Much as I shun honors and praises, I am grateful to the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for having studied and found to be of service to society the methods of training and youth formation I have been working on for some time, especially in helping the underprivileged youth of Sri Lanka. All those who have rallied round me should see in this Award a public recognition of the worthiness of our work and of their involvement in the cause it serves. For myself and all my supporters, I express humble and very sincere thanks to the Trustees of the Foundation. I pay my respects to the late President Ramon Magsaysay, a man of great heart and wonderful vision, and I congratulate all those who have helped keep the spirit of this great President alive and effective by maintaining so very successfully this fine Foundation. It is a great honor, indeed, for me and my associates to be included in the distinguished fraternity of the Magsaysay Awardees.
As an educator, I started at 17 years of age in a very poor school in southern
Francemy own countrywith a class of 104 lads of various ages and degrees of
povertypoor in the goods of this world, in brain potential and poorer still in
parents' attention. To find those lads were happy only in class indelibly impressed me.
The sight of them wasting their time roaming the streets on vacations and coming back to
me on Mondays, half wild, prodded me to organize games, work where together we did very
simple jobs, Scout camps and excursions. Watching them become interested, keen,
resourceful, and helpful to each other, I began thinking that something should be done for
poor and abandoned children instead of just blaming them.
When duty took me to teach more fortunate children in Lebanon, England, and Sri Lanka,
I managed to run extracurricular activities for "retarded" boys to which large
numbers of "outsiders," or deprived boys, were attracted. Studying their cases,
their needs, aspirations and potentialities, I discovered a "bad boy" is made by
circumstances, mostly by poverty or rejection by those who should have attended to him. I
came to know that given proper chances and care nearly all boys classed as
"rejects" or "dangers" would rise to be excellent young men, good
husbands and fathers, successful workers, reliable citizens, even heroes. I also saw that
even the type of education we were imparting to the better off was too academic and
impractical. My quest for something different to help the unfortunate led me to conclude
that homes, centers, refugescall them as you likemust be created where
embittered and frustrated youths could find occupation, guidance and training, where men
of dedication and vision could be their understanding friends and helpers, share their
work, food, sports, art and social life, love them and create around them the atmosphere,
the society, the family spirit needed to gain their sympathetic involvement.
In my experience, a study of any delinquency case will uncover a desire for
"activity," for "participation," for "doing." I had noted
such youngsters, even if they cannot express it, aspire for a way of life, not necessarily
the easier one, which will allow them to fulfill themselves and even be in a position to
help othersan old, bedridden mother, younger brothers or sisters they know to be in
distress, or a needy friend met when they themselves ran the streets. Indirectly, it is an
aspiration to serve the larger community, the country.
Feeling I must be ready to attend to these inner good dispositions of underprivileged
children, I planned a home where such youths would be provided with opportunities to
improve themselves. They would be trained in jobs in agriculture, industries, trades. They
would be further educated and their character formed. They would be given a sense of duty,
honesty, love for work well done. They would be given a proper vision of what life truly
is. They would be shown the correct way to self-sufficiency and proper use of time and
money. They would be trained to civic life, to love others and country. Little by little
they would be made to realize they have a good role to play. When, at long last, I was
asked to set up a home for orphans and uncared for youths, my joy knew no bounds. There
were to be many difficulties and there were failures, but we had the will and found a way.
At the start we had the good fortune of the approval and encouragement of the then
Provincial of the De La Salle Brothers in Sri Lanka, Very Rev. Bro. Vincent Joseph; of His
Eminence Cardinal Cooray of Colombo; of the government of Sri Lanka through the ministers
of Social Services, Industries and Agriculture; of the then Director of Agriculture, Dr.
W. Joachim. Similar support came from successive Provincials, Rev. Bros. Lawrence and
Flavian, and especially the Assistant Superior General of the De La Salle Brothers for
Asia, the Very Rev. Bro. Michael Jacques who is with us today deputizing for the Superior
General himself, Very Rev. Bro. Pablo-Manuel. Throughout the years I have been privileged
to have the assistance of exceptional young men. One who started with me, Rev. Bro.
Philip, is still there and has endeared himself to all by his devotion and the efficiency
he brings to every aspect of our campus work. Then there is the chorus of friends and
philanthropic organizations from Sri Lanka and many countries who have helped us
generously. They all share this Award.
Though Diyagala Boys' Town was meticulously prepared in all its details, our work at
the beginning was very hard indeed. We three animators and 25 half-starved boys of all
castes and creeds lived together in cadjan sheds, cleared jungle, leveled land, grew a few
vegetables, reared poultry, pigs and goats, cooked our food and cut bricks and cabouks for
our initial buildings. But the boys could see and take pride in the town we were building
ourselves and very soon we were a family community where each had a role. Before the year
ended help came from international organizationslike MISEREOR of West
Germanyto equip workshops and build kitchens, refectories and dormitories according
to plan. Most encouraging was to see the youngsters accept the hardships and discipline
because they felt they were fast improving their chances in life. Hope had been restored
to them. What matters is that the boy feels he is loved, that he is wanted,
that he is given responsibility and that he is trusted. These are the
thirsts and aspirations of youth today as they were yesterday and will be tomorrow. They
are those of underprivileged children most acutely. It is the duty of our personnel, as it
should be of all those wishing to achieve success with underprivileged children, to be
firm but lavish with encouragement; to be experts in instruction, training, guidance; to
love to work in association with the boys, and to share in dialogue, planning, execution
and evaluation of results. They must be organizers, animators and guides but without
excluding the boys themselves. Thus, in the true sense of service each is contributing,
defining together the reasons for success or failure, suggesting improvement, working
toward shared goals, and understanding his own duty and the common good. Our
systemtheoretical and perhaps difficult as it may seemis both simple and
effective. It is a training for involvement and responsibility. Today we feel very happy
that the Foundation has given the Award for Public Service to my humble self. This is a
wonderful encouragement to me and my associates and helpers.