17th March 2002

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Mercy mission for Dementia victims

By Esther Williams

"Look at them - they yearn for love and kindness. Please do not ignore them," says the board outside Mallika Nivasa, a home for ageing, destitute women.

Situated in the heart of the city, Mallika Nivasa provides a safe haven for old women who have no one to call their own and for those whose families have no time or inclination to care for them.

Since its inception in 1920, the home has provided food, clothing, accommodation, medical and other care to almost 15 paying and 95 non-paying elderly women. Founded by Mallika Hewavitarne, the centre also runs the Sneha Infants Home for orphans under five and the Parakrama Boys Home (Kandana) for those above five.

Their recent initiative is the Dementia Care Centre that was sponsored by Helpage Sri Lanka. The first of its kind in the island, the dementia centre besides housing patients will be a training centre for doctors specialising in the field and a model centre for care of dementia patients.

Dementia occurs among the very old due to dysfunctioning of the brain, something akin to Alzheimer's disease. Those with the disorder are often forgetful, suspicious and keep finding fault with others, all of which are characteristic traits resulting from loneliness, insecurity, and other problems.

Assisted by Dr. Samudra Kathriarachchi and other specialists from the University of Sri Jayawardenapura, the dementia unit would ensure that specialised care and medical support is provided to the inmates.

Inaugurated by the Minister of Health, Nutrition and Welfare, P. Dayaratne on March 12, the centre that can accommodate eight, now has seven dementia patients who have been diagnosed by the doctors of Sri Jayawardenepura Hospital. It houses an office, a recreation room and a separate ward with some beds having railings as in a hospital. The dementia patients will be looked after by specially trained attendants / care givers.

Speaking on the occasion, the Minister applauded the Mallika Nivasa Samithiya for the vital support they are providing to the old and weak who desperately in need of care and affection.

"There was a time when all elders were looked after by their extended families. However, modern society has given rise to nuclear families having one child and two parents who often reject their elders," said N. W. E. Wijewantha, Executive Director, HelpAge Sri Lanka. Discussing the ageing population in Sri Lanka, he said that no one can prevent the ageing process that is accompanied by afflictions of the eye, ears, body and multiple diseases. It is because families are unable to attend to their needs that old age homes are gaining importance, he added.

Helpage Sri Lanka would like to establish and foster a traditional system for parents to live with their families. Until that happens, it is left to NGOs and voluntary organisations like the Mallika Home to provide the service.

Within the premises of the Home is also a sick ward for bed-ridden patients who need total care - assistance to eat, bathe, change, etc. Most patients in this ward are very old, in their 90s and they are given regular checks by a visiting doctor. The neatness and order maintained in the rooms speak of the centre's efficiency. All efforts are made to ensure that the inmates bathe regularly.

Lunchtime sees the residents of the home make their way slowly, some a little unsteadily, into the dining room. Smiling, they call out to each other as they wait for food to be placed before them.

"This is a happy place, I have friends and I am at peace here," says Rupa Pathirana (66) who has been at the home since 1994. "We worship, get three meals, clothes and everything we need." Being an only child, Rupa had nowhere to go when her husband died.

"It is unfortunate that so many families find various excuses to come and dump their elders," says Ms. Silpadasa, General Secretary of the centre. She and several others that have been associated with the centre for many years, are committed to its cause.

Rare study of Sri Lanka's deities and demons

The Deities and Demons of Sinhala Origin by Prof. Abhaya Aryasingha. Reviewed by Dr. Suriya Gunasekara

Prof. Abhaya Aryasingha in his book The Dei- ties and Demons of Sinhala Origin has done a rare examination into the origin and existence of deities and demons of our country. The main characteristic of our gods and deities is that they were humans who lived with us. After death, they were respected and honoured as gods and deities. There is a difference between a god and a deity. A deity's jurisdiction was limited to a certain geographical area whereas gods were not.

Hinduism consists of hundreds and thousands of gods denoting natural forces such as the sun, moon, wind, rain, lightning, thunder etc. This has not been our practice although we have had close connections with Hinduism.

The secret behind a deity is the influence he or she has on contemporary society. The author has given sufficient details about various deities for the reader to understand this aspect. Some are soft and kind, whereas others considered dangerous and frightening. These were mostly raised to the position of demons.

Out of hundreds of such deities, Prof. Aryasinghe has singled out twenty two. Of these two, Baba Kolama is not an individual but two different aspects of Sabaragamuwa people, symbolized in human form. Every deity and demon has some local significance that has raised him either to divinity or demonship. Deities such as Kadawara, Mangara and Moratu inspired fear and anxiety among the people of the area, but they did not become demons.

The book covers all parts of Sri Lanka such as the Dry Zone, Wet Zone, and Down South. Deities came not only from the Royal Family or nobles but from ordinary villagers also. There are also different stories about the same deity. "Ranvala Deviyo" is the best example here. The author has selected the most popular story out of many, because some people say that Ranwala Deviyo was the driver of "Paruwa" at Ranwala Ferry who died in 1864.

Females were also raised to divinity. Henakanda Biso Bandara and Sinhala Pattini are two examples given here. They became sacred solely because of their unusual birth and not their career and achievements. It seemed that our deities had jurisdiction in areas where they were respected and offered sacrifices.

Humans with special talents and virtues were raised to divinity believing that their next life would be more powerful than the present one.

Prof. Abhaya Aryasingha has attempted to show various aspects of deities and demons, though not giving us his own analysis.

Let's hope this will be the beginning of more research into the sociological significance of deities and demons.

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