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28th February 1999

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Into the arms of mercy

A four- year- old girl falls from a three-storey school building. Dhammika looks up in the nick of time to stretch out her arms and catch the 'flying doll'.

By Wathsala Mendis

Was it fate or pure coincidence that put a rather reserved sixteen-year-old schoolgirl in the right place in the nick of time to save the life of a four-year-old who jumped off a three-storey building?

July 31, 1998 was end of term day at Sunethra Devi Balika Vidyalaya in Pepiliyana.

When Ms. Lalitha Jayalath, a commerce teacher, brought along her daughter Madushani to school for the first time, little did she know what was to follow. Playful and bubbly, the four-year-old soon became the darling of the teachers who fussed over her.

After mid-term tests the girls were looking forward to their holidays.

By 2 p.m. the school premises were empty except for a few teachers in the principal's office and a bunch of students who stayed behind to make sure all the classrooms were locked. In the midst of all this, little Madu who escaped the notice of everybody had no difficulty in sneaking out of the room and climbing up the stairs to the top of the building. Once there, she was apparently confused and unable to find her way back. Seeing a desk placed against the parapet, she had climbed it and slowly slipped over to the sunshade.

Meanwhile, Dhammika Jayasuriya, an year-11 student, was waiting outside the school gate with a few of her friends when she saw a boy passing by gaping at the building. Only then did Dhammika realise what was going on. The little girl was pacing up and down the sunshade calling out for her mother. For a split second she came over to the edge but backed off when the girls frantically cried out in unison, "Nangi, don't. Don't do that." Dhammika lost no time in running over to the principal's office to alert them but, alas, before she could make it, off came the little one, spread-eagled.

Little Madu with her saviourSome of the girls threw themselves on the ground closing their eyes, while others stood transfixed with horror, fearing the worst. It was sheer fluke that made Dhammika look up in time to stretch out her arms to catch the "flying doll".

Neither of them spoke for a while. "They were both in a state of shock. Miraculously, except for Madu who scraped her knee a little, both were unhurt," recalls Ms. Kalyani Kamalasiri, the principal. One of the teachers chanted pirith after which Dhammika recovered.

The little girl was taken to the Kalubowila Hospital along with her mother. Only on their way to the hospital did the girl own up to what she had done, "Amma, I jumped out of the building."

"I still get goose bumps when I remember it," Ms. Jayalath said recoiling at the memory. "At home, she was a bundle of mischief alright and a bit impulsive. But to date, I still cannot believe she actually did something like that."

Well, our heroine had her own sad story to tell. The eldest in a family of three, which is barely able to make ends meet, Dhammika lives with her parents and her brother and sister in a little hut. There's only one room for the whole family with two grown-up daughters, a kitchen, and a small passage with a few rickety chairs for "visitors".

Even that ramshackle place they cannot call their own- they rent it.

Therefore, it came as a blessing when she was chosen by the Foundation for Civilian Bravery for her act of exceptional courage which brought a storybook ending to an otherwise sad, unfortunate incident. She'll be honoured, along with seven others at the sixth Civilian Bravery Awards ceremony on Thursday, March 4 at 2.30 pm at the Mahaweli Centre.

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