A talk with our Charter President

Today marks a very special occasion, which is the 200th Educational meeting at Gavel UOC. For a club at the university level, this milestone is a phenomenal achievement. Most clubs dream of getting this far, but here we are, still going strong and expanding day-by-day.

Our club is at a position of commendable status and recognition, has it always been this way?

We went down memory lane along with our Charter President, GV Mohamed Shaik (“Shaik Aiya”), to find out how this all began.

First of all, tell us a little bit about who Shaik Aiya is, for our newbies to get to know you better?

“My name is Mohamed Shaik. I studied at St. Peter’s College Colombo 04. I was part of the 2012/2013 intake to the Faculty of Science under the Bio-Science stream. In parallel to this, I also enrolled for the Graduateship in Chemistry offered by the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon. At the end of my second year, I chose to follow a Special Degree in Chemistry. It was during my third year at the university, that I became the president of the Gavel Club. I also captained the UOC Men’s Tennis team in the very same year. “  

What’s the beginning of your Gavel story?

“My inspiration for gavel comes from many different encounters that I’ve had prior to the inception of the club. I consider myself very fortunate to have gained an education in the English medium during my schooling career. At the university, all lectures are conducted in the English language. For those who have studied in the Sinhala or Tamil mediums all their lives, this is a huge challenge. I have seen many brilliant individuals struggle, only because of this language barrier. I helped the few who were close to me, and I’m sure many others like me helped their fellow friends. We were dispersed, and unknown to each other, only united by a goal to help our fellow students. What if we could create a platform for this? Why not unite for such a cause so that everyone can benefit?

“Asoka madam strongly believed that the students of the University of Colombo could be ‘so much more’ if they had a better command of the English language. She was the one who worked tirelessly to create a platform for people like us to get together and work for a better cause. She got us in touch with a few gaveliers from the University of Kelaniya who introduced it to the University of Colombo. It was GV Farha Mubarak who phoned me in 2014 and asked if I’ve heard of anything called “Gavel” and if I would be interested to join. That’s how I came to know the amazing individuals who would turn out to be my Ex-Co.”

“We started with a handful of people who had a lot of big ideas. We were excited and enthusiastic. It was the sheer passion that kept us going even though we had a very low membership at the start.  

As you said, the club started with very few people. How did you manage to get more members for educational meetings?

“Well, it was quite a daunting task. We started by spreading the word to our own friend circles. As it didn’t prove to be very productive, we developed other strategies. We spoke at orientations, we obtained permission from lecturers, and spoke to students taking 5-minute slots at lectures. Asoka madam also spoke of the club at each of her lectures. We would even randomly stop students at the university and asked them to come to gavel meetings. Even so, the results weren’t as we expected. Even when we had new members, member retention was poor. There were many occasions that the Ex-Co would wonder if the club would even make it to its second year.

We wanted to make our meetings much more relatable to everyone bringing in simple themes and topics. In the beginning, meetings comprised of a round-robin session followed by a table topic session with evaluations. Most often than not, everyone present would have to take a table topic as the numbers were so low. “

“It took even longer for people from other faculties to join us. Seeing a member from another faculty was like “Deyyo dakka wageh” for us back then. The UCSC folks were among the first to join from a different faculty, and I still remember GV Pasindu and GV Nawab attending our meetings regularly. “

“But I must mention, every single person who stayed with us was truly passionate about our cause. They claimed that they felt welcomed into the club and that it drove them to come out of their shells, take part in the activities and improve to eventually become better versions of themselves. One prime example in my time was GV Nirusan. “ 

Talking about fun stuff at Gavel, can you remember any special events Gavel UOC organized?

“We were the proud organizers of the first-ever Inter-Gavel trip to Peradeniya which saw the participation of Colombo, J’pura, Moratuwa, and SLIIT gavel clubs. Why we wanted to organize this was because many other clubs such as AIESEC and Rotaract network with clubs around them to go beyond the limitations of a single club. We were interested in building something similar for Gavel. This extremely enjoyable event also proved to be very fruitful, as the preliminary discussion for Gavel Conference 2016 was established.

We were also the first to start GUTT (Gavel Under The Trees). The educational meeting, although having many benefits, only provided a limited time for a speaker and did not have the option for discussions. The thinking behind this was that we wanted our members to have the freedom to express themselves, to discuss, get creative, and explore. This too proved to be very effective as members who used to be shy to take table topics started taking them with much more confidence during educational meetings. GUTT had indirectly helped our members develop impromptu speaking. 

Fun Fact: Did you know that the first GUTT session had only three people? It was a rainy day and only I, Warren, and Dinesh were there. But we still had our GUTT at Independence Square for 2 hours. We talked about cultures, languages, and Dinesh told us about a new language he found out about recently. It was a great start for the GUTT I think. LOL. 

The plain tea session was an activity that we started as well. However, the idea was borrowed from the University of Kelaniya. This was an excellent opportunity for members old and young to get to know each other and bond over a cup of tea. This had a lot of positives in terms of member retention. 

A bunch of seven people getting together and creating something as successful as this is not an easy thing. I think they deserve to be mentioned here. What would you like to say about your fellow team members as the president? 

“I would describe GV Charuni (VP Education) to be my biggest support at Gavel. She was always optimistic and was a positive force to the entire Ex-Co. We were UOC Tennis captains too in the same year. GV Fadil (VP PR) was my Yes-man. He was the kind of person who could get anything done, and all we had to do was ask. GV Gihan (VP Membership) was the guy who’d do the reality check in the team. He was calm, methodical, and would always weigh the pros and the cons and give very useful feedback. GV Farha (Secretary) is the reason why I’m a part of Gavel UOC. She should get the credit for taking the initiative in bringing all of us together. GV Dilanga (Treasurer) was a soft-spoken, simple guy who was highly committed to the club. He would regularly take a two-hour long bus journey from Dompe just to attend a meeting even when he had no other obligations in Colombo. Finally, GV Bhanuka (Sgt. at-arms) is a person whom you can count on to set up a meeting, any time, at any place, and still look very professional with everything in order. It was a huge burden taken off the rest, as he was the best at what he did. I also take this opportunity to mention Asoka madam. It was her motivation and determination that drove us forward to become the club that we are today. “

Did you ever think the club would be a successful one in 5 years, and that you would be able to see the 200th meeting?

I must admit as I mentioned before, there were a countless number of times that I wondered if this club would last another year. Unlike most other tasks during my university career, which had finite goals to be achieved (like a tennis tournament at the end of the year, or the end of semester exams), the continual sustenance of the gavel club beyond my four years at the university was a long-term goal. Hence we had to tackle it very differently from most of our previous challenges.

Having an infinite goal to achieve would mean that you won’t be present to make sure success is achieved at all times. Hence it requires you to inspire people, so that they can inspire others to come, and hope that you established a chain that would continue for years to come. It would have to mean that you’ll have to guide each of its members to find their own purpose and passions within the club and be okay if they are different from yours.

So answering your question, when it was time for me to say good-bye, I believe we had managed to create an atmosphere where Ex-Co’s would think beyond their calendar year. Gaveliers who care for others’ development as much as their own. Gaveliers who believe that there are still better ideas out there and Gaveliers who embrace one another no matter what the differences are. All in all, I saw something bigger than I could have ever imagined when we first started. Hence the term #GavelNeverStops.

On a final note, what would you like to tell our members?

The Gavel Club is many things. Use it to grow and help others grow along with you. Some people are shy to ask for help, go looking for them. Inspire others to do the same. The club serves to build better communicators, better leaders, and most importantly better people. Always strive to become a better version of yourself!

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