This monk is on a mission to help those in need
Posted on December 29th, 2015

BY MAJORIE CHIEW Courtesy The Malaysian Star daily,

News of free wheelchairs spread like wildfire and drew a crowd.

Some disabled people crawled for miles to the distribution site. It was heartbreaking to see them crawling away empty-handed,” related Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Bhante Yatirawana Wimala. He was in several remote regions in Kenya to give away 50 wheelchairs in 2002.

Some mothers had to carry their disabled children home without the wheelchairs. But they did not even complain. They just hoped for better luck the next time round,” noted Wimala, 57, who described his humanitarian work in East Africa as most gratifying”.

This monk is on a mission to help those in need

Wimala hopes to make a difference in the lives of others through his humanitarian work. Photo: The Star/Faihan Ghani

Wimala organised eye screenings for the poor rural communities in East Africa. Hundreds often turned up for the free eye check-ups. Some trekked for miles across arid land. Wimala found sponsors for those who needed cataract operations. However, it was impossible to meet every need, and many had to be turned away.

Among the many lives that Wimala touched was that of a weaving mill worker from Kandy in Sri Lanka. The woman and her adopted handicapped daughter were left in dire straits when a relative cheated the former of her money. They were so poor they did not even have electricity in the house. Wimala visited the family, and made arrangements for electricity to be supplied to her house. He even paid for their electricity bills.

On his next visit, Wimala was overwhelmed by the gratitude shown by the two women.

They could sleep through the night without any fears or worries. On rainy days, they could heat water and cook without having to gather firewood,” shared Wimala.

A church destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban, the Philippines. A new church has since been rebuilt, thanks to efforts by Wimala.

A church destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban, the Philippines. A new church has since been rebuilt, thanks to efforts by Wimala. Photo: Y. Wimala

The political unrest in Sri Lanka did not deter Wimala from reaching out to the needy in the country.

Armed soldiers accompanied me when I went for relief work in the hostile jungles,” he said.

Wimala was in Nepal to help victims of the April earthquake when a second earthquake hit on May 12.

The mountain shook. I feared it would crumble under my feet. People were screaming and running. Mothers hugged their children. The mud houses tumbled, raising clouds of dust.”

While touring typhoon-ravaged Tacloban in central Philippines in 2013, Wimala’s feet were infected from walking on the dirty and muddy ground. He blamed it on poor sanitation in the area. He also came across a ship that was washed ashore.

In December 2013, Wimala visited the Visayas, a group of islands in the Philippines that was devastated by Typhoon Yolanda. Over 6,000 people were killed and 28,000 injured.

Tacloban was the hardest hit city. Millions were displaced in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. We distributed mosquito nets because there were lots of mosquitoes and flies. There were no basic amenities such as toilets.”

A few months ago, Wimala was back in Tacloban to hand over a health centre and two daycare centres he helped to rebuild after the typhoon.

Wimala visiting schools in Kalika, Nepal, which were destroyed in the earthquake. Photo: Y. Wimala

Wimala visiting schools in Kalika, Nepal, which were destroyed in the earthquake. Photo: Y. Wimala

I listen to people’s plight. I try to fulfil their needs and ease their suffering,” said Wimala.

Born in Kandy, Sri Lanka, Wimala has been the head monk of the Theravada Buddhist Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, since 1999. At the centre, he coordinates humanitarian work in East Africa.

He is the founder and spiritual director of the Triple Gem Society in Princeton, New Jersey, the United States. This is his home base where he organises and gets funding for his humanitarian projects.

He also supervises the Prison Sangha Ministeries which serve inmates in several institutions in the United States. In Europe, he founded the Lotus Buddhist Centre in Prague, Czech Republic.

Wimala has received numerous awards in recognition of his charity work. In 2007, he was awarded the Global Peace Award by the Centre for Peace and the Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia. That same year, the Members of Parliament in Kenya honoured him for his humanitarian work and medical aid in Kenya.

Wimala talking to victims of Typhoon Yolanda to find out their needs and concerns. — Photos: Y. Wimala

Wimala talking to victims of Typhoon Yolanda to find out their needs and concerns. Photo: Y. Wimala

In 2009, the Universal Peace Federation presented Wimala with the award of Ambassador for Peace. In 2014, the City Council of Tacloban in Philipines honoured him for his humanitarian efforts in assisting the victims of Typhoon Yolanda.

Wimala helped rebuild six Hindu temples in Sri Lanka in 2009. Devotees honoured Wimala in the highest manner during ceremonies to hand over the completion of their temples which were ravaged by war. They draped a gold shawl over him and bowed to pay their respects to him. Humbled by their show of gratitude, Wimala felt accepted as part of their community.

Wimala has a road named after him in Sri Lanka, evidence of his impact on whole communities.

Many donors have been supporting me for a long time. They’re familiar with the way I work and trust me,” he said, adding that he directly handles most projects. He also has a small team of people in the United States who are helping him.

We’ve a humanitarian fund that is used for the benefit of people in need. During disasters, I will send out e-mails and make calls to people,” he said.

Hindu devotees draped a gold shawl over Wimala to thank him for rebuilding their temple.

Hindu devotees draped a gold shawl over Wimala to thank him for rebuilding their temple. Photo: Y. Wimala

For his relief work on the typhoon-hit areas in the Philippines, Wimala rang up Rev Sri Saranankara of the Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur, and received sponsorship for the daycare centres.

The Buddist Maha Vihara in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, chipped in by donating oxygen concentrators, wheelchairs and crutches, and sponsored eye cataract operations for Wimala’s projects in Africa.

After the 2004 tsunami, the temple sent Wimala relief and medical aid for distribution in Sri Lanka and also helped to fund the rebuilding of two Hindu temples destroyed by the tsunami.

Over the years, Wimala has travelled to many parts of the world and helped people in all sorts of situations to pick up the pieces of their lives and start over.

Wimala does not discriminate when he gives assistance. His compassion goes beyond borders, race and creed when it comes to easing the suffering of others.

I want to help people overcome their suffering and heal their hearts and minds,” Wimala added.

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