Pramila Rathnayake

Age: 38

Occupation: Special Needs Education Trainer

Hometown: Seeduwa

 

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

I am an avid fan of drama and theatre and studied it for my A-Levels. I followed it further at the Jalal Kala Kendraya for a while. After taking a year off, I decided to join the Sunera Foundation in 2004 as a Special Needs trainer.

What made you pursue a career in Special Needs?

It was my mother who really encouraged me to pursue this vocation. She saw the vacancy in a newspaper and decided this was a job meant for me. At that time I was a complete fresher with no experience in any form of teaching. When it came to the interviews and the selection process I was very surprised as it was done in a very different manner, the first thing they were looking for were people with a passion for teaching Special Needs children and a love for creativity. I really enjoyed the training process and it was a very intensive one at that. I was 22 at the time I joined and 13 years later here I still am!

What is your philosophy when it comes to working in Special Needs?

There is no caste, religion or race involved or any other barriers for that matter when it comes to the unconditional and innocent love these children show you. It should be reciprocated in a greater manner by the teacher. I believe that is the most important thing to have, unconditional love and acceptance towards the children we educate.

Who is your role model?

My role model is Madam Sunethra Bandaranaike. The love and acceptance she has for these children was a novelty to me in the beginning. I was awed and puzzled by it at first. She inspired me to open my heart and mind. She taught me a very simple thing, to think from your head and love with your heart, a very simple and obvious thing which we have all forgotten to do, being caught up in the rush to achieve something bigger than ourselves, we often tend to think and love solely from our head.

Do you feel Special Needs children need to be mainstreamed?

I strongly feel they should be mainstreamed. Socialising and interacting are fundamental for children to learn and develop. I really feel that it will help them a lot and also speed up the acceptance process by society that I feel is still lacking.

Would you like to share a gratifying moment you have experienced with a student?

One of my students became very self-sufficient, found a steady job and went on to get married. When she came to us she was severely depressed and very reticent. After she joined Sunera Foundation she came out of her shell and blossomed. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend her wedding but my blessings and good wishes will always be with her.

What are some of your goals for special education?

I acknowledge that acceptance is happening and I’m very glad about that. I really want to work more towards awareness and breaking of the pre-conceived concept of labels regarding Special Needs, especially in the rural areas of Sri Lanka. I want to advocate the rights of Special Needs people everywhere whilst spreading knowledge and awareness of their talents.

What are the changes you would wish to see in the Special Needs education system in Sri Lanka?

I strongly feel that if the government made more effort and sent a bit more resources this way, acceptance would happen much faster. While Colombo has much better learning systems in place for children with Special Needs, rural areas have a pronounced lack of education and care to assist parents and families. While private entities such as the Sunera Foundation try their best to pick up the slack, it’s not enough, especially if we are to work towards acceptance and development in the Special Needs system in the near future.

Tell us a little about your family and your hobbies?

I come from a family of six. You could say that I have always been the odd one out, who always broke the rules. I have four sisters and one elder brother. My father was an accountant and most of my siblings followed that line of work other than one sister who is a doctor now. My father has a very stereotypical notion of what a girl from a respectable family should be. He feels we should finish our education and marry right after, which all my sisters followed to the tee. There was no scope for the freedom to discover myself and grow as an individual.  I broke that stereotypical image my father had of what girls should and could do, and I am glad I did otherwise I wouldn’t be here today teaching and doing what I love most.  I love being active so I practice a lot of yoga and martial arts in my free time.

Message to give out to our readers?

We don’t want sympathy for Special Needs people, just empathy and acceptance. Help us spread awareness and understanding through unconditional love.

What do you like about Sri Lanka?

What I like the most is the natural beauty of our island.

What do you dislike about Sri Lanka?

I hate environmental pollution and animal cruelty.