[APPRECIATIONS - (08-08-2018)] | Daily News

[APPRECIATIONS - (08-08-2018)]

Chandra de Silva

Legacy in human values

Chandra de Silva’s birth anniversary fell on August 7, yesterday.

On May 26, 1999, a valuable initiative took shape as Chandra de Silva, working then as a consultant to the Open University of Nawala Nursing Programme, wrote the outlines of a plan on a course on Human Values to be included in the BSc Nursing degree. Already in February 1999, she had written to all Heads of Department of the Faculty of Health Sciences, referring to a Faculty Board meeting where the development of such a course had been discussed.

She wrote that “This aspect has been highlighted by the U.N. as an essential component in Education…including ‘spiritual well-being’ as an inherent factor in the definition of health as of 1988.” In her inimitable way, she requested all the Heads and their staff to record least one quality “they would want people to possess as human beings” to assist her and her team “develop this unit”, instantly making them stakeholders in the project.

She added in an encouraging tone that more than one value maybe submitted, which would be “most welcome and appreciated.” The willing suggestions recorded in response included “honesty, kindness, generosity, tolerance, politeness, loyalty, selflessness, courtesy, humility, determination, integrity, patience, thoughtfulness and responsibility”, among others.

In the meantime, other universities elsewhere in the world had already included this aspect into their courses. Chandra was already coordinating with them to get her own project off the ground. On February 10, 1999, she had received a letter from Bimla Kapoor of the Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi, who sent her a paper she had written on the Significance of Human Relations in Nursing for the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. She also suggested to Chandra, the idea of developing the MSc Nursing programme jointly between the two universities. Since her own BSc Honors degree was from the University of Delhi in the early 1950s, Chandra worked closely with Indian experts in curriculum development together with those from the Athabasca University of Canada, to develop the first degree programmes for nurses she had been attempting to establish since the 1960s.

Attached to all this correspondence was also a paper written by Professor Afroditi Raya of the Department of Nursing, University of Athens, titled “Can knowledge be promoted and values ignored? Implications for nursing education” in which she concludes that “University is a cradle which nurtures intellectuals, professionals and scientists as whole human beings. Paced by the spirit of and the ideals of Padeia, it cannot be limited merely to developing the students mind. It should also inspire the student with a belief in the higher values of life, as a compass in his profession.”

A committee had been formed by March 10, 1999 to assist Chandra to develop this course which included several lecturers from the University of Kelaniya, a doctor and specialist teachers. Other distinguished personalities in this field of Human Values had been contacted for contributions, such as Father Mervyn Fernando of Subhodhi, Piliyandala, on the “Social Teachings of the Catholic Church”, Father Henry Victor of the Eastern University, and Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole. The file of paperwork included extracts from the teachings of the Buddha (including the discourse on Loving Kindness), Hinduism (including the Bhagavat Gita), Jesus: His Life and Teachings, Socrates and Plato among others. These were included as part of the Historical Development of Human Values through philosophers and religious leaders.

The summary of the first meeting as written by Sunanda Degamboda of Kelaniya University shows that the committee agreed to “assist in designing a course unit on Human Values for Level 5 (Bachelor’s degree level) students in the Faculty of Science, Open University of Sri Lanka.” Chandra had informed them that there were about 500 students in the Faculty. They decided to include all 26,000 (at the time) students of the whole university at a later date.

I wasn't surprised to find all this and much more, including handwritten notes running into many pages, as she delved enthusiastically into this particular project, crammed into a file titled ‘Human Values’, among her papers after she passed away 12 years ago in January 2006. My mother Chandra embodied the best of these values she was attempting impart in the course.

In charge of Nursing Education at the Health Ministry for many years after returning from Boston University with an MSc in Education and Administration in the mid-1960s, facing stiff opposition from the then administration, she would have been delighted at the support that University Education for Nurses has received recently. Chandra tried as hard as she could to make that happen since she returned from Boston (having forgone, at her husband’s insistence, the scholarship offered to complete her PhD), and finally established a degree course in1992 at the Open University with sponsorship from the Athabasca University of Canada.

As I celebrate the exceptional human being that Chandra was, on her birthday, August 7, the most remarkable quality about her that I recall is that she placed those human values above all else while she was a dedicated professional, determined and unfazed by the irrational opposition to every innovative suggestion, finding ways of working around all obstacles without ever losing her poise and grace.

My mother was soft spoken, always a refined, gracious lady. Unfailingly polite, gentle with people, she avoided hurting people—though she couldn’t avoid being hurt by them, emotionally and physically. She persuaded kindly and more often than not, successfully. When she couldn’t, she moved on and didn’t hold it against them. I was blessed to have such a human being as a mother.

One of the most wonderful things about Chandra was her ability to make you feel better, when tired or ill. Just a hand on your head, a gentle stroking or a kind look and a smile and soft reassurance did more than any medicine. Many just wanted her presence to feel secure when ill. She radiated a healing kindness and empathy. She shared in the pain and took some of it away from you.



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