12 February 2014

Freedom is made of ‘give'*



The fourth day of February is a mis-named or mis-interpreted day of independence.  When we got the independence which we commemorate we remained subjects of a lady called Elizabeth who lives somewhere in England.  It was on the 22nd day of May in the year 1972 that we truly recovered political independence.  Anyway, for reasons best known to day-designators, February 4 is celebrated in this country. There are flags and speeches, parades and Independence Day statements, a lot of pomp and pageantry. 

Last Tuesday the 4th of February, while the capital was decked in flags and special traffic arrangements put in place, there was a flowering that had nothing to do with these celebrations, a liberation that few noticed and was not tweeted about or posted on FB. 
Kotavehera is about 9km beyond Nikaweratiya on the Kurunegala-Puttalam road.  Six kilometers on the Kotavehera-Inginimitiya road, by a small school there’s a dirt track to the left.  After several bends in the road an even more modest path on your right takes you to a humble house.  It’s not half-built.  It’s less than half-built. It is the home of Rankoth Veerayalage Kirage Wiliyam and his daughter Suneetha.  Suneetha is 13, her father is 70.  Her father is blind and has been so since he was 45. 

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Suneetha and how the little girl attends to all household chores, cooks, cleans, bathes her father and also finds time to do her schoolwork at night.  Her story was first related by Priyani Mangalika, the Lankadeepa correspondent for the area.  She had met Suneetha at a ceremony organized by the Kotavehera Divisional Secretariat to distribute stationary to needy students.  Thanks mainly to this article and partly to comment in The Nation, many kind people volunteered to help the little girl who, according to Priyani Mangalika, only wanted one thing: a bicycle – so she won’t get late to school.

Many people wanted to buy her a bike but Piyawathi Biyanwela of the Divisional Secretariat said that someone had already pledged to buy her one.  When asked what else was needed, a wish-list was offered. 

On that ‘independent’ or ‘free’ Tuesday, the place was a hive of activity.  Someone had promised to provide money towards getting an electricity connection with an added pledge to pick up the bill for a certain period of time.  The staff of Star Garments, Katunayake had decided to chip in too. It was they who brought the bicycle.  The cutting, embroidery, electrical and maintenance units, along with the welfare society of the company had collected money.  They had come in a bus and were busy doing the wiring.  Officials from the Divisional Secretariat including the Divisional Secretary Jayalath and Senior Planning Officer Jayaratne, the Grama Niladhari Rupika Damayanthi, the Samurdhi official, Sumanawathi, and of course Priyani Mangalika were there, getting things organized, getting the work done. 

Little Suneetha was playing with her friends. She couldn’t stop smiling.  Wiliyam was smiling too, but complained, ‘I wish I could see it all’.  But you feel it, don’t you, we asked.  ‘Of course,’ he said. 
This writer was there to deliver Rs. 15,000 offered by a reader who wanted to help in some way. Ms Biyanwela, quite rightly, told us to deposit the money in a bank account that had just been opened Wiliyam’s name. 

We expected the electricity, but not the water.  Suneetha will be no longer strain her eyes trying to read by the light of a kuppi laampuwa. She won’t have to fetch water.  She can water the small vegetable garden without tiring herself out.  She will save time going to school and coming back. She will have more time for her father.  She’s already the first in her class.  If potential has a name, it has to be Suneetha.   

So, on February 4, 2014 a little girl gathered some freedom.  And those who put little pieces of ease before her also picked something up in the process.  Somewhere in Kotavehera, far away from Independence Day celebrations, value was added to solidarity and community.   That’s independence. In a way.     

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