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My life story, village to city


"game kella colomba avith" (A girl from a village arrives in Colombo)

I was born near Gampola . We had four girls in our family, and I have very fond memories of growing up. At the age of 3 and half years I was admitted to a small village school. When I visited this school recently it was named “Kirinda Primary Model School”. It was a mixed school. Boys wore shorts or sarongs and girls wore the “lamasariya”. This is a white cloth and jacket with a frill around the neck. Only the two of us wore a frock - Neela Somalatha and I. Our fathers worked in the same bus company. I met her again in 1976 when I was DMO Udugama Hospital, and she was the District Engineer and became the Wayamba Provincial Engineer. That year the three of us who were 1st,2nd& 3rd in the class were asked to stand on our chairs for applause from the rest of the class.

Our family moved to Galle to live with our grandparents when my father was transferred there. I went to Sanghamitta Vidyalaya in Galle. As I was the new girl it was difficult to catch up with my peers who were essentially repeating the Grade 5 and when I told the teachers that I did not understand some of the work they asked me to get instructions and help from another student! At the first term test I was placed 21st. My grandmother took me to a Bodhi puja saying I was going through a bad period. I got through to Grade VI with low marks. Two classmates Dr. Mrs. Bandulatha Samarajeewa and Dr. Mrs. Lakshmi Dharmagunawardana (who were 1st and 2nd respectively in my class) are now in the UK.

In January 1960 I was ready to go to the new school, Southlands but my parents still wanted me to continue at Sangamiththa. I refused to go to Sangamiththa. All my relations pleaded with me saying “aren’t you ashamed to go to this small village school. It’s a disgrace to the whole family”. I eventually went to Sudarma Vidyalaya in Devata, with only about 300 students. I was treated like a VIP there as I came from the biggest and best school in the area.

I then continued my studies in Southlands. When I was in Grade VIII my father passed away suddenly. That was a big blow to our family. As my mother wasn’t employed it was our grandparents who supported us. I however was determined to study as we had no other way to get out of this terrible situation. After Grade VIII we were selected to the science stream and I became 1st in that class and maintained standards throughout until I left Southlands. I passed O levels as the best student, in Southlands and the whole Galle district as well. I was sad to leave Southlands to a school in Colombo as there was no A/L science classes there. However, the Southlands principal asked me to come back as she had obtained permission to start a new A/L science class there. I was also scared going to Colombo as our family finances were weak and I therefore stayed back in Southlands. Our Principal requested the Principal of Richmond college to loan a teacher to Southlands. This teacher happened to be Sarath Gamini de Silva (later Consultant physician) who was awaiting admission to Medical faculty. He had studied in the english medium and translated his notes to Sinhala. Unfortunately, new teachers were not appointed - so I left Southlands and entered Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo, in January 1968.

My transition from Southlands to Visakha left me feeling anxious. I was a simple village girl thrust into the company of students from a higher social background without any preparation. Two girls in my class who helped me enormously were Dushyanthi & Charmini. However, the positive opinion of my teachers of me was truly life changing. I was considered the new bright girl at Visakha. I did not like tuition - best results in Southern province without tuition and financial circumstances kept me away from these classes. I had extra help from my teachers in every subject and they inspired me and helped shape my future. My mother’s asthma began to play up close to the A/Ls and my time was spent in looking after her. These worries and financial constraints had an impact on my studies. But my tight knit friendship with Dushyanthi and Charmini was vital to my success at the A/L exam.

Rani Fernando


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