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Sunday, 3 February 2013

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GCE A/L was tougher for Thilini than others



Thilini with her mother

Twenty year old Thilini from Kegalle seems to be the newest member of the list of courageous daughters of the motherland. For twenty years, Thilini Nimesha Jayathilake endured the greatest challenge in her life - inability to move properly. Yet she passed every academic hurdle and today stands tall among all those who passed the G.C.E. Advanced Level examination.

With her success Thilini is teaching us the worthlessness of many things we do to fill our egos. Thilini never was worried about the trends in the world or the fierce competition the students encounter to pass the exam. She just sat in her wheel chair and concentrated on what her teachers taught her and keeping her mind open to news and views of the world. Her achievement does make us look small.

Despite all the help she needs to succeed in her higher education, Thilini requests help to repair and rebuild the school hostel to accommodate more students with special needs to continue their education and succeed just like she did. Thilini has requested this help from the Sabaragamuwa Province Chief Minister Maheepala Herath when he visited her school, School for Children with Special Needs in Ambanpitiya, to see what assistance Thilini needs to continue her higher education. When asked what she needs Thilini said, "There are many other sisters and brothers just like me around the country who need a chance for proper education. If the hostel can be rebuilt properly to accommodate more students that will be a great act more than helping one individual like me." She did not ask for a separate scholarship, she did not ask for any other comfort - this was her only request.

This confident, smart girl speaks enthusiastically and acts the same way. "I got a B for Sinhala, C for Buddhist Culture and an S for Political Science. I totally concentrated on notes my teachers gave me. My teachers even came home to help me with my studies. Teachers wrote my notes as well," she said with a gratitude.

On the day A/L results were out Thilini with the help of her brother, checked her results on the internet and next day the first thing she did was inform her school Principal Buddhika Wickramanayake.

Thilini, coming from a middle class family of teachers has been rich with luck and fortune. She had a wonderful home and a school environment. Her parents, both being teachers gave the best fortune for their only daughter through a good education bringing her up to be a woman with substance. Thilini's mother Dhammika Senevirathne is a Maths teacher and at present is the deputy principal of Ambanpitiya School for Children with special needs. Her father, U.G.C. Jayathilake, teaches at Yatalathissa Kanishta Vidyalaya, Yattogoda in Kegalle district.


In her class

Thilini was lucky to have parents whose job includes understanding the value of education to every child. She was born at eight months through a Caesarian operation as her mother was experiencing high blood pressure during pregnancy. "When she was growing up we noticed she didn't sit at the normal age like other babies. She did not stand up like others. So we went from doctor to doctor looking for explanations and treatments," said her mother, Dhammika. The doctors diagnosed little Thilini's condition as Cerebral Palsy.

Between 40 and 50 percent of all children who develop cerebral palsy were born prematurely, according to medical literature. It says that premature infants are vulnerable, in part because their organs are not fully developed, increasing the risk of hypoxic injury to the brain that may manifest this condition.

A problem in interpreting this is the difficulty in differentiating between cerebral palsy caused by damage to the brain that results from inadequate oxygenation from that arises from prenatal brain damage that then precipitates premature delivery.

The first few months had been a difficult time period for Dhammika and Jayathilake to cope with the situation of their first child. Yet, being teachers gave them a better chance in understanding the situation. Rather going emotional over their baby's condition the couple has decided to act to the best of their ability - that's where Thilini's life started becoming a miracle.

She was raised with the greatest love and affection just like any other child. Yet her parents had to do all her work as cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the motor control centers of the developing brain resulting limits in movement and posture.

The family hails from Rambukkana and for the comfort of their daughter the couple managed to get transfers to Kegalle district and settled down there.


Principal Buddhika Wickramanayake

For two years before settling down in Kegalle, Dhammika and Jayathilake brought Thilini from Rambukkana which is about fifteen kilometres from Kegalle. "It was difficult for the child and too tiring. So we shifted to Kegalle," Dhammika said.

Despite the difficulties this mother and father admitted their daughter to the nearest school in Bamunulla, the village they lived. She was at Udammita Maha Vidyalaya at Bamunulla. "We felt very fortunate when her first teacher Sheela Violet, took our child with great willingness to year one.

She may never had such an experience, but she took the responsibility of educating our child wholeheartedly," Dhammika said. When Thilini was admitted to school in 1998 Education for children with special needs was rare to find. "Then we found that D.D. Jayasinghe Vidyalaya in Gangodawila had a special unit we took her there. The school Principal Ariyaratne and teachers during first and second years in the school contributed a lot to Thilini's development," the mother said. Then Thilini studied in Kegalle St.Joseph's Balika Vidyalaya.

Thilini started studying at Ambanpitiya School from year seven. "Since she had to do education under the normal syllabus in order to sit for exams we had to transfer her to the Ambanpitiya Special School," Dhammika said. "Our daughter was very comfortable studying in this school. There is a very good understanding among everyone in school about difficulties everyone has. The entire set up is organised in such a manner," she said.

Thilini passed her Ordinary Level exam with two Distinctions, three Credits and four Simple passes. Then the school faced a problem in supporting Thilini in her secondary education as the school did not have a Advanced Level classes. She was requested to go to the nearest School in Ranwala. It was not easy for Thilini. In the school she was, Thilini knew how to manage her work and the entire school well understood strengths and weaknesses of each individual.

In a new school with a new set up the progress would tend to get rather slow bringing the success she achieved a drawback. Principal Wickramanayake spoke to many people in the higher levels trying to pull a few strings to keep Thilini continuing her education. She was special in the school as well since she was the only student for the Advance Level classes.

Wickramanayake with the help of the Zonal Director for Education Hemawathi Hamine the school was able to get the attention of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sabaragamuwa Chief Minister Maheepala Herath. With their assistance the school developed an Advanced Level class.


Teachers-From Left: Political Science teacher Gothami Nelum Kumari, English teacher Kumarasinghe, Sinhala teacher C.I. Thushari, Buddhist Civilisation teacher P.G. Ranasinghe

Through the assistance of Chief Minister Maheepala Herath three teachers were appointed to the Ambanpitiya School to teach Sinhala, Buddhist Culture and Political Science. Thilini was happy with what she got and her only ambition was do higher studies with the available chances she had. Only the teachers who were willing were asked to come.

Thilini was a very sensitive student, said Sinhala teacher C.I. Thushari. Teacher Thushari was serving in Sripada Central College in Ratnapura when she received the request. Today Thushari, a mother of three, comes from Warakapola to teach the children with special needs. "When I heard what the requirement was I preferred to take the job and when I met Thilini I was very happy with my decision," said Thushari. To the teachers of Ambanpitiya School this is not just another service. It is very special for them. It is a challenge that tests their skill as teachers. It is a lifetime experience for them. Thushari's explanation represents all their efforts. "I was overwhelmed when I heard Thilini's results. It will be a happiness more than a pass from a normal student. Thilini never gave up," Thushari said.

"My husband and mother-in-law is very helpful to me in making my service successful. They encourage me do my job better," she said.

Thilini's teachers did not stick to the time table. They taught her whenever they could, at their free time or until her father came to pick her and her mother from school to go home. They went to her home during school holidays - especially when the exam was approaching and Thilini had to do more revision and past papers.

Thilini couldn't write so the teachers prepared notes for her, wrote down her answers, tape recorded lessons for Thilini to listen over and over again and ensure she does not miss a single word.

With all these efforts today Thilini showed the fruits of their tiring journey with success. At the examination one teacher wrote down her answers that she gave verbally and simultaneously the answers were recorded too. Education Zonal Director Hemawathi Hamine, personally attending to Thilini's examination, checked and packed written and recorded answers separately to be sent for corrections.

"Though Thilini is our first Advanced Level student in the next step we will have more than one. And there are more and more parents looking for education for their children with special needs," said Principal Wickramanayake.

He further said the special education system needs more awareness on the new technological advances and support to use them to educate the children. "Many developed countries use advanced technologies to treat and educate children with special needs. And if such facilities are available for our children more students will be fortunate to complete education successfully," Wickramanayake said.

According to the University Grants Commission children with special needs who pass the Advanced Level exam do get a 0.5 percent chance in a stream they choose to enter university out of the total applicnts. Still subjects in arts, commerce and science like bioscience, physical science and applied sciences only give this option.

Unlike yesteryears differently abled adults and children seem to be more courageous and determined.

Ten year old kids, athletes, University students, singers and academics from this community are finding their way forward amidst social barriers. In Sri Lankan culture, the extended family takes supreme importance. The question still remains as to whether we as a community have identified the value of the differently abled population's contribution. It is not only the acceptance but making an environment friendly for the differently abled or disabled persons to succeed to the maximum to his abilities.

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