When a massive earthquake of 7.8 magnitudes occurred in Nepal on 25 April 2015, Laxmi Sundar Gainju was having lunch with his family in his parental house in Bhaktapur. As soon as he realized an earthquake, he evacuated his family to a safe place in the nearby Dattatrqya Square. Despite being about 100 kilometers from the epicenter, in Barpak, Gorkha, the impact in Bhaktapur was devastating, and he witnessed carnage and chaos as he moved about the streets. Many collapsed buildings had trapped people within the rubbles, and panic reigned as others screamed in agony while searching for their loved ones. He went from place to place helping in any way he could assist wounded victims and move them too safely.
In the meantime, an anguished cry of a young girl became piercing to him. Immediately reacting, he followed the sound to where he saw two females trapped inside their house. One of them was unconscious, while the other, the young girl, was desperately crying for help. Nobody was approaching the site, fearing the imminent collapse of the rest of the building as the aftershocks continued unabated. He quickly sprang into action. Climbing the rubble, he started digging and moving bricks with his bare hands. He quickly accessed the victims and, using whatever he could for leverage, created a large enough gap through which to drag them out. He carried the young girl on his back to safety before returning for the unconscious woman. After being evading falling rubble and beams that could have easily crushed him, he took the woman to safety. He learned that it was a mother and her daughter whom he had rescued from what was almost certain death.
On the 21st of May 2016, the Sri Lankan duo of Ms. Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala and Mr. Johann Peries, completed their ascent of Mt Everest, the world’s tallest peak. The expedition was a gruelling one which spanned 2 months. The pair underwent numerous fitness and training drills in order to get acclimatised to the perilous conditions of the expedition, including the infamous “Death Zone”, which spans the distance from 26,000 ft above sea level to the summit, which is 29,030ft. The “Death Zone”, so called due to difficulty in breathing at that level, contains only a third of the oxygen found at sea level. It is also the area where most of the 200+ mountaineers who have perished on Mt Everest, have lost their lives. The duo managed to survive the “Death Zone” through their hard work, preparation, training and especially, their sheer willpower and determination. Mr. Johann Peries is described as an “artist inspired by nature”. He has embarked on numerous expeditions himself including partnering Ms. Kuru-Utumpala on their expeditions to Island Peak in Nepal in 2012 and Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2014. A hair designer by profession, Mr. Peries has built himself a long and fruitful reputation spanning a quarter of a century. He revolutionised the Sri Lankan fashion industry through innovation and flair. He is one of only two Sri Lankans who are qualified to be on the International Panel of Judges. At present he owns salons in Sri Lanka, UK and Australia. He has also been a professional singer, an actor in local English theatre and a professional dancer participating in local and international competitions. An adventurer by choice, his love of the outdoors began as a youth on numerous expeditions to the Knuckles mountain range with his father. He has also traversed the highest peaks in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Africa as well as trekked in Laos, Nepal, Myanmar and Thailand.
Eranga Wikumsiri, an affectionate individual who served as an Economic Development Officer for the Aranayake Samasara Division, was in the middle of a committee meeting when he was informed of the horrifying landslide, which took place bringing down the Aranayake Samasara mountains. He immediately rushed to the disaster-hit location with his brother to help his fellow villagers. Eranga shouted out to all villagers in the vicinity to evacuate the area immediately. While directing people of over 60 houses to safety, Eranga and his brother were unfortunately caught to the second landslide which took both their lives. Today Eranga is survived by his wife and child. Eranga and his brother will always be remembered and honored as selfless human beings who put the lives of others before their own.
On the 21st of December 2016, Naveen Dhanushka Bandara, an officer based at the Sri Lanka Air Force Base in Batticaloa, was on his way to the town. En route, he noticed a huge crowd gathered at the bank of the Batticaloa lagoon. Approaching the area with caution, he assumed that the crowds were there to see the crocodiles that the lagoon was infamous. However, he was alarmed to find that a three-wheeler had slid down the precipice into the lagoon taking its four passengers with it. Without much hesitation, Naveen jumped into the lagoon to rescue the victims. He dived through 15 feet of muddy water to find the hand of an infant. As he rescued the child and swam back to the bank with the baby, the crowds alerted him about the three others who were still in the water. Naveen immediately dove back in to the muddy lagoon and rescued a lady and a child who were drowning. Ignoring the heavy current and the difficulty of swimming in the mud, Naveen dived back in to rescue the fourth victim, who happened to be a pregnant lady. He had to swim around the drowning three-wheeler to rescue her.
Police officer Herath Senanayake, attached to the Katugastota Police – Transport Division, was on his way to work on 23rd January 2016. Herath noticed a massive crowd gathered on the Katugastota Bridge over the Mahaweli River. During his daily commute, he had regularly seen crowds gathered there for various occasions. On that particular day though, he realized that the crowds were panicking. One individual who hurriedly approached Herath for help informed him that a young boy was drowning in the river. Having been in the police force for several years, dealing with such situations has become a normal occurrence to him. Without much hesitation, Herath jumped in to the muddy waters of the Mahaweli River to save the boy. This point of the Mahaweli River, which is at least 20 feet deep with slushy mud, is a particularly dangerous place to swim in. But with a great deal of grit, Herath swam in the depths of the river to get a hold of the drowning boy. With the help of the gathered crowds, Herath was able to rescue and subsequently hospitalise the boy. If it wasn’t for Herath and his selfless act of bravery, the young boy wouldn’t have been among the living today. Herath Senanayake – a selfless human being devoted to serving mankind is certainly an admirable hero.
Nihal Sarath Kumara is a lifeguard who has dedicated his life to safeguarding tourists who visit the Eththukala beach stretch which comes under the purview of the Negombo Tourist Police. Being stationed there since 1986, he has rescued over 80 people to date from drowning. One 25th September 2016, Nihal noticed that two individuals had gone beyond the barricaded safe swimming zone. He witnessed them being helplessly dragged away deeper into the sea by the current in a matter of seconds. Nihal grabbed two life jackets and jumped in to the sea to rescue the two individuals. He was successful in saving one individual with ease and bringing him back to shore. He then went back for the other when a beach vendor came forward to help him. However, the current pulled the vendor deeper in to the sea. Another person who witnessed this chaotic situation jumped in to the waters to save the vendor. However, both the vendor and the onlooker were unable to handle the strong currents and were being dragged deeper in to the waters. However, Nihal was able to rescue all these individuals by swimming back and forth in the midst of the heavy ocean currents. He is certainly a brave human who has dedicated 33 years of his life for others. Nihal is admired by many for his noble profession and will always be recognised as a true hero.
Dhanushka Lakmal Kumara is a driver by profession. On 19th November 2016, he noticed a group of villagers gathered on the bridge over the Gin Ganga on his way back from work. Joining them, he looked into the river and saw two dark objects floating in the water. Upon taking a closer look, he realised that they were actually two women drowning. Seeing that no one else was volunteering to help them, he rode his bike to the bank of the river to rescue them. Once he got there, he saw only one lady being dragged away by the current. He immediately jumped into the river, swam towards her and brought her back to the riverbank. He then swam back in to search for the other lady. Though it was an extremely difficult task to swim against the tide, he used every ounce of his stamina and courage to try and rescue her. He finally managed to bring her ashore using a rope thrown towards him by a police officer. What Dhanushka did that day is not something all of us would do. As a result, Dhanushka Lakmal Kumara is one of our society’s true hidden heroes.
The ‘Yaal Devi’ train speedily runs from Colombo Fort to Jaffna and back daily through Thambuththegama. Walking along the rail track on 19th November 2016, retired Army Officer S. W. Karunadasa saw that a piece of rail nearly 3 feet long was broken along the track that the Yaal Devi travels on. Realising the potential danger faced by the speeding train that was carrying nearly 2500 passengers, he instantly ran towards the direction of the oncoming train, waving a red cloth. Alerted from a far by Karunadasa’s signal, the engine driver managed to stop the train before it had reached the broken stretch of the track. Preventing a potentially tragic catastrophe involving human life and property, S. W. Karunadasa is a true hero.
Tharushi Sujani Ranasinghe works as a cashier at a super market in Bandaragama. Two armed men stormed into the outlet at around 8.00 p.m. on 16th November 2016, covering their faces with helmets. They forced everyone to kneel on the floor while they looted all the money and other valuables. One of them approached Tharushi and asked her for the gold chain she was wearing. The thought of having to part with the most valuable piece of jewelry she owned infuriated her. Overcome by anger, she attacked him with a chair that lay close to her. Encouraged by Tharushi’s actions, one of her physically challenged colleagues too came to her aid. This made the robbers panic and shoot towards the ceiling, causing further terror and confusion amongst the hostages. However, in the end, the police were able to track the blood trail of one of the injured robbers and take him into custody. Tharushi Sujani Ranasinghe’s actions helped protect her colleagues and the valuables at her workplace. She is truly a brave and remarkable hero.
Rumesh Sayuranga Wannigama works as a Police Officer at the Dikwella Police division. Rumesh was in the middle of a regular discussion with the Sub Inspector (SI) on 7th June 2016 when two men rushed to the station with the news that a girl was drowning in the sea nearby. The SI and Rumesh dashed to the beach immediately and saw a girl drowning about 100 metres from the shore. Ignoring the warnings of the crowds, Rumesh jumped into the water without any hesitation. He then swam towards the drowning girl with little regard for the waves or the depth of the ocean. Rumesh grabbed her by the hair and swam back towards the beach. He was assisted by 2 other officers when he was about 30 meters from the shore. Together, they managed to bring the girl back to safety. Rumesh Sayuranga Wannigama is a true hero for going that extra mile to save a life.
Saman Priyankara Bandara lives in Polgolla, Kandy. On 09th November 2016, he heard that three school children were drowning in the Polgolla Reservoir built across the Mahaweli River. Having come across similar situations in the past, Saman dashed to the scene and dived into the river with complete disregard for his own life. Battling strong currents, he managed to quickly rescue two of the children during his first two attempts. While the muddy waters made it tougher to rescue the third child, Saman managed to bring him back to safety with the help of a diving kit. This is just one of many such instances where Saman has selflessly risked his own life to save others. He volunteers to rescue drowning victims in neighbouring areas including Kandy, Polgolla, Balagolla as well as the Kurunegala and Nuwara Eliya regions. We are truly appreciative of a true hero like Saman Priyankara Bandara.
Palitha Ananda Jayakody, a carpenter by profession, lives near the Rajanganaya Reservoir. In May 2016, the spillage gates of the reservoir were opened due to heavy rains and the low-lying areas around Palitha’s village were flooded. Teams from the Sri Lanka Navy arrived at the scene in their boats and rescued several villagers. During one such rescue operation, Palitha noticed that a boat carrying 18 people was on the verge of toppling due to the strength of the waves. The naval officer onboard had dropped the anchor to stabilise the boat. However, the anchor was no match for the force of the waves. The boat began tilting again. In the midst of this confusion, Palitha jumped into the waters with a rope from a nearby well in an attempt to prevent the boat from toppling. He tied one end of the rope to a Kumbuk tree and threw the other to the boat, instructing those onboard to secure it. Holding on to the rope, he moved towards the boat and helped it regain balance. Restarting the engine, he cut both the rope and the anchor away and bravely guided everyone to safety. In a moment where most people would save their own lives, Palitha Ananda Jayakody volunteered to save others. This makes him a true hero.
Saman Rohitha Jayasinghe works as a security guard at a state bank in Katukurunda. On 17th December 2016, he saw two men approaching the bank on a motorbike just as he had returned to his station after lunch. His experience and intuition told him that there was something strange about them. He decided that it was best for him to stay alert and prepared for any eventuality. One of the two men started firing with a hidden T56 rifle as soon as Saman had opened the door for them. Reacting quickly, Saman fired back with his T56 rifle. One of the robbers had run away in fear. Drawing on his experience working in the Air Force, Saman got hold of a suspect who had come to deposit money at the branch just before the attempted robbery. He was able to confirm that the suspect was indeed an accomplice to the crime and reach out to law enforcement authorities to give the robbers their due punishment. Saman has a strong passion for his work and a superior understanding of his job role. Managing to save lives and property by putting his own life at risk, Saman Rohitha Jayasinghe is a true hero.
Mr. E. M. Kapurubanda is a resident of the Vepath Anga village in Padeniya. Hundreds of people were rendered homeless by the landslide in Aranayake last year with countless others also being adversely impacted by it. Wondering how he could help those affected by this natural disaster, a 3-acre plot of land he owned was the first possible solution that came to Mr. Kapurubanda’s mind. He decided to give his land away to families whose homes were destroyed by the landslide. 15 houses are currently being built on this land for them. The constant need to own material wealth has been a common trait amongst human beings. Mr. E. M. Kapurubanda is a true hero who stands out amongst the rest due to this selfless and philanthropic act of donating his land to the homeless.
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