‘Tsunami boy’ Asitha moves on

The Sunday Times that followed the life of Asitha Fernando – whose tear-streaked face, at his mother Ranjini’s funeral became the symbolic face of the tsunami in 2004 – visited his home this year too, as the country marked five years after that fateful day.
Text by Kumudini Hettiarachchi and Dhananjani Silva. Pix by J. Weerasekera

He is 14 years old and already taking on the role of the man of the house, fixing any electrical item such as a fan or a blender that needs repair and even climbing on to the roof when the asbestos sheets go askew.

No more does he roam the streets of Katukurunda, Moratuwa, with his friends playing “teek bola” (marbles) but has his mind set on passing his Ordinary Level and then getting a training in some “mechanical and electrical work”.

This is Asitha Fernando, whose family faced double tragedy within one year of the tsunami. It was Asitha’s tear-streaked face, at his mother Ranjini’s funeral which became the symbolic face of the tsunami in 2004. A year later, their father, Ivan, a fisherman who was attempting to make ends meet against all odds fell off the train and succumbed to his injuries.

As Asitha and his two sisters, Ashani married with one child and expecting another, and Bunty who turned 20 on December 24, celebrate Christmas and at the same time relive the painful memories of their parents’ death, life has not treated them too badly. Hung in the hall decorated with an artificial garland of flowers is a black and white photograph of their mother and father.

Many are the people who have come forward to help them – without seeking publicity or appreciation. The cosy little house they live in was bought for them by someone who cared deeply and Asitha’s educational needs are being looked after by another, even five years after.
Asitha in 2004: The picture that caught world attention Asitha now
Asitha with his sisters.

Asitha who studies at Weera Puran Appu Maha Vidyalaya goes into Grade 10 and will be sitting the OL examination in 2011. His grades have improved, he tells the Sunday Times, while sister Ashani who helps him with his homework adds that he is weak in English and a few other subjects.

“We’ll need to give him tuition next year in Maths, English, Science and History,” she says, without saying in so many words that this family is finding it difficult to feed so many mouths and also meet the extra costs.

Bunty who has special needs is being trained in card-making etc at a nearby convent by Sr. Jacintha Silva of the Sisters of Charity, Jesus and Mary who has been a pillar of strength to the family.

“Bunty does all the house work, cleaning and washing, as I have been feeling ill,” says Ashani adding that one day when she had a severe bout of vomiting, both Bunty and Asitha prepared a tasty meal of rice and curry with pol sambol for her.

The morning that the Sunday Times visited them, Ashani’s husband was not at home – engaging in the “timber business” that sometimes brings in enough money and at others not so much. The family had prepared kola kenda for breakfast and just bought some jak to make a scrap meal of rice, kiri kos and dried fish for lunch.

With a new baby on the way for Ashani and Asitha needing tuition fees amounting to Rs. 1,200 a month, the family faces 2010 bravely, with hope in their hearts that things will work out.

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