvements in attitude as well as education levels in the areas that he has impacted. He stated that now in some areas children are gifted with clothes, books, stationery and other learning equipment for their birthdays, rather than toys and sweets. A trait he believes that the people obtained from him. He further stated that if you focus on one aspect, such as economics, that field would grow.
But he said that if you focus on education, all the fields of work in the country grow simultaneously, and exponentially. When asked what needs to be done by others, he said, “I ask people to place education on a pedestal, as I have done. Without education, there is no progress, no development, no prosperity. We may build roads and highways, but what good is any of it without education and a knowledge of how to use it?” He stressed that whether it be crime rates, economics, of resource management, education plays an undeniably crucial role in terms of the overall development of the country. He said that he hopes to get into Parliament and plans on taking his initiative to further heights.