Reaching for hi-tech dreams
By Shelani Perera
Shanika Watovita was just 18, when The Sunday Times met her five years
ago to write about this young girl who suffers a paralysing disability,
but who, against all odds, had achieved success in the literary field.
support from her parents
Today, she's 23 and we are back in her little village of Idamgoda in
the Ratnapura district to meet Shanika again. Not much has changed in her
physical appearance. Life is tougher, if at all, for the ailment that cripples
her body, now extends to her hands as well. But her spirit is unbowed and
sheer determination has seen her venture into new fields. Not content with
literary success, she has now plunged into the entertainment field by launching
her very own entertainment and IT company called "The Vengas".
Shanika is paralyzed from the neck downwards and cannot hold her head
up. She has to lie in bed resting her head on a pillow. But she has learnt
not to let that stand in her way.
Born with no sign of disability, she was the bouncing eight-pound first
born of her parents.The first warning of a problem came when she showed
signs of being a slow developer and was unable to hold her feeding bottle
by herself. Her worried parents tried every method of healing they heard
of, Western medicine, Ayurveda, but soon, it was apparent that their baby
girl was not to have a normal life.
years ago Shanika was able to write (file photo), but not anymore
School was out of the question, but Shanika being the brave spirit she
is never let that stand in her way. She learnt to read and write and by
the age of ten, showed her parents that she was an independent and fast
learner. Her love for writing and reading, extended to languages and not
content with Sinhala, she soon picked up Tamil and Hindi as well, learning
the former with the help of a teacher and the latter through postal lessons.
Fluent in Sinhala, Hindi, Tamil and English, she was soon using her linguistic
skills to translate books and even compose songs and poems.
A few years ago, fate threw yet another obstacle in her way; Shanika
realised that she could no longer use her hands. But there was a silver
lining to that cloud too.
A concerned well-wisher having recognised her talents decided to give
her a computer, with Internet and e-mail access. The computer could not
have come at a better time because Shanika was increasingly finding it
difficult to write.
But for the girl who has never been to school, yet mastered four languages,
grappling with the new technology became a problem.
"I did not know how to operate the computer, yet I was fascinated and
wanted to learn. I knew my hands were becoming lifeless and I would not
be able to do all the work I used to do earlier," she said.
Within two months Shanika was able to grasp the basics in computer with
the help of a neighbour.
"After that I started reading a lot on the subject and also used to
listen to radio and TV programmes on computer. I got my own web page and
e-mail access and this helped me greatly. Although I can't use my hands
any more, I dictate to my family and now in order to give some knowledge
on computer to others, I get down schoolchildren in the village who follow
my instructions and do my work on the computer. This way, I know they will
also gain some kind of knowledge on the subject," she says.
While Shanika was adapting to the IT world, she was also making plans
to launch into another very competitive arena.
"I have always been interested in music and during the past four years
I started doing an in-depth study on Latin American music, with the help
of a friend. I also studied Spanish through a foreign friend who helped
me a great deal. It was during this time that the idea of having my own
entertainment company came to mind."
"I was keen to get the best people in the field and it took me all of
four years to get to know the correct people and choose the best. The company
is also an IT firm. All six members are employed in the music industry.
I have three DJs, a manager, an entertainment manager and IT manager. I
am the Chairperson."
But how was it possible for Shanika to run an entertainment company,
living as she does in Ratnapura?
"The main reason is that all seven of us have a good understanding and
we communicate well. As it is difficult for me to travel to Colombo all
the time, I meet them twice a month in Colombo. It is at that meeting that
we discuss bookings and our future plans. I also allocate work to each
person and do my fair share of work. Since I go to Colombo just twice a
month we work till 1.00 a.m. After that as a daily routine we communicate
through e-mail and the telephone," she said.
Through the contacts made from her website, she gets generous help from
Today Shanika has been able to achieve yet another milestone. She has
begun building her own house, on a plot of land donated by President Chandrika
Kumaratunga when she won an award for her achievements.
"We did not have money to build the house. I wrote to Deshamanya Lalith
Kotelawela, who came forward to give me the money. His help did not stop
there, for he encouraged me a great deal. He is one reason for me to venture
into this. He had a lot of confidence in me," she says gratefully.
A few years ago, Shanika decided it was time she reached out to others
who are disabled. She launched Voice of the Disabled People', an organisation
for the handicapped and despite her busy schedule, is much involved in
"We have decided to allocate 5% of our earnings from the company for
the welfare of the disabled. I am also hoping to recruit some of them if
they can give me what I need," she says with a true businesswoman's spirit.
She has her own ideas about the direction she wants her company to take.
"The entertainment field is more than spinning CDs, and we want to set
up a Cyber Cafe and also go into the production side of music. At the moment
my biggest problem is finding the capital for future projects. We want
to organise a grand musical show with the DJs, and we have the support
of SUN FM which has helped me a lot. I am positive about it," beams Shanika.
With so much going for her, there is no bitterness when she is asked
about the physical changes she has faced within the past few years.
"I feel that my body is weakening and I can no longer sit for long periods
for then I get a spine ache. I can't use my hands_ they are lifeless and
I can't have meals on my own. But these are not problems. I have the most
valuable asset. That is my imagination, the ability to be creative and
to use my head," she says.
We take our leave, wishing her success, for if anyone deserves it, Shanika