W.M.K. Wijetunga

W.M.K Wijetunga looks at the history of ASPBAE from a biographical point of view. He remembers the colleagues with whom he worked during his time with ASPBAE, particularly the contribution made by Chris Duke. Before his time as Secretary General of ASPBAE (1985– 1995), W.M.K Wijetunga worked in university administration. He is now retired and lives in Sri Lanka.

ASPBAE – IIZ/DVV Cooperation

Reviewing the History 1985–1995

Before I come to the decade 1985-1995, let me go back very quickly to the beginning of my own involvement with ASPBAE. As Dr. Rajesh Tandon once said, it is like a moving train, chugging its way for nearly 40 years. Many of the people who joined this train in the 1960s are no longer with us, and as the Maoris would say, have moved on. The people we see here, in Beijing, are those who joined the train in the 1980s and 1990s and perhaps a few who joined after 2000. Dr. Chris Duke is one of those who joined ASPBAE in the 1970s. Of all the people who have been on this train, Chris has been its greatest navigator and has taken on many of us here, and who are not here, but all of whom have made a distinct contribution to the steady progress of the ASPBAE train. Many of the achievements of ASPBAE would go back to the links Chris forged through the Center for Continuing Education, Australian National University. Links not only in the Asia- Pacific region, but also with Europe and the rest of the world and most particularly with the international adult education movement, represented by the ICAE and UNESCO, in Paris, and most particularly in Bangkok.

My first encounter with Chris was in 1973 in Canberra, when I spent a year in Australia, visiting university adult education programmes. During this time, I heard of the ASPBAE train, but did not feel ready to get on board. It was only in 1980, after another year of very close association with Chris, that I was taken on board, first as the Secretary-Coordinator of the ASPBAE South-Asian sub-region and in 1985 while the train was moving with accelerated speed and momentum, Chris had decided to get off, and with very short notice, Chris, Lim Hoy Pick and Rajesh hauled me from the back of the train, and put me in the driver’s seat, or I would rather say, strapped me to the hot seat of Secretary-General of ASPBAE, in which I remained strapped till I broke loose in mid-1995. Whatever ASPBAE achieved during these ten years, I would attribute to a number of very fortuitous or fortunate factors. In management, to succeed you need not only a good team, but also a lot of luck. I had both in abundance.

Let me share with you some of the most fortuitous factors which helped us to take ASPBAE forward, during 1985-1995.

1. Dr. Chris Duke’s legacy: when Chris left in 1985, he left behind a whole legacy of institutional structures, programme initiatives and a wealth of professional goodwill.

  • He left member, Yvonne Heslop a trained and committed staff, who stood behind me, like a constant shadow, till 1991.


  • He bequeathed to ASPBAE a strong sense of participatory planning and management, combined with a style of low key, low cost undertakings, drawing heavily on volunteer effort. This is most manifest in the low cost and decentralized institutional structures which characterize ASPBAE even today.


  • He also left behind an array of activities, such as in-country and intra-country programmes, publications, research and travel fellowships, a sound foundation for future development and innovation.


  • Another distinct contribution was the wide network of friends of ASPBAE, spread over the six continents and most particularly in Asia and the Pacific.


  • Last but not least, and the most enduring bedrock of ASPBAE’s success, the unprecedented financial and institutional support and unfailing goodwill of IIZ/DVV. I am reminded of many times when Wolfang Leumer and Dr. Heribert Hinzen would say that all good things should come to an end, sooner if not later. However I am glad that day has still not yet arrived. ASPBAE-IIZ/DVV cooperation, I would say is the greatest legacy of Chris and that was also part of my luck and good fortune.

2. When in 1985, with great trepidation, I agreed to take over from Chris, Mr. Lim Hoy Pick, Chairman of ASPBAE at the time said “Wije you said yes and I shall stand by you”. And true to what he promised, Lim stood by me, like a rock, both in diversity and in good times. I wish he was here, so that I could tell him that he has been a mentor, a trouble shooter, an elder brother, a companion and a philosopher. I was fortunate that I could spend my apprenticeship in the post of SG under Lim. One of the most defining moments of my association with Lim was when I urged ASPBAE to undertake a far-reaching reflection on its functioning, with my written submission, “ASPBAE – retrospect and prospect” to the ASPBAE Executive Meeting in Macau in 1990. Having seen my draft on the plane from Singapore to Hongkong he said without any hesitation, “Wije you go ahead and present it. I am with you”.

3. One of the worst crises in ASPBAE was when in 1985 there was a constitutional crisis in respect of the representative nature of ASPBAE. By 1985 ASPBAE was 21 years old and come of age and a desire for change was inevitable. This was also a testing time for me, having just taken over from Chris.

The then Chairman, Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne, in his inimitable way of conciliation intervened decisively and bought time to make suitable amends, which ASPBAE did by 1987 with a completely new and more representative constitution. That constitution with some minor changes lasted till 1992, when circumstances following the first ASPBAE General assembly in 1991 made it mandatory to design an even more responsive constitution.

4. In 1990 Lim finished his term as Chairman, and made way for Dr. Rajesh Tandon to steer the ship of ASPBAE into hitherto uncharted waters, and as I said at the inauguration of the General Assembly, to take us to places which we had not visited earlier in the true spirit of an inspired leader.

  • Following the restructing of ASPBAE in 1992, there has been an increase in more proactive programmes, some of which would even be of a more activist nature. More needs-based activities have been encouraged and pursued.


  • Rajesh’s chairmanship has enabled ASPBAE to draw not only on his vast experience, but also on the resources of PRIA, of which he is the Executive Director. Rajesh has also opened windows for ASPBAE to interact with his wide network of international non-government organizations, adding value to the work of ASPBAE and thereby taking ASPBAE to the very epicentre of momentous events world-wide.

5. Once the former PM of Singapore Lee Kwan Yew was asked what was the secret of his success and his prompt reply was that he was able to gather round him many clever people and that he heavily leaned on them. ASPBAE also has been particularly lucky in being able to lean on many clever and wise men and women. To those who have already been mentioned, I would also add some of the following, many of whom are not present here.

When I reflect on my professional association with ASPBAE, I recall both with nostalgia and gratitude the invaluable contributions made by people like Dr. S.C. Dutta and Om Srivastava of India, Lawrence Tsui of Macau, Sunthorn, Dr. Kovit and Kasama Varavarn of Thailand, Dr. Budd Hall and Pancho Vio Brossi of the ICAE, Prof. Jong Gong Hwang and Kim Shinil of Korea, Jakob Horn of IIZ/DVV, Prof. Makoto Yamaguchi and Marooka of Japan, Dr. Sakya of UNESCO Bangkok and Mr. Yao Zangdo and Mr. Dong Ming Chuan of China.

6. The 1980s and the 1990s were also momentous years in the area of human development, and ASPBAE through its own stream as well as through collaboration with the ICAE in particular was able to play significant roles in most of those global initiatives and thereby add value to its own activities. To mention a few, not necessarily in chronological order, the two UN Decades of the Women’s Movement and the World Convention on Human Rights; the 1994 World Summit on Social Development; the UN Year of Indigenous Peoples; the UN International Literacy Year; the Earth Summit; and the founding of Civicus.

Let me conclude by sharing with you in ASPBAE the advice given by the Buddha to the Lichchavis princes who were faced with the threat of imminent invasion by the King of Kosala, that as long as they met together regularly in friendship and deliberation and adjourned in friendship no enemy would be able to vanquish them. 


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