Rejected due to the lack of birth certificate
A School for Shiva
How a little boy nearly missed out on an education due to paperwork
It was a Wednesday. Mr. Wimalasiri, the principal of Nidangala Junior School finished the morning assembly and waited by his office until students walked back to class. Suddenly, he noticed a child entering the school premises through the main gate with a man who seemed like the child’s father. He recalled that the principal of neighbouring Kotavila school had told him about a child. Peincipal Wimalasiri noticed the child was limping.
The father and the son stood before the principal’s office. The man was wearing shorts and a shirt with short sleeves. Colours in both clothes had faded. His dust-stained pair of old slippers had worn out. Wimalasiri sat on his chair and called the two into the office. The man stood in front of the principal’s table timidly. Wimalasiri was angry about the clothes of the father who came to admit his son to the school.
“Don’t you know that this is a school? Didn’t you have a sarong to wear to the school? See, the dirt on your slippers are everywhere on the floor,” he grumbled. The man hurried out, kept his slippers near the stepping stone and came back into the office barefooted. He looked forlorn and said, “Sir, these are the best clothes I have. I came here on my way to the estate for work.”
Wimalasiri felt bad. The man who was standing before him was a Tamil estate worker. He did not belong to the majority community of the area. Most of the students in the school belonged to Sinhala families. The principal felt guilty about the way he behaved. “I’m sorry, please take a seat,” Wimalasiri said after a thoughtful moment.
“I am OK Sir, I can stand up.” The man said.
“Why are you here today?” Wimalasiri asked, making him seated on the chair. “To which class do you need your child admitted?”
“Grade one, Sir.”
“Grade one!” Wimalasiri exclaimed. The child was more grown-up than grade one kids.
“Yes, Sir. Although he looks older than that, he has never attended school. He was not taken to a school.”
The principal raised his eyebrows and wrinkled his forehead. He questioned the father to understand the reason for the kid not to attend school for so long. The primary reason for the child to have no school was lack of the child’s birth certificates. His parents had not married, and they had not worked for birth certificates. They also had other children who needed schooling.
“I will take the child into the school,” Principal Wimalasiri said with determination. “Let’s take the other kids in later. Let the child stay here. You go to work and take the kid home after school is over.”
Wimalasiri talked to the child after his father left. The child’s name was Sarawanamuttu Shivakumar, and he was six years old. His parents too, had not received an education. The child was not lame. He was limping because that was the first day he had worn shoes. The principal listened to the story of the child silently. The principal then called Mrs. Kottage, the grade one class teacher into the office. He asked her to help the child to catch up on his missed education.
Mrs. Kottage initially felt over-burdened due to the needs of this child, but she was thrilled when she saw how fast Shiva could learn.
“Shiva is now in grade 3. He began to leanr under me in January 2018. He was always with me in the school. He was so keen to learn and asked for more work always. He also likes painting. The boy loved to hang around me, and I did not consider it trouble. He caught up everything very fast and began to excel surpassing the other students,” Mrs. Kottage said, “I am a gradguate of Peradeniya University. I initially taught geography. However, I feel that I am very lucky because I had the opportunity to teach kids here. Shiva is one of my best students.”
Shiva had never attended pre-school. He was directly admitted to Mrs. Kottage’s class lately. At home, he became a teacher for his two sisters. His change of behaviour overjoyed his parents.
“We settled in Upper Deniyawatta in Sulthanagoda five years ago. We have four kids. The eldest is 13 years old and did not attend school. Shiva was admitted to school late because he did not have a birth certificate. He is very clever and teaches to his sisters and the children in the neighbourhood,” Shiva’s mother Devaraji D. Jesuda (28) said.
Principal Wimalasiri also admitted Shiva’s two younger sisters into the school. He directed the couple to marry and obtain birth certificates for the children legally. Now the kids are officially the students of Nidangala Junior School.
“Now Shiva, you will have no problem in the future. You must be fully dedicated to your education,” Principal Wimalasiri said, smiling. “I must thank Mrs. Kottage, who took up the challenge and brought about excellent outcome. Shiva was adjudged the best student of grade 3 for handwriting this year“.
“I wake up at 4 in the morning, drink a cup of tea and wash. Then I dress up and worship. I leave home to come to school at 6 a.m. I am very happy at school. I want to be a principal like our Sir and help children like me,” Shiva says.
Principal H.K. Wimalasiri’s next aim was directing Shiva’s older brother to a temple school. He discussed the requirement with Ven. Meegasweva Sumanarathana Thero who readily offered to help the child. Subsequently, Shiva’s brother was admitted to Warakapitiya Siri Pannananda Pirivena temple school.
Mr. Wimalasiri is a real teacher of our time.