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Nalini Edussuriya has spread her unruffled calm over the school she heads. She has the honour of being the principal for the last ten years of Visakha Vidyalaya, a school with 4,000 pupils, considered to be the premier Buddhist girls school in the country.
Nalini Edussuriya gets up at five or five thirty in the morning. But she awakes before that and often listens to pirith or chants herself. She also often cooks for the family, her two children, a son and daughter, and her husband the Deputy Principal of Royal College.
By 8 a.m. she comes to school and signs the register.
"We are public servants and so we all have to sign. After that I make my way to the shrine at the big Bo tree at our school and daily place flowers there. I prefer to go alone. The classes are big, and so they have each been alloted days on which they too can place flowers and worship. Starting my day with religion helps me to cope with the day's problems with equanimity. It is also good to inculcate religion in the children and set them an example," she said.
"I never take office work home. I finish the day's work at school and if the load is heavy I come back in the evening to school and finish my work. That is my daily routine and my home life is devoted to my children and husband.
"At home I attend again to the cooking. I do not encourage the family to eat oily foods and we do not eat beef.
"The school as you see is big, and I have to devolve responsibility to teachers and Sectional Heads. If it is something special they come to me. I have also three Deputy Principals," the Visakha Principal said.
In her quiet office this unpretentious pleasant-faced woman with a huge responsibility has a constant stream of people daily to see her. ''Even now I have people coming everyday asking for admissions. Just see this is a bulky envelope with admission forms for the children whose fathers serve in the army. They most certainly deserve special attention but just before you came in I was trying to figure out how I could accommodate them all. It is all in a day's work," Ms. Edussuriya said.
"I do not hold school assemblies daily but just once a month. Of course almost daily we have special functions and things such as Science Day, English Day and Kala Ulela. They are all organised by the children with the guidance of teachers.
"Sometimes I have to deal with serious problems pertaining to children. But I am happy to say that with the guidance we give our children at Visakha, there aren't serious problems as such.
"There is the problem of boy friends which we come to hear about. In such matters the class teachers advise them or special counselling teachers make them understand that they are too young to choose partners and that their outlook and values will change as they reach maturity," she said.
''Cheating at tests and examinations is another serious problem I deal with when it is brought to my notice. The child is disqualified from sitting for that paper.
"What really concerns me is when students alter the marks in their report cards. I must say it saddens me to find that parents often tell their children not to come home with low marks. This is an awful thing and often I call parents to speak to me and hold seminars for them. It is parents who need counselling.
"It is all due to competitiveness and the stress on exams. Some parents want their children to preclude other healthy activities in the school such as sports and concentrate only on exams. With education reforms we hope to instill correct attitudes and values in parents and children," she said commenting on the attitudes to studies which parents and students should cultivate.
"My daily life is crowded but it is a happy one. I believe that my pupils must be happy at school so I do not indulge in punishments. I would never accept another education-oriented job. I love to be with my students," the dedicated Principal said. Ms. Edussuriya certainly projects the image of an unconquerable, cheerful person who lives for a cause, namely to mould the lives of young children on their way to womanhood.
As we walked round the school we passed young girls reading, doing work or concentrating on a lesson. Most of them when close to the Principal stood up in respect. Old values of respect are strong in this school.
We walked into the well stocked and well arranged library where children were busy reading. We passed classrooms with colourful sketches and drawings on the walls, and emerged onto the vast playing field where some were practising their sports vigorously to lively music played by the school band. It was apparently the time scheduled for sports practice for seniors.
Ms. Edussuriya, a graduate in Sinhala, English and Economics holds a Diploma in Education and a Masters in Education Management from the UK.She is also on the National Youth Awards Committee under the Ministry of Sports and on the Western Province Educational Development Board.
It is a great responsibility to be the Head of a school immersed in tradition and religion such as Visakha is. Ms. Edussuriya's is an ageless story of a woman perennially in love with the work she does.
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