Nalandians in Sydney Inc – THE ORIGINS
The idea of forming a past students association must have been in the minds of many Old Nalandians living in Sydney for a long time. But the time for it actually came only 10 years ago. Even then there were not many Old Nalandians domiciled in Sydney and its surrounding areas. But it was them who had the courage and determination to embark on the formation of an Association. When the idea was transformed in to reality, the membership was as little as nine but ten years on it has now evolved in to a much larger and most respected group within the Sri Lankan community in Sydney with numerous ongoing activities to its credit.
The story of our Old Nalandians Association began in early 1996, when I came to know that my classmate since my kindergarten days at Nalanda, Kamal Wanigatunge had come to live in Sydney. Both Kamal and I shared a long history at Nalanda. We studied at Nalanda during a period when the school was going through some interesting times. It was the time when Dr A.T.Ariyaratne, took a group of students from Nalanda to “Kanatoluwa”, a remote poor village for the first time in modern times to uplift the lives of villagers using “Sharmadana” concept. It was the beginning of “Sarvodaya Movement” in Sri Lanka. It was also the time when science students of Nalanda tested a rocket in the Nalanda grounds. Milk Board boutiques were launched when the Milk Board was set in the early 1960s and the privately run school canteen was transferred to a student owned and managed cooperative. There was also the first student strike in a school in protest of the transfer of two popular teachers to other schools.
One day in July 1996, I received a phone call from Kamal and we agreed to meet at a coffee shop in Surry Hills. By that planned meeting I had not seen him for nearly 20 years. The meeting was a testimony to the special bond all Nalandians share. We both were very happy to see each other. We discussed many things at this meeting and one thing we both felt very strongly was the need to have a forum for us “the Nalandians” to continue our common legacy in this far away land.
After discussions with a few of our Nalandians in Sydney, on the afternoon of 28 of October, 1996, seven of us had a small social meeting of Nalandians at Kamal’s home in Ryde. This group represented scholars across the years who had been cultivating the idea of forming an Old Nalandians Forum since their arrival in Australia. The gathering overwhelmingly approved the idea to establish an Old Nalandians Association in Sydney. An interim committee was established to broadcast our plans, invite Nalandians in Sydney to become members and generally to work towards an inaugural general meeting in early 1997. The group elected me as the President, Sunil Kammanankada as the Secretary and Wimal Perera as the Treasurer. The interim committee members were Kamal wanigatunge, Ranjith Pathiraja, Rohan Alahendra, and Kamal Ellepola.
At that meeting we agreed that we all have our own memories, our own thoughts and opinions on our time at Nalanda Vidyalaya. We also agreed that for many reasons we owe our beloved school an enormous debt for the start in life it gave us – the values and ideals it instilled in us, the ethics which have no doubt guided us through the ensuing years. We all had no doubt that many ‘OLD NALANDIANS’ present on that evening or not have attempted to return something in repayment of that debt. By forming an Association we were offering a chance, from our position of relative affluence, to do something concrete, something lasting, something of value to the school which will benefit present and future generations. The meeting also saw an Association as a means of us sharing and maintaining our cultural religious heritage, here in New South Wales. The meeting also agreed that through an Association we can become a cohesive group to provide collective support and strength to Nalandians and their families in their times of need.
Interim committee collected a nominal fee of $10.00 for the first year to cover initial administrative costs. The meetings were held at people’s homes and even places like North Parramatta Public School grounds after the Sinhala Language classes. Interim committee drafted a constitution and opened up a Bank Account, and called the inaugural general Meeting on 5 April 1997. The inaugural general meeting was attended by 16 members, small but a committed group of Old Nalandians and elected the office bearers as per the approved Constitution.
From the very beginning of forming an association, Old Nalandians were very active in the community, participating and contributing to community building activities. Some of the outstanding contributions included the designing and project managing the construction of Lankaramaya car park, laying of foundations for gate posts and laying of conduits and water pipes, for the drainage system of the Lankaramaya car park, publishing of the first ever Sri Lankan Business Directory which is now popularly called Nalanda Directory, annual participation of the Lankaramaya food fare and the cleanup of Lankaramaya premises.
There were humanitarian assistance projects as well. They include the provision of financial and transport assistance to a Buddhist priest at the Australian Buddhist Temple for his Accupuncture treatment after a serious motor vehicle accident, supply of educational packs for children affected by 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka and a substantial financial contribution to build an Old Peoples Home. The Association hosted and acknowledged visiting ex-teachers and old Nalandians, sent computers to Nalanda and contributed to the Sri Lanka National Defence Fund. There have been annual social gatherings for the members and families since 1998.
During the last 10 years of its existence the Old Nalandians have developed into a strong cohesive group. Membership numbers increased, the feeling of brotherhood and solidarity were emerging strongly through continuous contact and activities. Through numerous activities they have been engaged in they have displayed their absolute commitment to the ideals they were imbued by their old Alma Mater which can continue to be applied both as a tribute to their school and for the benefit of the community of which they are proud to be part.