Stars are born out of dark moments

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They say “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” What better country than this to teach us perseverance defined that way? When it is not a choice but a must, there is little else we can do. The G.C.E. Ordinary Level Examination was underway during the height of the monsoon. The latest was to see how students answered papers with umbrellas open. While accusations were thrown everywhere, nothing has really changed for these students. Their papers are supposed to be given special attention and that is likely to create another issue later. 

On top of everything, this also exposed the kind of people who are in charge of examinations. Is it not a wonder that this country is still functioning? Mental peace to a student writing an examination, that too a competitive examination which decides your future is crucial. But news footage has got the entire nation talking.  

Many pointed fingers at the teachers deployed for examination services. Nothing could have been more absurd. All of us who have sat for these exams know the duties of these supervisors and invigilators. None of us have seen them having to be mindful of leaky roofs. Of course, we are not talking about the water seeping in through a single broken roof tile or a window that would keep banging. Much to our amazement, even the Commissioner of Examinations has only displayed his ignorance and arrogance. Go down memory lane and try to recall whether similar images bring Sub Saharan Africa to your mind. After all, we were quite keen to believe we are far better than many countries. Where students wrote for the exam under deplorable conditions, the blame game of passing the ball is all we are left with. It is hilarious to hear the authorities saying that teachers should not have exposed the situation. All we have to say is that had it been our own child writing for the exams, the response could have been different.  

At a time like this, when there seems to be no silver lining, even in the pitch dark, unknown to us there are those who fight the unthinkable fight. Anybody would agree that children and youngsters, especially schoolgoers are among the hardest hit. They have waited and waited for their G.C.E. Ordinary Level Exams. For two years, their studies have been jeopardised. Things have been endlessly postponed. But there is no telling what is in store for you. When you have withstood all this misfortune and misery and finally when you get the chance to go for the exam, what if you fall sick? It takes mere moments for all dreams to die. However, even if the whole world has failed you, the bunch of health personnel from the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID), popularly known as IDH Angoda, remain solid. It always amazes me how IDH remains sunny and cheerful while doing the hardest of jobs. Their job is never-ending. Be it dengue or influenza, and of course be it Covid-19, they are at work. Whatever the infectious disease you come up with, IDH remains the number one caregiver…

At a hopeless time like the present, walking into IDH with their special preparations for those sitting for the Ordinary Level Examination gives you hope. It was impressive to see one section of IDH all ready for the exam. The exam was going on and their setup made sure the candidates were given the best facilities and environment. On one side, parents of these students were patiently waiting. Most of them craned their necks to see whether the face of their child was visible. We were lucky enough to meet the parents to get to know what brought them there. Husband and wife, S.W.G.M. Karunaratne and Nilmini Weerarathne were waiting for their child, writing for the exam at the IDH centre. Their daughter, Thisari Savithna had already answered six subjects. “After finishing six subjects, she said she was not feeling well. She could not stay awake to study. She complained of a severe headache and we gave her Paracetamol and Piriton and she slept. The next morning, she was feeling worse and sat for the Science paper with much difficulty. Her head was heavy, she had a runny nose,” her mother explained. She had taken medicine again. It was Sunday night that she started shivering. They knew she would not be able to make it to school. On Sunday, at around 11:00 p.m., the girl was brought to IDH. “My daughter is sitting for the exam with much relief now. Earlier, she looked ghastly. She could not even walk when she came here. Neither did she eat. Her next exam was Mathematics. But at IDH, everything was taken care of. Seeing her answering the exam under the best care, with many other girls and boys, we are extremely grateful.” 

Parents overflowing with gratitude 

With much gratitude and satisfaction, the parents explained the care and treatment their children received. “On the morning of the exam, my sick child was examined well. Their condition was well monitored. In their special O/L ward, the staff even gave them hot water. Before the exam, there was a check-up. The doctors are so dedicated. We are extremely thankful to them. The staff and minor staff are doing a priceless service,” they reiterated. However, the parents expressed their extreme displeasure on the exams being conducted at this time of the year. Karunaratne added, “Who would hold exams at this time? Annually, this is the time where floods are recorded according to statistics, census check or anything. Sri Lanka gets heavy rains at this time. This is how dreams are forgotten so soon.”

Prasadi Brandigampala is from Himbutana. Her child, Kasuntha goes to Ediriweera Sarachchandra Maha Vidyalaya. On the second day of the exam, Kasuntha fainted at the examination hall. Having been informed, his mother rushed there to find him throwing up. She was permitted to stay close. “He told me that he could not even see the MCQ clearly. We gave a blood sample to check and he went back to the exam. That was when the hospital called and said he was positive.” Under the guidance of their Principal, he was brought to the IDH centre for the examination.

Sudath De Mel and Asoka Indrani are from Moratuwa. They were there because of their son, who was from Prince of Wales’ College. They did not expect it to be anything serious, least of all dengue. After being treated by a local doctor and taking a blood report, he had still gone to school for his exam. He too had vomited while at school and it was the Sectional Head and invigilators who helped him. “Sectional Head Ven. Sumangala was the one who suggested that IDH was the best. We had given up on the exam. After all that had happened, we thought the child would miss the exam. But coming to IDH really was a dream come true,” the parents said. They could not praise the hospital enough. Getting admitted on Sunday with high fever, it was medicine and strong injections which kept the child up.

It may not be as easy as it looks. After all, candidates from any place in Sri Lanka can get hospitalised at IDH. How exam papers come here and under what circumstances is the exam held, we might all wonder. We spoke to one of the star workers at IDH, Special Grade Nursing Officer Geethani Udugamakorala. “We have been doing this for the past seven or eight years. This year, we have 28 students sitting at the IDH centre. On the first day, we only had three students.” Explaining the process, Nursing Officer Udugamakorala said when they get the admission ticket of a candidate with dengue or Covid-19, they inform the Examinations Department that such a patient is under the given Bed Head Ticket (BHT). “The Examinations Branch works 24 hours and so do we. They send us the papers and invigilators. Sometimes, students come just moments before the exam starts. We still coordinate and manage. The teachers who come here are very supportive. This time, some patients were bleeding. We kept them seated on beds, gave them saline, and helped them.” Nursing Officer Udugamakorala said there was one boy who kept saying he couldn’t sit for the paper. “We encouraged him and strengthened his mind. We kept insisting that he could take this challenge and we are so happy to say he finally did.” 

When a patient arrives, a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) is conducted and they are isolated until the report comes. “The two Covid-19 candidates were kept separately. Each had a nurse appointed. Before the paper, a VP does a special examination of the patients. The liquid intake they need is measured and given. Once the paper is done, urine is measured. “We had one child writing while on bed. We monitored his condition while he was writing. Children of this country have lost so much time because of everything that has been happening. All of us are bent on ensuring they are not delayed further. Our minor staff is also on this mission and they wheel the students every morning to the examination centre,” she said with much satisfaction. 

As the Director, Dr. Hasitha Attanayake is on PGI training, this time it was the Deputy Director, Dr. Chintha Sooriyarachchi who coordinated with the Examinations Department to make sure everything runs smoothly. We saw how the teachers work there and how expertly, efficiently, and kindly they handled the situation. While at one school, students are denied even their basic requirements, there is one hospital where the teachers and health staff transform to do a doctor-teacher role simultaneously. In doing so, they serve the nation in very impactful ways. Some people are so selfless that in pitch darkness, they become the light at the end of the tunnel

(Pix by Sarath Kumara)

By Priyangwada Perera