Soma Edirisinghe passed away one year ago, today. This is a combination of two tributes … one which appeared in the newspapers a few days later … and the other in the January 2016 issue of the ‘HI Magazine’
Hers was a journey that began 77 years ago in the sleepy village of Watareka in Meegoda, Pallepattuwa in the Salpiti Korale when, on the fifth of July 1939, was born to Charles Perera and his wife Elisa, a girl child whom they named Soma.
The seventh in a family of nine children, the others being eight girls and the oldest a boy, little Soma grew up in an unspoilt village environment and imbibed the simple yet sound values of rural Sri Lanka.
Her marriage, 21 years later, on 30 December 1960, to the young film producer and entrepreneur Premalal Edirisinghe, proved to be a turning point in the life of this enterprising young woman, and was to, by simple virtue of her own inborn entrepreneurial skills, coupled with her selfless desire to unconditionally help her less fortunate fellow citizens, take her to greater heights as a ‘Lak Maatha’, a truly exemplary daughter of Mother Lanka.
Stirred by a deep sense of social responsibility the young bride rapidly galvanised herself into action and with the help of her movie star friends such as L.M. Perera, Vijitha Mallika and Clarice de Silva (of ‘Maathalang’ fame), collected funds and began providing relief to the flood victims.
Unknown to Soma Edirisinghe, this was also the significant beginning of a long and laudable journey in social service which was to benefit hundreds of thousands of people across the whole of Sri Lanka. It was truly a turning point in her life. There was no turning back
In 1974 she joined the Lions Club of Thimbirigasyaya and became part of the Lions Movement, the world’s largest ever social service organisation. This gave her even greater inspiration and unimaginable opportunities to help humanity.
As a Lion and as a private citizen of this country, the social service projects Mrs. E. have initiated have been countless.
Through them she has touched the lives, livelihoods and very souls of hundreds of thousands of needy Sri Lankans through her nearly 55 year old selfless and dedicated journey in social service. The multitude of projects are indeed far too many to enumerate …
A living testimony to the accolades, awards and recognition bestowed on Mrs. E. over the past half a century is the modest yet impressive museum, AVARJANA, situated in the verdant premises of the Sanhinda Lions Care Centre for Elders and literally in the shadow of the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya.
Its stout wooden doors open and greet both appreciative and curious visitors with a gallery of photographs which portray Mrs. E. with an impressive array of local and foreign leaders. Here is a woman who has rubbed shoulders with Presidents and Prime Ministers but still not lost the common touch.
One then moves on to admire the innumerable plaques and awards which numerous organisations, both local and foreign, have bestowed on Mrs. E., during her journey of service to humanity. This is a beautiful and moving example of sincere and grateful appreciation from peers and the public.
Situated in Pitakotte, the Sunhinda Lions Care Centre for Elders is another of her laudable social service projects. It houses senior citizens, both men and women, who have no one to care for them. A project of the Lions Club of Thimbirigasyaya, it sits on a block of land graciously donated by the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera and was built with LCIF Funds and public donations.
There’s the Suwanetha Lions Hospital which has rendered yeoman service to eye patients in this country. Situated at Gothatuwa New Town, this state-of-the-art modern hospital’s mission is to eliminate preventable and treatable blindness by offering competent patient care, sight enhancement and rehabilitation services.
Sri Lanka’s largest poverty fighting organisation, the Janasarana Foundation was born out of persistent requests by the public soon after Mrs. E. relinquished duties as District Governor. A registered NGO, its primary objective is to reach out to the poorest of the poor, finding solutions to their problems and improving their quality of life. Three months after Janasarana was launched in September 2004 the Boxing Day Tsunami wreaked havoc on Sri Lanka. The Janasarana Foundation immediately sprang into action, collected relief items and helped the disaster victims.
Her journey in Lionism in Sri Lanka is one that is seemingly unparalleled. After joining the Lions Club of Thimbirigasyaya in 1974, she went onto become the First-Ever Lady President of the Club in 1994. Under her Presidency the Lions Club of Thimbirigasyaya became the Best Lions Club in the District. She became the First Lady District Governor of the Lions District 306 C and was elected with an overwhelming majority in the Lionistic year 2003/2004.
Situated at the Thilakaratnaramaya in Ward Place, Colombo 08, the Chu O’ Maithree Pre-School which began in 1995 has as its core philosophy the belief that Every Child is a Leader. The dedicated staff at this Pre-School works towards exploring the hidden potential of every child and lays the foundation for a meaningful future in adult years.
Approved by an Act of Parliament, the Punarjeewa – Dr. Soma Edirisinghe Fund was inaugurated in 2008 and assists heart patients who obtain money from the President’s Fund by supplementing the balance required. Over the past seven years the Punarjeewa Heart Walk has been a vital tool for both awareness and fund raising.
Mrs. E. reached the dizzy heights of success and fame, she had never dreamt of BUT she still remained the simple village girl at heart. Right until the end, she drew her strength, perseverance and resilience from the simple, yet deep and abiding values instilled in her and her siblings by her parents, Elisa and Charles Perera, in their simple village home.
Looking back on the past 55 years, her journey in helping humanity which began with that 1961 flood in Anuradhapura, unleashed her own flood of social service. It has swept across the whole of Sri Lanka, sweeping people off their feet and embracing them in its swirling waters of goodness, charity and benevolence.
That flood of social service she let loose in 1961 continued to rage across Sri Lanka as Mrs. E. continued her own charity crusade with an indomitable determination and an even greater zeal. And now today her children and the EAP Network continue her crusade of social service and keep her memory alive.
As the Ven. Polpithi Mukalana Siri Pannasiri Thera very eloquently and rightly said, at the ‘bana’ at her residence last night, Mrs. E. has accumulated great volumes of kusala kamma (good merit) in this single lifetime which will no doubt help her in her journey through Samsara until she reaches the supreme bliss of Nirvana !
My wish for her is the same and may that journey be speedy !
Kumar de Silva