APPRECIATION -Dr Upali Manukulasuriya-(28.11.1939 to 16.7.2009) HE NEVER FORGOT HIS MOTHER COUNTRY
Posted on October 7th, 2009

byDon Wijewardana

Dr Upali Manukulasuriya passed away in Auckland, New Zealand in July following a brief illness. Manu, as we used to call him affectionately, had a long and distinguished career in medicine, mostly practising as a GP in rural New Zealand.

Born in Ahangama, Manu studied at Mahinda College, Galle and entered the Peradeniya medical school in 1961. In 1970 he migrated to New Zealand where much of his work was for rural communities where there was a dearth of doctors. He was recognised both by the public and the New Zealand government for years of contribution he made to rural health. In both 1997 and 1998 he received the award for best professional person for the region and in 1999 he was nominated by the popular “ƒ”¹…”North South’ Magazine as a “ƒ”¹…”New Zealander who made a difference to New Zealand way of life’. The same year the government awarded him the Queen’s Service Medal for his work.

But I remember Manu for an entirely different reason. Although Manu left Sri Lanka he never forgot his mother country. Communal troubles in 1983 resulted in the media in New Zealand, like in most other countries, carrying a regular litany of anti Sri Lanka propaganda from LTTE supporters. Frustrated by the inability to respond as an individual Manu called on all Sri Lankans in the country to join together to form an organisation to counter the false propaganda. That was how the United Sri Lanka Association in New Zealand (USLA) was born. To this day USLA remains a vibrant community voice in New Zealand. Also at that first meeting Manu was unanimously elected as the Spokesperson for USLA to front up to the media. He has been elected to the position each year since then until his retirement earlier this year, sadly, due to ill health.

While USLA was engaged in countering the LTTE propaganda blitz over the years, I recall one instance when Manu took the issue right to the top. It was after the 2004 tsunami when a group of LTTE supporters, with the help of some unsuspecting Sinhalese, got the New Zealand government to agree to a million dollar aid package to TRO ostensibly to buy mobile clinics for North and East. Recognising the potential misuse of such vehicles in the war USLA protested unsuccessfully to NZ officials. As a last resort Manu led a delegation to see the then Prime Minister Helen Clark and I was a member of it. I realised that Clark was a close friend of Manu only when she welcomed him with a hug. Manu explained the issue and we all chipped in. At the end Clark said “I see what you mean” and scribbled a note for aid officials. And that was how the mobile clinics saga ended.

That is just one of a myriad of tasks Manu was involved in during the 30 year war. Press releases, letters to editors, communications to MPs and Ministers, demonstrations, meetings and endless hours on the phone, were all part of this work. Manu always noted that winning the media war was as important as fighting on the ground. And that’s what ruled his life during that entire period.

It was not only in relation to terrorism that Manu stood for Sri Lanka. When the news of the tsunami reached New Zealand he immediately contacted the pharmacies and doctors in the region, collected all possible drugs and other supplies and flew to Sri Lanka. Loads of equipment and material that arrived with him were among the emergency supplies to local hospitals.

A function to celebrate Manu’s enormous contribution was held soon after the conclusion of the war. The large gathering there that exceeded the expectations of organisers of the function was clear testimony to his untiring efforts to support Sri Lanka. As he noted there, just as the security force commanders reported, he was able to now say his “ƒ”¹…”30 year mission was accomplished’. This is only one segment of the life of this great amiable man.

Manu was a family man good friend and wonderful company. My life has enriched tremendously by the close friendship I had with Manu for which I am ever grateful to him. Grieving for Manu are his wife Shantha, daughters Shereen and Hiranthi, son in law Jeremy Jones and grand children Isla and Nico and many friends.

May he attain Nibbana.

Don Wijewardana

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