Rewind to 21 years ago, span over a deserted Colombo city and zoom in on a bus stand. A woman huddles from the cold of the night with her newborn, wondering what tomorrow will bring. She has nowhere to go-just discharged from hospital, she has been abandoned by her family. “I thought- is this is [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

After 21 years Samanthie ‘finds’ her mother

With help from Iamsrilanka, an online platform that connects Lankans from across the world, a young Sri Lankan who had been adopted by a Norwegian couple is reunited with her biological mother

Rewind to 21 years ago, span over a deserted Colombo city and zoom in on a bus stand. A woman huddles from the cold of the night with her newborn, wondering what tomorrow will bring. She has nowhere to go-just discharged from hospital, she has been abandoned by her family. “I thought- is this is the world I want to bring my child into?” she remembers. The next morning Poojani Palliyaguruge was on the steps of the Salvation Army hostel, heart hardened with resolve to give her child a better life.

They made it possible: Samanthie, son Mateus and Poojani with Shiraz (left) and Rukshan (right) from Iamsrilanka.

So imagine her surprise when she opened her doors to a group of young men over two decades later who claimed to be messengers for that very child she had given up. “I just couldn’t believe it,” she smiles tearfully. “My daughter had found her way back to me.”
The young men were from Iamsrilanka, an online platform ( that promotes the country’s tourism industry and connects Lankans from across the world. Just over a month ago they had been contacted by a Norwegian who claimed to have been adopted from Sri Lanka and was looking for her birth mother. Intrigued, the administrators wrote back and soon a stream of communication poured in. Twenty-one-year-old Kine Samanthie Priyangika Fiskerstrand Oterhals had lived her entire life in Norway and was ready to meet the woman who had given birth to her on the other side of the world.

“There was this television show in Norway which I was addicted to,” the young woman in question tells us over tea on a balmy Colombo evening last week. “They connected adopted kids with their birth parents. At the end of the show you walk out of these sliding doors, hand in hand with your parents. It’s silly,” she smiles. “But I really, really wanted that.”

Samanthie knew she was adopted from a very young age. “I remember my parents were very diplomatic about my biological mother. When they first told me they were like, ‘you have a double pair of parents’ and whenever I asked if she was coming for the holidays they would say ‘sweetie she really wanted to, but she missed her flight’ or something.” Samanthie was adopted by a Norwegian couple in 1992, who had also adopted another young boy from Sri Lanka (her brother, Ruben Prashanth).

My mother, my daughter: The moment they never thought would happen. Pic by Rukshan Kuthoos for Iamsrilankacom

Samanthie grew up in the embrace of a close knit community in a town called Molde. Both her parents were in the field of medicine-something she finds inspiration from in her quest to be a family therapist. When she was nine, together with her father she wrote to that TV show she had always wanted to be part of. Unfortunately, by the time she had finally made some headway into getting on it the show was cancelled. Now that she has been to Lanka she can learn to say ‘aiyo’ about things like this but at the time, she was disheartened. It was many years later when a friend who had been to Sri Lanka said that she must somehow visit her birth country that she resumed the search. “The time was right,” she says. It was time for Samanthie to meet her mother, and for her baby son Mateus to meet his grandmother. When she stumbled on Iamsrilanka on Instagram she decided to try her luck and emailed the page’s administrators with her story.

Shiraz Ismail and his team who read this email were instantly moved to help. “I can’t imagine the pain of living without knowing your mother so of course we had to help,” says the young entrepreneur. Together with fellow teammates (co-founder Israth Ismail, Infar Marikkar, Shifan Ramlan, Zeenath Ismail, Mohamed Ruzaik, Rukshan Kuthoos and Buddhika Pandithasundara) he obtained two pictures from Samanthie given to her by her adopted parents and taken back in ’92. In it, Poojani stands with her baby in front of the Sunshine Haven Home in Rajagiriya, where Samanthie was kept till she was adopted. The team had a Herculean task ahead of them-with no contact details (Poojani had given her Matara address to the courts), they relied solely on the picture’s background to locate her.Poojani’s face was finally recognised in the colourful community of Obeysekarapura in Rajagiriya.

Strangely enough, when Poojani opened her door to the young gentlemen with news of her daughter she was in mourning for her own mother who had just passed away. “I thought I have no family now,” she says. “But now I have my daughter. This is life; it takes and gives.” They met on Independence Day at Independence Square, a venue carefully chosen by the Iamsrilanka team for its neutrality.
It was an emotional moment. Rendered speechless with nerves and emotion, mother and daughter hugged-“I expected a lot of things,” says Samanthie. “But it was nothing like I thought it would be. My mother was a very tough woman because she had been through so much. It was a lot to take in after 21 years.” There was quite a roadblock to manoeuvre around too-neither could speak each other’s language. They conversed haltingly with the help of translators from Iamsrilanka.

It was against their advice however that Samanthie travelled back to her mother’s temporary home with her aunt in Obeysekarapura. The team warned her that it was not the safest of locations but Samanthie is her mother’s daughter after all-“we’re both incredibly stubborn!”. She was only slightly horrified by the overwhelming poverty her mother lives amidst. Now she just wants to make things better; she’ll return in April with her Norwegian family for a proper reunion and to fix things up for her mum.

Till then, she’s content to rediscover her country of birth and more importantly, her extended family. While Poojani is not on the best of terms with the family that she says abandoned her in her time of need, Samanthie is fast forming a close bond with her little cousins and all her aunties and uncles and it’s this connection with the rest of the family that has caused the slightest sense of discord in this happy reunion. But for now, the mother and daughter are content to enjoy each other’s company after 21 long years apart.

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