05 February 2013

Thilini Nimesha lifts the nation

Almost all newspapers on February 2nd 2013 headlined the remarkable and coincidental story of students from the same school achieving the best A/L results in the various streams.  Three girls from Devi Balika Vidyalaya and two from Weeraketiya were featured, smiling faces and all, on the front pages of these newspapers.  The fact that over 8000 students secured A’s in all the subjects was mentioned of course.  They have worked hard and have been duly rewarded and applauded too.  

With so many ‘successes’ it would have been hard to pick the heart-warmer that deserved a special ‘A’ score.  It ought to have been the lead story, some might argue, but it was not.  It was for the most part mentioned in passing.  U.G. Thilini Nimesha Jayatilleka of Ambanpiriya, Kegalle was one of the thousands whose results ensure university entrance.  She, however, is not just another name, another number.  She did not write down a single answer.  That’s what’s special.  She spoke out her answers.
She has never walked in her life.  She was born with a rare condition which hampers use of hands of legs.  Treatment required her parents, both teachers, to move her from school to school.  She studied at St. Joseph’s Convent, Kegalle, before moving to the Special Education School in Ambanpitiya when she entered the 7th Grade, a school where her mother was Vice Principal.

The Principal of the school Buddhika Wickramanayake and his staff supported her all the way.  They taught, she listened. They asked questions, she answered. She passed her O/L exam with 5 credit passes.  At the time the school did not accommodate A/L students, but since this little girl had done so well, despite all the obstacles circumstances had put in her way, the school was upgraded to allow her to continue her studies there.  The Chief Minister of Sabaragamuwa, Mahipala Herath had interceded on her behalf and with the support of the Presidential Secretariat Thilini Nimesha was able to dream about further studies.
Although set up as long ago as 1964 thanks to an initiative of P.B. J. Kalugalle, this ‘special school’ did not prosper.  There had been just 8 students when Wickramanayake took over in 2009.  Now there are 38.  The school got ‘Maha Vidyala’ status only due to the achievements of little Thilini Nimesha.  Today she is about to enter university. Today her childhood dream of becoming a professor is that much closer to being realized. 

She didn’t score the highest marks in the island in the Arts stream.  She didn’t score the highest marks in the Kegalle District either.  And yet, who can claim that she did not out-perform all the candidates at the A/L Examination in 2012? 
There must have been determination and there must have been a lot of love and caring in the long process that culminated in Thilini Nimesha doing so well at the exam.  Her parents are naturally proud. So too her teachers.  Indeed every citizen of this country ought to be proud of her and of this country which, despite all its many ills, is endowed with enough resources and love to see children like Thilini Nimesha come through with flying colors. 

She does not say it, but her life and her achievements tell all of us that we really don’t have the right to complain about being deprived of this or that.  She tells us to focus on what we have and do the best we can, be the best we can be.  Her achievement is a lesson.  Her life teaches us. 
She is tall, this little girl.  She is smart. Beautiful.  Accomplished.  She dreams like any of us.  She turns dream into reality, with a little help from friends and family.  Perhaps this is because she is willing to dream.  Perhaps the rest of us don’t dream or don’t dream as much.  And perhaps even those who do are handicapped in some way that prohibits dream-realization. 

Yesterday was Independence Day.  There were many ways to celebrate.  Many raised the National Flag.  A few perhaps would have spared a thought for this courageous little girl, for if we are to be a better nation and a truly independent one, we need more of the kind of spirit that she has cultivated.   She has made us all a little bit taller and given that little extra hop to our individual and collective steps.  If we can, as a nation, walk an extra mile on the road to betterment, then it may very well be because she decided that if she cannot walk, she will fly.