“Oh! The blazing prince of sun and the coquettish moon
If only you are aware of my thoughts
The gentle breeze that lulls the trees of fragrance
If only you are aware of what I feel”
These words underline the unique story of a young girl Jiwanthi Edirisnghe, a miracle child with special abilities. The writer first encountered her through the YouTube music video Hiru Kumarune, which had these lyrics. In the video, Jiwanthi was singing beautifully, while playing a keyboard. Her father, Senaka Edirisinghe, was next to her, providing accompaniment on the guitar. This scene is just the tip of the iceberg. Visible, yet masking a long journey of resilience, courage and above all, love.
Anyone can sing and upload videos on social media. But to sing with finesse while mastering an instrument is a talent, not grasped by many. Jiwanthi’s story is even more intriguing than the simple mastery of these talents. She has a story to tell—a story of hope, not just for her, but to many others like her.
Her story starts with a sad beginning. She was diagnosed with Multiple Developmental Disorder about one year after her birth. As a result, she had many different symptoms related to Autism and Dyslexia, which have hindered her skills and learning abilities. Moreover, she has sight and physical development impairments as well. According to her father, she is a young adult of 23, yet possesses the mindset of a young child of 8 or 9.
However, being diagnosed as a child with special needs was not the end of Jiwanthi’s story, as is the case with many others. Her family refused to give up on her, going above and beyond what they are capable of, in order to offer an alternative beginning and a different story for Jiwanthi.
The key role in Jiwanthi’s transformation from a child with special needs to a miracle child was performed by her father Senaka. He initially discovered the musical talents of Jiwanthi. Even though Senaka was not professionally trained in music, he could sing and play the guitar quite well. So he took it upon himself to train Jiwanthi and help her improve her musical prowess. He was employed in the tourism field and gave up his job to concentrate on his daughter. “After discussing with my wife, I decided to quit my job and focus entirely on our younger daughter. So, it was my wife who took the financial burden of the family. We have another elder daughter as well. For us, money was not everything. We were ready to make the necessary sacrifices for Jiwanthi,” Senaka said.
Thus began the inspiring story of Jiwanthi and her father, who have achieved unimaginable heights with courage and determination amid many adversities. As a result, today Jiwanthi is not just a good singer, but also an accomplished keyboardist and artist who can perform in front of large crowds without any shyness or hesitance. With the help of those who support her, she has released many YouTube music videos and even helps other children with special needs through her music.
Jiwanthi and her father, Senaka Edirisinghe in ‘Kandulaka Unusuma’
The love of a father and the unfaltering support of her family are the salient reasons for Jiwanthi’s success. In fact, another original music video of Jiwanthi titled Kandulaka Unusuma, speaks of her father’s incredible love and fierce care for her. According to the songwriter Nisanka Dharmathilaka of the SuneraFoundation, this song was specially written for Jiwanthi and her father. Dharmathilaka has worked with Senaka and Jiwanthi for a long time. Observing their bond, she highlights the dedication of a father to daughter, and the difficult journey they walk together.
“Why is that the warmth of a tear is never allowed to kiss my cheeks?
Why is that your face overflowing with love never betrays your true weariness?”
These lyrics signify theirs was not an easy journey. They have faced many impediments in finding proper education, training and acceptance for Jiwanthi along with financial constraints. While many have helped her in her journey, there were also those who looked at her with disdain and neglect. According to Dharmathilaka,Jiwanthi was already a proficient singer and performer when she joined workshops conducted by the Sunera Foundation in Kandy. These interactive workshops helped Jiwanthi come out of her shell and interact more easily with others. But, the groundwork had already been laid. “It is mostly because of her father’s dedication towards her,” noted Dharmathilaka, indicating how mountains could indeed be moved by faith and love.
Nurturing special needs
The path towards success is full of curbs and limitations. Those with special needs face even more significant constraints and marginalization. Even state-based services for citizens with special needs can be challenging at times. For instance, Jiwanthi has performed in many local and all-island competitions, winning most. In these performances, Jiwanthi’s talent has impressed many, including government officials. One government official wanted to give her more opportunities and directed her to a Vocational Training Institute for people with special needs. “When we went there, we discovered the institution did not have trainers to help with my daughter’s singing capabilities. Instead of music, she would have to learn sewing,” Senaka said. “While we appreciate the gesture, we also have to realize that every person with special needs has their own set of talents and capabilities. If these talents are nurtured properly, they can achieve unimaginable heights.”
This illustrates how most government social services directed towards special needs require rethinking and improvement. They should be helped at what they are good at rather than what others deem appropriate. Senaka added this was the status quo they had to endure most of the time, with government services and NGOs.
However, he also met many who have recognized Jiwanthi’s talents and supported her. Senaka specially mentioned Rev. Shelton Daniel, Vicar of St. Paul’s Church, Kandy,Ms S. Dassanayaka, who paved the path for her training in Colombo, Padma Lekamge, former Principal of St. Anthony’s Girl’s College, Kandy and Piyal Weerasinghe and the Nedla Foundation who helped her get a professional keyboard. These persons, among many others, have assisted in creating a miracle out of Jiwanthi’s special abilities. This could be the story of many other unique individuals with special needs, if a proper system is designed to nurture them.
Miles to go before sleep
Jiwanthi’s story has just begun. She has a long way to go, sharing her talents with the rest of the world. Nalinda Premarathne, who is working with ‘Act4–Theatre for Change’said Jiwanthi had limitless capacity. He added Jiwanthi could motivate others, and provide hope to many families with children like her. “Jiwanthi has already gained the attention of society and can be an inspiration to many like her, motivating them to discover their own talents,” Premarathne said. He also believed more opportunities and continuous guidance would take her further, making her an even better singer and musician.
Champika Edirisinghe and her family, who worked closely with Jiwanthi, also shared similar sentiments. She said children with special needs were unique and needed a chance to find themselves. “Jiwanthi has proven what is possible for children like her, when they are unconditionally supported by their families and when they are provided proper opportunities,” Edirisinghe said. When Edirisinghe met Jiwanthi, she was playing the keyboard with just one finger. “Now she has learnt the techniques and plays quite proficiently.” She added children with special needs should not be looked at with pity. Also they must be protected, where their vulnerability could not be exploited by others.
Jiwanthi’s story proves children with special needs are capable of so much more than the expectations of society. So, Jiwanthi can be a change agent and an ambassador for people with special needs, sharing her story with the others. To this end, we as society have a role to play. As she sings in Hiru Kumarune,
“When my eyes and mind are in collision
Engulfing my mind in loneliness
To link the gap of my eyes and mind
You, making a bridge is my only hope!”
Senaka Edirisinghe expressed his desire to help and support any families who have children with special needs. You can reach him on +94 77 196 9426 for more information.
Jiwanthi and her father in ‘Hiru Kumarune’