AN APPRECIATION – DEATH OF DR OLGA MENDIS, A LEADING SOCIAL ACTIVIST IN AUSTRALIA
Posted on December 4th, 2020

Ranjith Soysa

the fragrance that spreads from a good quality sandal wood bark remains the same when crushed and cut” – Subashithya – the Well Spoken.

We are saddened by the death of Dr Olga Mendis, one of the greatest overseas Sri Lankans who served her adopted Motherland, Australia as well as her original Motherland, Sri Lanka with dedication. She was  from Moratuwa and studied at Princess of Wales College. She entered the Sri Lanka medical college. After passing out as a medical practitioner, she proceeded to the UK for higher studies. She married Dr Mervyn Mendis and served in many hospitals and as a School Medical Officer from 1967 to 1976. She immigrated to Australia in 1977.

I came to know Dr Mendis in the 90s when she was known to almost all Sri Lankans in Victoria as a leading social activist. I saw in her the resolve to pursue the objectives of her planned program and how happy she was when surrounded by the grateful beneficiaries of her work. She did not give into the whims and fancies of the armchair critics who attempted to stifle her progress but kept on marching ahead and she delivered the desired results to the community. I remember Dr Mendis extending assistance to the needy migrants by way of funds and other requirements including free medical treatment plus advise. She was simply a large-hearted lady.

I will now try to pen a few memorable achievements of Dr Mendis which I came to know through her contemporaries, and I gathered by watching her from a distance including associating her closely. In 1983 she along with Prof Christie Weeramantri and H.L.D.Mahindapala formed Overseas Sri Lankan Organization for National Unity with the objective of countering the misinformation campaign of some extremist Tamil groups and it became a major forum to promote Sri Lanka, She was the founder Treasurer and held the post for next 4 years.

From 1985 to 1987 she served as the VP of Sri Lanka Association and was very active in jointly organizing for the first time in Australia the celebration of the Sri Lanka Independence Day, Sinhala New Year functions and even Wesak devotional songs,

In 1985 when she went to meet the Minister of Immigration for a discussion she realized that there should be a forum for the Sinhalese in Victoria to represent their views and formed the Sinhala Cultural and Community Services Foundation in 1989.She was the founder President and continued  in the position for more than 20 years. Perhaps, this was the first Sinhala organization in Australia.  Through SCCSF she promoted study of Sinhala, Sinhala song and poetry, dancing, and traditional drumming. The SCCSF also extended its services to the Seniors by way of monthly gathering, providing meals and medical advise The SCCF  raised funds by running food fairs and Sinhala drama and gave a helping hand to the victims of floods, drought in Sri Lanka and the needy in the Sri Lankan hospitals. Through Sevana Sarna Foster Parent scheme she was able to help 150 poor families in Sri Lanka to receive monthly payments.

She also organized the first Sinhala and Buddhism classes  to educate the children of the Sinhala migrants whose arrival to Australia saw a big leap in the late 80s, She worked assiduously with a few volunteers to streamline the teaching of Sinhala language. Her indefatigable efforts  reached a climax in 1990 when the Sinhala Language was recognized as a subject for Victorian Certificate Examination, the premier exam for secondary education.

In the mid-90s when Sri Lanka was the subject of ridicule due to misinformation campaign of some sections of Tamils, she teamed up with Society for Peace, Unity and Human Rights for Sri Lanka and galvanized a program to educate and confer with Aussie politicians to provide the other side od story and also to help the injured soldiers in Sri Lanka,. The ship -loads of beds and equipment were sent to Sri Lanka to help the victims of bombs and explosives and to the rural hospitals,

She played a key role in the formation of first Sinhala community radio thorough 3 zzz when she was elected as a member of the Ethnic Communities  council in Victoria while she joined a band of social activists and started  ‘ SRI LANKAN’ the first Sri Lankan newspaper in Australia.

Dr Mendis also drew up a program to host visiting Sri Lankan sports teams and looking after them in Australia through the sponsored families. Sri Lankan national netball team which toured Australia annually was one of the beneficiaries,

She authored two books, one on Sri Lanka history and other on Sri Lankan migrants to Australia.

She was the recipient of many prestigious awards such as Doctor of the year in 1992.Order of Australia Medal and Excellence in Multicultural Affairs -the Centenary Award.

Her late husband, Dr Mervyn Mendis was her mentor and helped her in all possible ways to accomplish her multifaceted social service agenda.

When she passed away last week, she was 93 years and as her memory was failing. she was compelled to rest at home amidst love and care of her sons. Dr Duleep, Dr Roshan and only daughter, Dr Priyadarshani and her daughters in laws including her grandchildren. She closed her eyes in the arms of her eldest son, Duleep. 

MAY HER JOURNEY IN SAMSARA BE SMOOTH

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