Posted on January 21st, 2017

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando

Royal Honour is an impressive and high status award to an individual. The British award three types of honours based on a person’s specific bravery, achievements or services to the United Kingdom and its former territories. Such awards are classified into three categories viz: Honours, Decorations and Medals.

An OBE (Order of the British Empire) is awarded by the Queen in person for individuals who have excelled in arts, sciences, public services and benevolent exertions. An MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) is awarded for exceptional services to the community. The Queen or a member of the royal family acting on her behalf awards Knighthoods, which permit the receiver to use the title “Sir” or “Dame”.

The Queen imparts honours twice a year, one in the beginning of year and again in June on her official birthday. A special committee appointed by the Queen selects those who demonstrate exceptional standards of merit or service, which are open to a wide range of people from all backgrounds. Once the special committee scrutinises nominees, those lists are forwarded to the Prime Minister, depending on each one’s merit and entrepreneurial success. The PM then presents the list to the Queen for final approval.

Sri Lankan share

King Edward III founded the oldest and the highest British Order of Chivalry in 1348. Since then the system has evolved to address the changing trends to recognize other forms of services to the United Kingdom. Records reveal that a good portion of Sri Lankan (Ceylonese) have been decorated by the British Royalty with knighthoods in forgone years and later with OBE and MBE honours.

Quite creditably many Sri Lankans (Ceylonese) had received Knighthoods in the past. Some of the names include Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir Nicholas Attygalle, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, Sir Muthu Coomaraswamy, Sir Don Stephen Senanayake, Sir Henry Kotelawala, General Sir John Lionel Kotelawala, Sir Oliver Goonatillake, Sir Solomon Christofell Obeysekera and Sir Baron Jayatilleke et al.

Subsequently, many Sri Lankan expatriates of different backgrounds have received royal honours. Arjuna Gihan Fernando (popularly known as Gi Fernando), son of Dr. Anton and Tina Fernando, who graduated at the Bristol University in Engineering and Computer Science, received an MBE in the New Year Honours list in 2017, in recognition of his services to the digital economy in the UK. Gihan has been recognized as a technology investor based in the UK, who has backed businesses such as City mapper, Booking Bug, Car Throttle and Plan.

Social media enterprise

He started his career with a brief stint at the HSBC bank. Subsequently he stretched his entrepreneurial tentacles and started his own social media enterprise ‘Techlightenment,’ which he later sold to the global information services group Experian Plc., which has its operation in 40 countries. In 2012, he formed another company called ‘Freeformers’. The main concept of ‘Freeformers’ was to recruit young people and to transform them as leaders to promote business knowledge of social media and digital marketing comprehensively. Should the sole objective of the UK be to become a competitive edge, then ‘Freeformers’ mission would be to identify inherent technical talents and abilities of the young, below 25 years of age, in a world of continually and endlessly changing digital milieu.

In June 2016, Sri Lankan Nushelle De Silva received the Young Leaders Award from Queen Elizabeth II, on her (Queen’s) 90th birthday, for taking the lead in transforming the lifestyles of people within the Sri Lankan community. Her programme dedicating to young people aged between 18–29 years encouraged other young ones to promote “peace building measures,” particularly to create positive changes to the lives of people in Sri Lanka.

In 2014, Elizabeth Moir, an Oxford graduate, was honoured with an MBE for her services to British education and the teaching of English in Sri Lanka. In 1982, she arrived in Sri Lanka with her family and founded the Colombo International School (CIS). Her past students have gone on to Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, UCL and Imperial College in the UK and to Harvard, Yale, MIT and Princeton in America.

Rene Goonasena perhaps was the first Sri Lankan female to be awarded an MBE for her long services as a librarian attached to the Ministry of Defence in the UK. Lakshmi de Soyza who was the head of Brent Languages Service followed suit. She had a 26-year-old teaching career in England teaching English to foreign children and trained teachers in colleges.

Outstanding services.

Chelliah Yogamoorthy received an MBE in 2011 in the New Year Honours list for his outstanding services for 23 years to the Department of Transport, as a quantity surveyor for Highways in the UK.

In 2003, Ven. Galayaye Piyadassi, the Head of the Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre in NW London was awarded an MBE honour during the Queen’s Birthday Honours in recognition of the vast amount of community service done over the years, within the Borough of Brent, as much as engaging in community activities among the Sri Lankans and many other religious and racial groups living in the cosmopolitan city of London. Under Mettha Foundation, the Bhikku has set up a home for the homeless children in Sri Lanka to provide welfare and educational needs for delinquent juveniles.

In the 2006 New Year’s Honours list, the late Ven. Dr. Vajiragnana, head of the London Buddhist Vihara was awarded an MBE. The Bhikku represented the Buddhist devoutness for 20 years abroad. He represented the Sri Lankan community at royal functions and was in constant demand to address seminars in the UK, as well as many other parts of the world. In 1999, he founded the Rahula Trust, a charity aimed at helping the deserving children of Sri Lanka, Nepal and Kenya. He was an author who has published many books, pamphlets and articles covering all aspects of Buddhism.

Prince Charles conferred the honours in 2008, representing the Queen when Ven. Dr. Witharandeniye Kassapa was awarded an OBE. Ven. Kassapa qualified as the only Bhikku to be selected for the Queen’s awards representing the Buddhist community in the United Kingdom.

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