Edith Wharton, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, once said, “There are two ways of spreading light: To be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” Of Sri Lanka Ranjana Drs. Evert Jongens, the founder of Stichting Nederland–Sri Lanka (Netherlands-Sri Lanka Foundation) in The Hague, The Netherlands, we, the Dutch Alumni in Sri Lanka, can say without hesitation that he is both. This appreciation is to mark the occasion of his 90th birthday that fell on August 29, 2015.
Drs. Jongens, born in the city of Velsen in the Netherlands on August 29, 1925, has lived through the difficult times during World War II. In 1945, he entered the University of Amsterdam and went on to cap his university education with a Doctorate in Law. At the same University he had studied Spanish, Russian, Italian and English. Between 1955 and 1960, he has served as a Staff Member of the UNESCO at its head quarters in Paris. In 1960, he returned to The Hague and joined the Netherlands Universities Foundation for International Co-operation (NUFFIC) as the Head of its Department of International Education.
Technical Assistance was provided to Sri Lanka and other countries from 1952 onwards through the Netherlands Universities Foundation for International Cooperation (NUFFIC). It was at NUFFIC the Sri Lankans studying in the Netherlands came to know Drs. Evert Jongens.
While at the NUFFIC, Drs. Jongens initiated a program to promote Associations of Dutch Alumni in beneficiary countries. Netherlands Alumni Association of Lanka (NAAL) was established in 1970. Among the Founder Members was the late Eng. SHC De Silva, who was the first Sri Lankan recipient of a Netherlands Fellowship. Within a short period of time NAAL acquired the status of local coordinator of many a socio-economic and socio-cultural program initiated by Dutch benefactors and by 2004 NAAL was known in the Netherlands as the best Dutch Alumni association in the world.
Drs. Jongens’s first visit to Sri Lanka was in 1973. He had been invited by an International Travel Agency to join a group of Dutch journalists, who were on a familiarization tour. The visit laid the foundation for a lasting friendship. It was not the kind of friendships we read or hear about. It was not a case of an individual falling in love with another country. What Drs. Jongens did after visiting Sri Lanka in 1973, was indeed revolutionary.
He founded the Netherlands-Sri Lanka Foundation in 1976, for promoting cultural relations between the two countries. Its first activity was raising funds for the restoration of the Dutch Period building at Prince Street in Pettah, Colombo for a museum of Dutch period artefacts. After completing the project in 1982, the Foundation concentrated on promoting interest on Sri Lanka through financing publications on mutual heritage of the Netherlands and Sri Lanka. “Sinhala Vocables of Dutch Origin” by Dr. PB Sannasgala, “Links between Sri Lanka and the Netherlands” by Dr. RL Brohier, “De Wolvendaalsche Kerk” by Dr. RL Brohier and “The Netherlands-Ceylon Heritage” by Drs. Evert Jongens, are among the publications. Since the establishment of the Foundation it has been publishing a Newsletter. Its web site provides the largest collection of links on Sri Lanka on the internet.
Also in 1976, Drs. Jongens was instrumental in twinning the City of Galle in Sri Lanka with the City of Velsen(the birth place of Drs. Jongens) in The Netherlands. This twinning program was of immense benefit to the Municipal Council of Galle and citizensof Galle in many ways. A state-of-the-art computer networking training centre was installed at Galle Talbot Town VTA centre at a cost LKR 15.0 M. The people of Velsen raised over a million Euros under the banner “Velsen Helps Galle”for assisting people of Galle in post-Tsunami recovery. Even after retirement from NUFFIC Drs. Jongens continued to work with the Netherlands-Sri Lanka Foundation and regularly visited all universities and institutions of higher learning, where Sri Lankan students were studying or being trained. On 04 February 1998, Drs. Jongens and the Netherlands-Sri Lanka Foundation organized an event in the City Hall of Velsen to mark the 50th Anniversary of Independence of Sri Lanka and he, with the people of Velsen, hosted all Sri Lankan students at the event.
In 2004, the Queen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands awarded Drs Evert Jongens the Royal Honour of “Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau” in recognition of his servicethat deserved special appreciation and recognition by the Dutch society. In December 2005, upon being recommended by NAAL, the Government of Sri Lanka conferred on Drs. Evert Jongens the title “Sri Lanka Ranjana”, the highest national honour bestowed upon a foreign national, in recognition of the noble service he has rendered in promoting cultural relations between Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. He is among the few Dutch nationals who have been bestowed with national honours by two countries.
One would wonder about what keeps Drs. Jongens “ever green”. Undoubtedly his determination to be independent and active right at the top is the secret. The younger members of NAAL can learn a lot from him on how to remain young and active as one grows old. He never forgets to call the President of NAAL every month to find out the progress of activities of the Association. On the occasion of his celebrating his 90th birthday, we, the Dutch Alumni of Sri Lanka, wish Sri LankaRanjanaDrs. Evert Jongens with our customary “Ayubohowan” (long life) with invigorating dawns, long afternoons, exquisite sunsets and brilliant full moons.
Netherlands Alumni Association of Lanka