On her own two feet, after Sri Lanka’s crippling war

Selvanayagi lost her arms in Sri Lanka’s war 27 years ago

Few students in Vadamarachchi, part of Sri Lanka’s northern peninsula, had heard of Visual Basic until Sebastian Selvanayagi started offering a course in it at her modest computer centre.

“Even basic programming languages haven’t come to our village in a big way,” she said, entering a small room in her home, in Vetrilaikeni in Vadamarachchi East, where five desktop computers are kept.

As her office assistant switched one of the systems on, Ms. Selvanayagi sat down and quickly typed the password with her toes. That is how she has been typing for more than 20 years now — placing the keyboard under the table — after she lost both her arms in intense shelling in 1990. She was around 15 then, and preparing to take her O-level (class X) examination.

“The LTTE took complete care of me after that. I stayed with them and did programming and data entry work. That became my world,” Ms. Selvanayagi, 42, said.

‘Helped by LTTE’

She pursued computer science at the Open University and upgraded her skills. “I got my education because the LTTE and others supported me. Education has value only when it is shared — that is what I am doing now,” she said.

A pile of books, with titles like ‘Visual Basic’, ‘DTP Course Kit’ and ‘Programming in C – a primer’ sat on a wooden stool in her living room.

“I got them from India; that was one good thing that came out of that trip,” she laughed.

In 2012, three years after the war ended, she went to Chennai to try out prosthetic limbs. “They were uncomfortable and didn’t seem suitable for use in a humid climate like ours. Moreover, they were expensive.”

Ms. Selvanayagi now manages her tasks with full-time help from a caretaker and her guardians — her father’s friends — who have been caring for her since his passing.

Every evening a group of students comes for the classes, as part of the National Vocational Qualification programme of the government.

“I am determined to work and fend for myself. I don’t look back. I don’t judge the Tigers politically. My loyalty to them is very personal.”

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