15th April 2001
Sports| Mirror Magazine
By Hiranthi FernandoIt was truly a happy Avurudu at Ranaviru Sevana last week with the traditional fun and games, like climbing the greasy pole, 'Kotta Pora', breaking the 'Kana Muttiya', the bun-eating competition and tug-of-war. The only difference was that the majority of the competitors were disabled soldiers.
Injured at the warfront, these soldiers are under rehabilitation at Ranaviru Sevana. Ninety percent of the staff too suffer from disabilities. These Avurudu games, therefore, had been specially adapted for the disabled.
Known as the Bak Maha Ulela, the celebration has been held at Ranaviru Sevana since 1994, Commanding Officer, S.W.S. Somawira said. Starting off the events for the day was the 10-km. marathon through Ragama, Kandana, Mahabage and back to Ragama. This was followed by a 'blind marathon' covering a route of 2 to 3 km. "The blind marathon was held for the first time in Sri Lanka," Col. Somawira said.
"I almost went into a bus and fell into some potholes on the road," said a smiling Shantha Weerasekera, who came in first. "But, there were army personnel along the road to tell us which way to turn." Shantha had lost both eyes and injured his hands in the Kinihara operation last year.
At one end of the grounds, a keenly-contested 'Kotta pora' or pillow fighting competition was going on while the breaking of the 'kana muttiya' also provided some hilarious scenes.
The 100 metre race, run in three groups, saw the participants racing on their crutches, at an incredible speed. Most of them hardly used the crutches at all but hopped along on their one good leg. Nishantha Wanninayake, who is awaiting an artificial limb won the event
In the meantime, the traditional climbing of the greasy pole was continuing at another end of the grounds. And one persevering soldier, Pushpakumara succeeded in reaching the top and plucking off the flag stuck there.
Several demanding obstacle races involving running, crawling through tunnels, dousing oneself with water, climbing ropes, somersaulting, putting on uniform and drinking soda through a straw were also held. Special events included a lime and spoon race for wheelchair occupants and fishing for coins in the hydrotherapy pool.
There were other less strenuous competitions such as scraping coconut and pinning the eye of the elephant. Chandra Bandara who won this contest, had lost both his legs fighting at Mankulam. He is on a wheelchair while his prostheses are being made. Rasika Prabath, who lost both legs at Thanenkilappu, has had his artificial limbs fitted four months ago and is able to get around. He is now following a printing course. "I tried to break the Kana muttiya but failed," he said. "We are very happy to participate in these games. It does not matter if we win or not."
K.J. Dhamith, another double amputee who has had prostheses fitted on both his legs, echoed his words. "It is good to have this Avurudu festival," said Dhamith who was planning to go home to spend the new year with his family.
After a break for lunch there were more events including a fancy dress competition, musical chairs, the selection of the Avurudu Kumari and Kumaraya and the distribution of prizes. Meanwhile a group of soldiers enjoyed a baila session as a running commentary by a pair of friendly commentators added to the spirit of the festivities.
"Our aim was to give everyone a chance to take part in this Avurudu
festival," Col Somawira said.
By Ruth SuttonIt's the 21st century. Medi- cal progress over the past few decades has been astonishing. We live in a world governed by logic, rationality, and science. Why then do we revert to irrational, medieval attitudes when it comes to issues of mental health? Why are we so frightened of and prejudiced towards people suffering from psychiatric disorders or psycho-social problems? And what is the cost of this attitude to the victim, his family and the nation as a whole?
With 400 million people in the world suffering some form of mental illness, and Sri Lanka having one of the highest suicide rates in the world, recognition of the enormous global burden in human and socio-economic terms cannot be dismissed.
Professor Nalaka Mendis, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Colombo is Vice President of the National Committee for Mental Health and founder of the community mental health care centre "Sahanaya". He has dedicated his recent work to initiating and developing a new approach to mental health care, and to educating the policy makers, the general public and those in the medical profession to bring about essential policy and attitude changes towards mental illness.
Sahanaya is the first attempt to introduce the concept of multi-faceted community-based rehabilitation for people with mental health problems in Sri Lanka. The organisation is funded by the National Committee of Mental Health and through donations. It has day centres in Colombo and Kandy and two halfway houses. A residential, training and educational centre is being planned, but the centre struggles with a lack of funding and acceptance. It is an uphill task for the tireless staff to reach the vast majority of people suffering in silence, but some are fortunate enough to have access to the centres or have a mental health worker visit them at home.
"The problems of stigmatisation, isolation and inadequate care cannot be solved by working with the health service alone," Professor Mendis says. "What is needed is cross sector integration between health, social services, employers, the judiciary and the Education Ministry to provide a complete package so that patients can return to the community as healthy, valuable participants. If we treat a patient with drugs in a hospital but there is no social support, means of income, help for their family or introduction to activities, then the patient may well relapse."
The centre in Colombo consists of a clinical section, an information and training department and the skills section, all of which work closely together to meet the needs of each patient in an informal and friendly atmosphere. The clinical side is staffed by psychiatrists and psychologists. This highly dedicated team will attend to anyone who walks in the door with anxieties about their own or a loved one's mental health.
The Sahayana philosophy differs from traditional doctor-directed treatment and is based on working with the patient as a person with an intrinsic worth, not just an illness or a problem. Each patient (called "client" at Sahanaya) has skills, interests, a personality and potential which is brought out and built upon, with the hope that on recovering from or managing to control the illness, he can resume his places as a productive and valuable member of society.
Consideration of the family is of paramount importance. Sahanaya recognises the burden of illness on the families, as well as the enormous resource that a family presents. They work with families individually, offering a support network of other parents who can help each other.
The stigma of mental illness is a huge obstacle. Social marginalisation and discrimination can only exacerbate the problem. "It is not enough that everyone is equal before the law," says Professor Mendis, "it has to be supported by education, and a change of attitude among employers and the general public. Legislation must address the wider social issues. Things are improving, but mental health is still regarded as a low priority." A startling illustration of this is the fact that the Mental Health Ordinance dates back to 1873, with one revision in 1956!
"There is a lack of interest in this area of care," Professor Mendis continues, "hence a lack of funding and thus a huge shortfall in meeting patients' needs."
Anne Gibson, a British occupational therapist working at Sahanaya through VSO, emphasises the importance of recognising clients as individuals, rather than just a collection of symptomatic behaviours. Central to her drive is the deeply held conviction that everyone, whether they are healthy or unwell has the right to self-determination and to make choices. Many clients suffer from self-imposed or society-imposed labels, and often arrive at the Sahanaya centre with an air of hopelessness: a sense that because they have been labelled as a patients, they are useless. By giving them a voice, identifying their strengths, working on overcoming their weaknesses and monitoring any medication, patients are encouraged to believe in themselves.
The activities include not only essential life skills such as budgeting, daily living and cooking, but also social and communication skills, productive and leisure activities, sports, music and art. All of these are aimed at increasing self-esteem and ensuring that each patient knows that he has the choice to do what he wants, with his own life.
Rather than just regarding the illness in isolation and embarking on a purely psycho-pharmaceutical treatment or institutionalization, the emphasis here is on rehabilitation. The teams at Sahanaya work with companies, social service groups/organisations and NGOs to place recovering clients in appropriate jobs.
Mrs. Gibson is relentless in pursuing her goal of helping clients to
achieve their potential. "It is all about what they can do, not what they
can't." Having seen the talent, hard work and results of activities at
the centre, she says it is clear that Sahanaya is making real progress.
It now remains for all of us to follow these trailblazers in examining
our prejudices and recognising the person behind the illness.
Yet, Nuwara Eliya today is a far cry from the beautiful and peaceful, flower-filled resort it used to be. And after every season or long-awaited holiday, visitors wonder why the town which has so much obvious potential, is so ill-maintained.
The streets are congested and dirty. Visitors have their ears blasted by the loud music issuing from the loudspeakers set up around the town. Ad hoc construction, authorised or unauthorised has marred the beauty of its gracious, old buildings. The bus stand in the centre of the town is an eyesore as is the bus depot sited at the old Nuwara Eliya Railway Station. The old building has been badly neglected and the roof is disintegrating.
The race course too, prominently located, could do with a facelift. Residents and visitors though, are relieved that the garbage dump in its midst has been removed, though remnants remain to remind one of its existence. Even the Nuwara Eliya Park, once a showpiece, is not at its best. In sharp contrast, hotels such as the Grand Hotel and the Hill Club, have gardens which are in full bloom with many varieties of vivid flowers.
The man in charge of the city's upkeep, Nuwara Eliya Mayor Bandula Seneviratne says work is in progress. The town area has been developed in co-ordination with the Road Development Authority, Rs.700 million being spent to carpet the roads. Work has begun to upgrade the bus stand and attempts are being made to relocate the CTB depot so that the site could be beautified, he says.
But Mr. Seneviratne seems on a collision course with the other development authorities. "In another ten years, there will be no water in Nuwara Eliya," he warns. "The Forest Department is planting Turpentine and Pinus which should be for marshy areas. The hills should be planted with trees."
The Mayor said most unauthorised structures in Nuwara Eliya have been removed, but there were some large buildings, whose owners have sought court action. "Although the UDA says there is a green belt, nobody knows where the green belt is," he added. Nuwara Eliya needs help. (H.F)
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