by LAKMAL WELABADA - Sunday Observer May 11 2003
A little girl in grade 1 at Maliyadewa Balika at Kurunegala was on her tricycle riding fast in the tricycle race at the primary school sports meet. Unexpectedly the front wheel of the tricycle fell into a pothole on the track. All the other competitors were passing her while she looked around helplessly. At that time she saw her father standing a little further away. "Pull the cycle out and move. Hurry up!,"
His words gave her back the courage and spirit and she moved. She peddled hard and won the race.
And that little girl later became a school colours winner for athletics and netball; and was the first schoolgirl to be selected for the National Netball Pool in 1980.
Captain Dona Victoria Lakshmi, the President of the Ex-Service Army Women's Association in Sri Lanka recounts a stream of incidents that occurred one after another in her life.
Her excellence in sports thrilled her father a lot. He was the Assistant Government Agent in Vavunia at that time.
"His work allowed me to study the real situation in the North and East. I felt a lot of injustice was destroying the peace among the general public.Earlier my parents wanted me to me join a bank. But, after witnessing the happenings in the N-E my father asked me whether I would like to join the Army. And he thought it would also help me to continue and develop my sports skills," reminisced Lakshmi. This inspired her to join the Military Academy at Diyatalawa.
And this `father's pet' passed out as a woman cadet officer in the second batch of the female Army cadres. Her batch which comprised six young women was the first batch of female service persons to undergo training in Sri Lanka.
The Army training was harsh.
For a young woman like Lakshmi who was brought up in a secure homely atmosphere, facing a hard life with rigid training was unbearable. But her father's words of encouragement at the tricycle race gave her strength.
Lakshmi showed her colours throughout her stay in the Army. Victory at the inter-service and zonal netball championship never slipped from the Army netball team from 1984 to 1990.
She held the Inter-service Championship for Pistol Firing in women's category until her retirement; and even won many awards meant for men's categories. From the time of her passing out in 1983, she had the opportunity to associate closely with the former First Lady, Mrs. Hema Premadasa.
"It changed my path. I went all over the country with Mrs.Premadasa attending her endless charity programmes.
"I gained a lot of experience by being with her working actively in the projects launched for people to overcome poverty, and many other welfare programmes", said Lakshmi.
After retirement in 1991, Lakshmi joined the People's Bank fulfilling her parents early desire. Today balancing her banking career and family life with social services mainly as the President of the Ex-service Army Women's Association Lakshmi is leading a busy, yet fully satisfied life. "We do a lot of projects for Ex-Army women. Counselling has become an essential part of such projects as most of them feel lonely having been used to an active schedule while at work in the army. Self employment programmes, health care, personal grooming and home crafts and a Year five scholarship scheme for their children are some of the projects we are involved in.Apart from that we handle the Poppy flower project which raises funds for many purposes of the service personnel," explained Lakshmi.
"We held our Annual General Meeting at the Bolagala Ex-Service Personnel Elders' Home recently during the Avurudu season. There we spent the whole day with the `once youthful personalities in all three forces', who are today withered with age and loneliness. Some of these old men cried when we offered them a sheaf of betels and worshipped," said Lakshmi.
She also said that a special Identity Card was also issued for the Ex-Army women to get special attention and treatment at public places if required.
Captain Lakshmi hopes to launch many more projects for the welfare of the Ex-service women while staying devoted to her family