It was a gloomy Thursday morning when Rismi Riyal, a distinguished past student of Gampola Zahira College called me and conveyed the sad news of his mothers’s death early that morning.
Mrs. Khairun-Nisa Riyal was a teacher at Gampola Zahira College at the time I was serving that institution as Principal.
The news of her death not only engulfed me in a pall of sadness but also took me down memory lane to the time I vividly remember her as a dedicated, hardworking teacher, always ready to shoulder any responsibility that would lead to the betterment of children in both curricular and extra-curricular activities of the school.
Mrs Riyal was blessed with three promising children, Rismi, Ramzi and Fazana, whom she loved and left no stone unturned, sacrificing whatever she could, to bring them up.
She endowed them with sterling qualities which stood them in good stead later in life. This love and concern for her children, she extended to all the students of Gampola Zahira College who will remember her with gratitude.
She had been blessed with thirteen grand-children and two great-grand Children who all adored her, which I believe is a reward from Allah for the deep and abiding affection she showered on all children.
One of the thoughts that came to my mind on receiving the news of her passing away, was an unforgettable experience that all teachers of Gampola Zahira of that era went through and experienced.
Now retired, I have the happiness of reminiscing on this incident 42 years later which I do to demonstrate the importance of the contribution committed individuals like Mrs. Riyal could make to a collective effort undertaken for the welfare of children.
Gampola Zahira College had just ended a week long celebration called “Zahira Week”, to commemorate its' 25th year, culminating in the college prize-giving with the Governor General of the country, William Gopallawa and his wife gracing the occasion as chief guests.
As dusk descended on the township of Gampola, the lights on the Gampola Zahira College grounds were switched on signaling the start of the carnival which was expected to be the grand finale of the 25th year celebrations.
But, it was not to be. We were rudely shocked, when asked by the police and the educational authorities to close school immediately as the JVP insurrection had erupted throughout the country.
On the following day, we were informed that all schools will remain closed until further notice with only the teachers reporting at the school.
This put us in a serious dilema. After discussions with the agriculture teacher and other senior members of the staff it was decided that we should develop a model agriculture farm in a designated area of the school premises, which was a need of the school at that time. The staff, without exception participated in this initiative by the teachers for the sake of the students. They did not mind soiling their hands and clothes preparing vegetable beds. An experimental paddy field was also developed together with a thriving live-stock and poultry farm.
When the students returned after their enforced holiday, they were surprised to find a model farm being developed by their teachers to enable them to involve in practical and applied agricultural studies doing experiments in their own farm.
But the farm was not complete and much work was still to be done. It was at this time that Mrs. Riyal joined the staff of Gampola Zahira.
She took great interest in the farm and spent her spare time to help the farm to grow in stature. She along
with the other teachers encouraged the students towards this effort and the farm became a throbbing entity, enhancing the image of Gampola Zahira.
This farm was adjudged the best model farm among the Government schools in the Kandy district. Students were also encouraged to set up home-gardens using the knowledge they gained in the Collegefarm.
I remember the day when Mrs. Riyal proudly said she prepared food for her family using the produce bought from the College farm.
I relate this incident to indicate what teachers of the calibre of Kairun-Nisa Riyal could do to make a change in the lives of children.
They can with whatever meagre resources available to them, contribute to the development of values and skills to prepare themselves for a meaningful future.
Mrs. Kairun-Nisa Riyal was an exemplary teacher. More than ten years after her retirement, assisted by her daughter Fazana, she was seen in the College premises supervising the improvement of infrastructural facilities in the primary section initiated by her son Rizmi using his personal funds.
At the annual get-togethers of Gampola Zahira College students, I have never missed seeing Mrs. Riyal, though feeble, always gracefully seated surrounded by her grateful past students.
It is my prayer that Gampola Zahirians will continue to be inspired by their teachers who contributed their share to make them what they are today.
Gratitude, after all, is the hall-mark of Islam.
May Allah Grant Mrs. Kairun-Nisa Riyal Jennathul Firdouse!
Dr Uvais Ahamed
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