Wesley OBU Talk

Those 500 Days under The Double Blue


An Interim Principal and wife arrived at Wesley with only thoughts of boys and education which they were skilled in and with no other prior intentions. Just 5 days before, Rev. Asiri met us at home and requested us to be at Wesley for three months until the appointed Principal arrived from Canada.  So we were literally pitch-forked into Wesley.  We accepted the invitation after sending up a viber message to God.  Something momentous happened.  We fell in love with Wesley and we automatically obeyed the Wesley motto, Ora et Labora . Our lecturing at Teacher Training Colleges plus a lifetime in teaching & Admin helped us to see with new eyes what changes were necessary.  Being Methodist Lay Preachers and with the Wesley tradition of Christianity at the helm, the first move was hours of prayer early morning and late into the night all through our stay.

The day after arrival I opened up the Chapel for morning prayers by taking a service.  On that day there were about 6 teachers and a few boys but then God took over and the chapel attendance grew with the support of the Staff and the SCM students who had been praying for the chapel to be opened for  prayers at the start of each day.

Then the miracles began and within 3 months our prayers, Chapel needs, desires for the improvement of the Chapel had only to come to the forefront of our thoughts and it was supplied -- all through donations.  The first was when at the end of an OBU meeting I just mentioned that there were no Bibles and a Buddhist Old Boy promptly asked me to buy as many as were needed with no limit attached to it and the bill was to be given to him!  Thus, the chapel got 250 Bibles in 3 languages.  This was the beginning of Wesley coming to the Fore during our stay.  Some Old Boys, a former parent, some staff members began to ask, “What does our Chapel need?”, then, “What more will be good for the Chapel?”.   Chorus Books, a  5’foot  Brass Lamp, 2 large Brass vases, 2 Altar Vases, Altar cloths, and a Brass Bell which summoned the boys to morning Chapel  arrived at incredible speed.  Unbelievable to human thoughts came a brand new Clavinova Organ, and soon after, a wooden case for this organ which could be screwed to the ground.  The Old Organ was finally repaired.  Amazing!  Two organs!  A visit from the Bishop brought thoughts of a new cross at the back of the altar and he gave the details of who could make the beautiful, unusual, Anuradhapura cross. Then came the Altar Railing.  One of the Old Boys visiting the chapel gave new speakers.  An old boy brought along a multimedia system for the 5:00p.m. service on Sunday evenings.  Pastor Leslie Keegel, President, Church of the Foursquare Gospel in Sri Lanka and the Chairman of the Foursquare Global Council, an Old Boy, held a Healing Service and thus the SCM Praise & Worship team evolved and they started to lead worship in the mornings as well.  Later, another Healing service was held with a pastor from the Foursquare Gospel Church who thought the Wesley Praise & Worship team was a FIRST in all the schools in Sri Lanka!  3 or 4 of the SCM boys and some staff members started to share the message in the mornings while the Interim Principal took the rest of the services.  The boys began coming forward for blessings on their birthdays and for special needs, while for individual prayer needs it was to the Bungalow that they came. The Chapel was painted but this was paid for by the school unlike all the rest which were donations.  The boys used to show the Chapel to their parents and friends with pride.  Thus, the Chapel became not only alive but special in the hearts of the boys in a new way.

The arrival of Methodist Missionaries to Sri Lanka was Celebrated for a week with a fresh outlook, with morning guest speakers, and the SCM constructing a ship with stories about these missionaries in pictures. The Annual Carol Service was moved to the Cathedral at Bauddhaloka Mawatha. The traditional festival of nine lessons and carols was adopted.  One Australian Old Boy donated a Christmas Tree with ornaments as well while another provided a decorative lighting system for the school.  What a heap of miracles with no cost to the school budget!

THE COMPOUND



The need for colour and beauty is essential to enhance an environment for learning.   The school has a bit of green hidden from busy Borella.  There had not been anyone to tend it and so was almost dead but it came to life with money from the Australian Old Boys. The boys were encouraged to bring anthurium & orchid plants for the school garden to inculcate a sense of belonging and pride in the school.  The Vice-Principal’s house was spruced up with colourful curtains, necessary furniture from the Bungalow and equipped with crockery, cutlery, glassware, etc. The main bungalow was improved from a dump to a livable area with the past traditions of the house in mind. Plans for copying some furniture of the past , such as cane furniture for the verandah was considered . The garden around it was to be a recreation area of the era before with the same plants, and the lawn to be used only for special occasions. Yet, even to the extent the bungalow was completed, which was on a much lower scale than it deserved, it became a building which students requested to see.  So my wife showed it to them relating its history and pointing out its singular latch system on the outer doors.  Even visitors with ties to the Bungalow and a group from overseas were taken around.

THE SCHOOL PROGRAMME



For lack of accommodation, boys who sit the O Level's stay at home until their results are published.  I felt this a waste of time and suggested the school bring in these boys after school and teach them relevant subjects while paying the teachers for it. We would then be making greater use of our desks and classrooms, too. There was however opposition to this but the Government seems to have heard our conversation because from this year no boys are allowed to stay at home after exams.  When I did my rounds I found that at times teachers were absent and the classes were idling.  I would go in and try to teach them.  I was quite happy with English, Sinhala and Social Sciences but once I even took an IT class!!.   I still can’t fathom how that was possible!  Yet, all things are possible at Wesley.

Wesley was renowned for Music and Shakespeare but I failed to see this touch now.  I suggested to the music teachers that they have extra piano classes and invited a young Old Boy to commence violin classes.  At assembly, I found the boys did not stand erect and sing the school song loud enough.  It has such a graceful rhythm and melody. Therefore, I would shout at the boys and tell them exactly how it should be sung.  I got a senior class to the bungalow to read Othello and Great Expectations with me. That was another joyful experience.

Wesley was also a pioneer in teaching other languages. Together with the Alliance Francias, French was introduced to the middle classes.  A Chinese engineer working at the Nelum Kuluna agreed to teach Chinese but parents found it difficult to send the boys.

Our young boys showed talent in new technology.  Therefore the computer teacher was encouraged to teach boys to repair computers and phones, assemble LED bulbs, and make remotely controlled toys.  The boys would stay after school and enjoy their activity.  At the end of the year they proudly held an exhibition of their work. I particularly liked their radio set which I kept in the office so that visitors could see it.  Senior boys were encouraged to seek employment in new ventures.  They were sent to the Prima bakery to become pastry chefs and to Galadari to learn hoteliering as there is much demand for such people overseas.  The primary teachers were encouraged to teach children cookery skills. Invariably I got a share of fruit salad, a sandwich or a drink which they turned out.

School fees was an immense issue.  Many couldn't pay even the 2000 rupees that was due. My wife, Preethi, soon got round some friends, Old Boys and parents and set up a fund for the neediest.   Of course it was only a drop in the bucket. 

We discovered that running a school meant total time commitment with no off days. I left my home to stay at the Wesley bungalow with a host of creepy crawlies who refused to leave.The security had to be kept on their toes and I had to visit them at all odd hours.  I had to see that the bus was clean and the kitchen was running smoothly.  I enjoyed time spent with the teams at Campbell Park watching them practice, attending all matches and praying with them. Family counselling and often prayer with them also became a necessity.

Even though my mandate was for three months, we found that we were staying on because the Principal delayed to arrive and when he did arrive he wished me to continue as Associate Principal.  However, at this point the Old Boys were somewhat restive and unhappy about our presence.  This was because they said that Wesley couldn't pay two people for the same job.  I said that I was happy to leave but was prevailed upon to stay. Officially at this point the Old Boys Association began to ignore me and not invite me for any function or meeting.  I understood their feelings and did not take offense at them.  However, when I did leave at the end of 2016 after overstaying for 15 months the Old Boys bade me farewell very sincerely and all of them became our dear friends under the Double Blue. 

When it came to leaving it was very hard for we had become accustomed to the ways of Wesley.  The docility of the boys, their dirty unpolished shoes, teachers who knew there was a pot of kola kenda boiling, parents who were willing to go to lengths to admit their child, the very loud squeals that came from behind the bungalow, the fights and punishments -- all these were the order of the day.  It was with sadness that I had to get rid of two teachers and two minor employees who did not fit into the Wesley way.  These scenes are gone forever and I hope those at Wesley now will have the delight and the pleasure we had at what is a great and beloved place of learning.

Upali Ratnayake
(Interim Principal of Wesley College Colombo - 2015 /16)