Some call it courage – the definition is inadequate

Thursday, 14 July 2011 00:12 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Capt. Elmo Jayawardena

Pahalagedara Jayathilaka was born in 1975 in the remote village of Devahuwa near Dambulla. His father Appuhamy died of cancer when Jayathilaka was ten. His mother Dingiriamma earned about Rs. 4000 a month cultivating vegetables to feed her ten children.

Jayathilaka is crippled. He crawled on all fours till he was ten years old and then someone donated a wheel chair. That’s when he first started schooling in 1986. No school wanted a cripple crawling on all fours. “Why educate him? He is a cripple” that is what Dingiriamma heard when she tried to enroll Jayathilaka in a village school.

The so called “cripple” strode  ahead to get the first place in the O/L exam in his educational zone of Galewela, and raced further to secure the first place again in the Matale District for the A/L exam.  

With Rs. 1000 in hand Jayathilaka came to the Moratuwa University to read a Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1998. That is when I met him and he became a member of the CandleAid Family. He passed out from the university as top student in his field with a Super First Class Honours Degree. He then received a full scholarship to read a PhD at the National University of Singapore in January 2006. That in itself is no mean achievement. NUS is ranked as one of the leading universities in the world and for a Sri Lankan to get a full scholarship is an honour in itself.

Jayathilaka has completed his PhD and will receive the award on 10th July at the National University of Singapore.

His mother Dingiriamma will be there in the audience.

I know of no mother who could be that proud at an award ceremony.  

How does a crippled boy in crutches from an obscure village walk into Moratuwa University with one thousand rupees and walk away as the top student? Why does he then join CandleAid, the organisation that helped him and become a CandleAid coordinator for another poor student in the university who has no arms? Why does Jayathilaka then go from village to village with CandleAid and give speeches to little children inspiring them to study and example them with his ‘nothing’ to ‘everything’ story.

This is not talk the talk; it is much more. It is crawl the walk with empty pockets and crutches with nothing but pure raw courage. It does not stop there, Jayathilaka gets his medals and looks back on the path he struggled and goes back to help. That itself is a fairy tale, of the crippled boy and his armless protégé.

This is rare greatness. Jayathilaka should be honoured and emulated. If not for anything, at least for the wonderful footprints he leaves on the sand for others to follow. It is not only footprints, there are crutch marks too.      

Every word I wrote is the absolute truth. Jayathilaka does not need colouring.

I will write the story of the ceremony after the 10th.

I have the privilege to sit with Dingiriamma when Jayathilaka gets his PhD in Singapore.

(Capt. Elmo Jayawardena can be reached at [email protected])