Child Psychologist and Educationist, SHANTHI WIJESINGHE
I grew up among luscious green paddy fields in my maternal and paternal grandparent’s villages, amid fruit orchards and streams full of silvery fish. Often I would be seen mingling with village folk and tasting the fare from their kitchens. It is from I gathered my knowledge and passion to instill the goodness of Sri Lankan traditional food amongst children and parents of today.
It was in these places I developed the Sri Lankaness I adore. This is where I watched my grandfather join in the harvesting season late into the nights and where I quite boldly took part in the proceedings unknown to my sleeping parents and siblings.
An absolute bookworm I had completed reading the entire Enid Blyton series by the age of 8 and hungered to read more advanced authors. You would often find me swinging among the top branches of a veralu tree, reading voraciously from my grandfather’s collection of books during every vacation. I nurtured a pet pig who I named “wigglis,” tendered loads of goats, chickens and cows who I considered to be my buddies. I remember wailing pitifully and declining food for days when the animals were taken away for slaughter.
A product of Holy Family Convent Colombo, from nursery to Advanced level the only thing I remembers of my nursery days are teachers doling out handfuls of “hoonu biththara” and the sound of crying toddlers!
As a teenager I was uncontrollable, punished almost daily for following directions from other girls and being pulled up for every offence even if I did not have a hand in it. I recall my mother and the then Principal Rev. Sr. Josephine in avid discussion wondering aloud if the Convent boarding and my subsequent days as a nun was to be the best solution. The conversation meant to be overheard was a pure and simple form of behaviour modification!
It was my father who thought a Montessori educational approach would help cure my headstrong behaviour. He enrolled me in a 2 year program (not under the aegis of the nuns this time around). Having already applied to the Sri Lanka Navy and the National Carrier, I was selected for interviews and breezed through both. But my father was adamant.
I ended up grumpily working through the Montessori curriculum, Child Psychology and later Advanced Child Psychology. I detested the work because my first job was to clean toilets and clean up children’s messes. At the end of the 2 years my youngest aunt residing in Indonesia offered me employment opportunities which I jumped at, as it was an escape from early marriage and being gaped at by various suitors ! My first job was as a Montessori educator to children aged between 2-15 at the prestigious Gandhi Memorial International School, Jakarta. I also qualified in teaching effective communication and Speech and Drama from Trinity, London.
Living and working in Indonesia for 7 years, taking part in outdoor camping and summer jobs in Singapore and Malaysia was a turning point. Finally, marriage and parenting took over but I continued working with people and organizations who were interested in working with me and learning the parenting trends which subsequently affects every child, immaterial of economic strength. The “PlayPen” in Mt.Lavinia and Kandy were my first projects.
‘Against all odds’ became my motto. I specialize in learning disability studies for children and research into child and adult behaviour. Currently I am Head of Seekers Research – a purpose built Early Childhood Learning Centre for parents and children in Mt.Lavinia and am also a consultant to Standard Charted Bank Colombo – KidKare, Elibank Road,Colombo 05. I am also working on a project to develop the preschools of the Dehiwela-Mt.lavinia Municipal Council as well as the Outreach program, which is a registered charity for the J.P.Obeysekera Home for Elders and Boys in Nittambuwa. Some of my International programs include the Parent-Teacher Exchange programs with Varberg-Kommun, Sweden.
Photograph by Pavithra Jovan De Mello