Physically disabled from birth, and raised at the ‘Marc-Sri Saranaseva Nivahana’, a shelter for the poor and the abandoned, this is the story of Dulanjali Ariyathilaka who has big dreams for her future having passed the O/Levels  with flying colours By Tharooshie Mahahewage When the O’L results were released last week, ending months of stressful [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Achieving a great feat with her feet


Physically disabled from birth, and raised at the ‘Marc-Sri Saranaseva Nivahana’, a shelter for the poor and the abandoned, this is the story of Dulanjali Ariyathilaka who has big dreams for her future having passed the O/Levels  with flying colours

By Tharooshie Mahahewage

When the O’L results were released last week, ending months of stressful waiting for thousands of students around the country, it was a moment of great joy for many but perhaps most of all for a brave young girl who had faced insurmountable odds to pass the exam with flying colours….born without hands, she writes with her feet.

Let’s go back to 1995. A couple expecting their third child are hopeful. They have been told this birth might have complications, but they still look forward to the baby with all the love in their hearts. Both parents work at a prominent teaching hospital down-south where, the husband is an X-ray machine operator.

When the baby is born she has no hands. Her legs too are only half developed. The distraught mother develops severe post natal depression and faced with the difficulties of caring for his sick wife and two other children, the father decides to bring the baby to the only place he knows will take good care of her; ‘Marc-Sri’ in Kalutara.

Dulanjali: Embracing technology like any other teenager. Pix by Athula Devapriya

“I’ve been at Marc-Sri since I was one week old. When I was brought here, they hadn’t even registered me as they didn’t expect me to survive long. I was weak and small. But I made it through somehow. Ever since I remember, this has been my home,” says Dulanjali Ariyathilaka, the little baby who has grown to be a 17-year- old with undoubted potential- her immensely creditable results- 6As, 1B and 2Cs.

“We found out the results were out through the news. Some of my brothers (in the orphanage) saw it and came and told me. I was very sick then, down with fever so couldn’t even get out of bed. Then they checked my results for me. That is when I found out that I had passed very well. I’ve got six A’s, 1 B and 2 C’s. Though I was sure I will pass and get more than 4 A’s, I was very happy to know my results. I didn’t expect to get an A for Sinhala,” she adds with a bright smile.

Dulanjali had come to Katukurunda Roman Catholic College at Grade 3. Until then she had been at Kalamulla Roman Catholic College. She studies in the Sinhala medium and as the school doesn’t have a special education centre works alongside the other children.

“My friends are very helpful. They have to compete with me because most of the time I finish my work before them. It’s a mixed school and the boys in my class carry my wheelchair with me on it when we have to climb staircases. Since the wheelchair is shorter than the chairs, I have my own pink primary desk since I was small. Some of my friends too have got good results so even if we have fun we do our studies well, and I’m very happy for them. My friends are great,” she says.

In these times of heavy tuition schedules, Dulanjali is a rare exception. “I only got a teacher for Commerce. Other than that I didn’t go for a single tuition class. My mum (Ms. Rita) helps me with maths and science. I find maths hard. I’m glad I have got a C for it,” she says.

When she was nine, Dulanjali was reunited with her biological parents. It was the time of the tsunami and the hospital where both her parents worked was where many bodies had been brought to be identified. “That is what caused my parents to come looking for me,” says Dulanjali matter of factly. It was a difficult time emotionally she says, meeting her birth mother for the first time. “I told her I already have a mother. I told her she can’t be my mother. But after a while I could forgive. They (her parents) come and visit me often. I might even go to Galle for New Year. They were very happy when I told them my results. I have two elder sisters, you know,” she says.

Founder of Marc-Sri, Rita Perera, 73, better known as “Sister Rita”, was a religious sister, but during the 1960’s she was forced to revoke her vows due to serious health reasons.  She later married Marcus Perera and the couple built their house in Kalutara, which they called “Marc-Sri”. They lived a happy life, until Marcus died in 1982.  Rita did not yield to sadness, but began to try to alleviate her pain by going to visit people in hospitals who had no one to take care of them. That was when she thought of converting her own house to a haven for those who had nothing to call a ‘home’.

‘Marc-Sri Saranaseva Nivahana’, is a centre to care for and shelter the poor and the abandoned. Hailing from a family of six that had produced many prominent personalities in the island, like leading gynaecologist, the late Prof. Wilfred Perera, Fr. Mark Perera, well known as a priest, teacher and counsellor, Daisy Pathirana, who taught at St. Aloysius College, Galle, for more than 35 years, Newton Perera, a leading chartered accountant, late Joe Perera, a former High Court judge, and the youngest, Dr. Kitty Perera, Rita is lovingly called Amma by the children of the home.

The other most important person in the home is ‘Papa’ or Fr. Julian Tissera who is the chaplain of Marc-Sri and has been a part of the organisation since its inception.  “Dulanjali started writing with her feet all on her own when she was only two or three years old. After we saw what she wanted to do we helped her develop her ability. Her handwriting is very neat,” says Ms. Rita.

“Dulanjali is a very helpful and friendly girl. She’s very concerned about the home and everyone here. She keeps the family spirit going. Very rarely, does she get depressed. She doesn’t talk with anyone other than me about her problems. She has her special book where she writes how she feels. It tells about her dreams, how much she wants to be normal, how many things she could have done if she could run and jump like other girls her age. It makes me sad to see her sitting in her wheel chair all day. But there’s nothing I can do, I feel so helpless.”

“She’s a determined girl. She knows what’s right and what’s wrong. She’s also, just like all the other children like her who are here, very happy and content. I do everything to make them happy. My staff and I are dedicated towards that end. This has become my life’s mission now,” Ms. Rita adds.

Dulanjali has big dreams for the future. “I want to go forward in graphic designing. I’m already doing a six month course but I want to establish my future in that area. I’ll be doing my Advanced Level in commerce as it’s good to have an idea about businesses as well,” she says.

Just like other urban teenagers she loves music and singing. “Especially hip-hop music,” she beams adding that her favourite artist is Eminem. These days her favourite band is ‘One Direction’. “I’m a huge fan. I also read a lot of books and watch movies. I’m on Facebook as well because it’s vacation time.”

Life is not easy but she is blessed with courage and determination and a loving environment. “Sometimes I wonder what I would have been like if I was a normal person. But then I never regret who I am. If I was normal, I would have taken things around me for granted. Now, with my disability, I have to try hard to survive, compete with others my age who do the same things I find hard to do so easily. Sometimes things are more difficult. But I keep up, and I don’t want to give up.

I can’t change anything so I will try harder and go on.” “It’s great to be here and I’ll always be here. This is my home,” she says of Marc-Sri. “I have a great mother and father. I have lots of brothers and sisters, all the helpers are my uncles and aunts and we are a big family. I have wonderful friends, kind and helpful teachers and principal. I think I have all I want. I have everything a girl could ask for. I’m very grateful.”

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