Call of her island home...
A birthday treat for the birthday girl
They say home is where the heart is but for Eva Nilmini van Essen,
her heart was in two different places at the same time. After a 30 year
separation from her motherland, Eva set foot on Sri Lankan shores,
embarking on a quest to find her biological mother.
Her search had not been easy. The environs had changed after three
decades. But fragments of information picked along memory lane, tokens
and little tit bits came in handy as they searched high and low for a
face embedded in the folds of their memory.
Their one-year search came to an end proving that the fruit of their
effort is indeed bittersweet.
“I always knew that I would look for her someday. Other adopted
children I know have managed to track down their biological parents. I
knew that it was possible. I waited till I am old enough to cope with my
emotions before embarking on the process,” said an elated Eva.
Despite her efforts you note the tremor in her voice. She glances at
the figure by her side. Is she real or merely a vision, is what her
graze seem to denote. Wimalawathi’s face shines with pride. She cannot
take her eyes off the daughter whom she had last held as a babe in her
Another person stands close by, witnesses the events as they unfold.
Tenderness, joy and gratification for the child she had nurtured and
brought up all these years reflects on Aukt ‘s face as she feeds her a
piece of birthday cake.
Eva had been adopted by Auktje Cornelia and Heino van Essen, a Dutch
couple who had been touring Sri Lanka during that era. Though they had
three children of their own, the couple decided to bring up Eva as a
gesture of goodwill because they believe that there are many helpless
children in the world who are deprived of their basic necessaries.
Kedelpiti Patikiri Kapuge Wimalawathi had been living in Kahathuduwa
when she had given birth to her second child, a daughter, whom she
christened Nilmini. Unfortunately the family was poverty-stricken. Her
husband, Lionel, had been engaged in clothes business but had passed
away due to a sudden heart failure. Alone with two mouths to feed, the
presence of the kindhearted Dutch couple had been a blessing in
“They went to court and legally adopted me. The whole process had
taken a couple of weeks. It was a difficult choice for my biological
mother but one she made with my betterment at heart,” Eva voiced the
past on behalf of Wimalawathi.
The cherubic baby had instantly captured Auktje and Heino’s hearts.
She fitted into the van Essen’s home. Their children Sander, Maarten and
Marleen found a playmate in their new sister.
Growing up in a little village in South Holland had been an
enchanting experience for the little girl. From riding a bike to school
to learning how to play hockey at the age of six Eva spent her wonder
years in an environ which welcomed her with open arms.
Eva with her biological mother, Wimalawathi,
and adopted mother, Auktje
Eva and Auktje
She had even lived in Spain, learning Spanish at the University of
Valladolid before pursuing higher studies in Amsterdam, Netherlands,
where she attained her degree in Bachelor in Social work. She says that
experience gave her the opportunity to learn how to tackle life while
Queried on how she came to know that the van Essen couple are not her
biological parents Eva said that it became oblivious to her as she
matured due to the difference in the skin colour.
“My dark skin it was obvious so the people in my village assumed that
I was adopted.There is a legal adoption bureau in Holland which explains
all the laws and procedures. I have a few friends who are adopted from
other countries. There were two other children in my school who have
been adopted from Indonesia. They have found their biological families
and some of them also visit them every few years,” she said adding that
her foster parents have always been open about her adoption.
“They told me that I was born in a small island named Sri Lanka and
that my biological mother had been unable to take care of me due to
financial difficulties,” she explained.
This is not Eva’s first visit to Sri Lanka. She had visited the isle
in 1990 briefly while her brother had been involved in an exchange
student programme in India. Eva, her foster parents and siblings had
flown to India that summer to spend time with him for five weeks. The
sixth week had been spent in Sri Lanka.
“I am happy that I saw my homeland at such a young age. What struck
me most was the fact that there were people who looked like me in this
beautiful country,” Eva added with a giggle.She had seen Wimalawathi’s
photo for the first time when she was 13. That was the time when she had
been curious about her roots.”There are a lot of physical similarities
between us. We even speak in the same manner. I believe that I inherited
my strong willpower from her,” she said.
Recalling the endless hours that have been put to locating her
biological mother Eva said that they had sought the help of a travel
agent in Sri Lanka whom they had met in their previous travels.
“We provided him with the legal documents. We found details about her
but then she had been abroad then. I waited one more year to meet her,”
she added. Eva had been fortunate to meet her brother before he passed
away in 2004. However she is grief stricken by his early demise.
Mention children to her and her features brighten up instantly. Her
passion for working with children had begun from a young age when she
had been allowed to baby sit for children in the neighbourhood.
“It was common practice in Holland. I worked with children with
disabilities during my last study year. Later I worked at a day care for
children. I studied management and I am the General Manager of a day
care school today. My brothers and sister too have children. I love
being their aunt!” she chirped. Though she wishes to visit Sri Lanka on
a regular basis Eva cannot make it her permanent home. She says that
Holland has been the place that she has felt at home. The vast cultural
differences between the two countries too are problematic for her.
“However I hope to visit Sri Lanka every two to three years and visit
my biological mother. Sharing my 30th birthday with her has been a dream
come true. I hope that I would meet somebody in the future so that I can
think about starting my own family,” she noted with a smile.