Tuesday, 27th January 2015

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A blind man who refused to greet disaster

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Law student Diwelawatta Supun Rashainda Jayawardane is blind. However, he is a courageous man who never failed to embrace the joys of life despite the many challenges he has had to face in life. This is his story.Supun was born and brought up in a village named Alawathugoda at Konakalagala in the hill country. He was a totally blind by birth. The doctors said that it could not be cured. Any parent would have been devastated by the news that their first son was blind. However, Supun’s parents: father, Wickramasinghe Jayawardane (an architect) and Chandi Wickramasinghe (a housewife) were determined not to let him feel different. “That is the gift my parents gave me,” says Supun. “Had I not felt equal, I would have been sitting in some corner blaming my own destiny.”
Supun’s father recalls how he gave a bicycle to this blind son, just as any other parent would give to his child. His advice was simple, “Ride it as you can, you will be hurt, then there is a first-aid box in the house.”

When Supun was four he was fortunate enough to enter one of the finest schools in Kandy – Kingswood. According to the Education circular at that time, any blind child could start his or her education in a school at age of four and practice the Braille System till they adjust to the normal school curriculum. Therefore, little Supun got extra two years to practice the Braille system and mastered it in no time. He also got an opportunity to be promoted to Grade 2 with other normal students without handicaps.

Braille is a tactile writing system used by the blind and the visually impaired. ‘Braille’ is named after its creator, Frenchman Louis Braille, who went blind following a childhood accident. “This is not rocket science, Braille characters are small rectangular blocks called cells that contain tiny palpable bumps called raised dots. The number and arrangement of these dots distinguish one character from another. Supun assures that anyone can learn it quickly.

The first milestone in Supun’s life was the Grade 5 Scholarship Exam. He aced it with an impressive 174 marks. He had never attended any private tuition classes. Schoolteachers helped out a lot. “My teachers sent answer scripts to my mother and she read them to me while I was at home. She was my eyes. She told me how trees look, how mountains look, even how I look,” he says. Supun was acquainted with his surroundings with the help of his mother and father.
He had the luxury of being in an ideal atmosphere at school. His ears were filled with encouraging words like, “son you can do this,” “there is no difference between you and others.” He was the first blind President’s Scout Sri Lanka ever produced. “If all are summoned to be paraded within five minutes I was no exception. I must also be there like others on the dot,” Supun reminisced.

He laments that the progress of most of the visually impaired people is slow. Supun says that he is in debt to Scouting, which made him fast as those who have sight. Supun is a sports enthusiast. “Believe me, I have even played cricket although I cannot see the ball,” says Supun. In this context, Supun is like Marla Runyan, a legally blind marathoner who is a three-time national champion in the women’s 5,000 meter run and at 2000 Sydney Olympics. However, Supun had the undying support of his friends. That is why they never treated him any different. On the field, they never gave him any excuse on the grounds of his blindness, which was noble gesture according to Supun.

Known as a Scout and an intelligent ‘gentleman at Kingswood’, he aced his O/Ls with 10 As. This was an outstanding accomplishment by this blind teenager while some who could see, could not even barely pass the exam. Since the time he was studying for his A/Ls, he aspired to become a lawyer. To make this dream come true this young man chose the Arts stream. Even during his A/Ls he was always ready to face challenges. Following Logic as a subject would have been an uphill task if he had not mastered Braille, with which he does his own writing. In Logic, it is necessary to write symbols to pass the exam. How he wrote those symbols by using those six dots of Braille was an unfathomable task.

“I had to answer nearly 400 question papers to make my writing crystal clear. From one unclear letter of Braille might have rendered my whole answer incorrect at the translation,” Supun explaines. Nevertheless, ultimately, he won the battle.Blindness is the complete lack of form and light perception. However, it is the brain that “perceives”. Supun was named as the epitome of that brain perception when his A/Ls results were out. This humble boy had got through his A/Ls and gained university entrance. He was ranked seventh in Kandy and 91st all Island. He qualified to enter Colombo University Law Faculty.

Now he faces a new challenge in Colombo. How can he do an LL.B Degree without the aid of his eyes? How can he do academic reading, how can he become a lawyer? In this regard his mother and father again came to his rescue. “My friends tease me, saying that I should get my mother and father to sit for the LL.B Degree with me,” Supun says, smiling. His parents still read to Supun.The immense support given to Supun by the Law Faculty is worth mentioning. Lecturers always look in on him. And the batchmates are also ever ready to lend a hand. Above all, his trusted friend Malith became his third eye throughout university.
“I have lots of things to learn from him,” says Malith. Though we can see, most of the time we are outsmarted by Supun.” With the support of all these well-wishers, Supun managed to bag the second place in his batch in the first year and batch top in his second year. The most noteworthy fact is that all these achievements were earned by Supun, competing with those who can see.

American author named Helen Keller was the first deaf/blind person in history to graduate from a college and later became a lecturer. Will Supun be the first such Sri Lankan, since his ambition is also to become a lecturer after all?He is not only an intellectual, but an ardent admirer of music like Stevie Wonder. The writer himself had the opportunity to listen to some songs sung by Supun at a Freshers Welcome. And he is good. This is the story of a courageous boy who worked tirelessly to reach the zenith of his life without blaming his destiny.Supun has a message for those who are visually impaired like him. “As blind people we can only expand our knowledge. To be honest, we do not have eyes with which to see the world. Therefore, the only way we can see the world is to know it well. Above all, blindness is not an excuse to be weak.

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