Another dramatic journey of hope
Sunera Foundation reaches out to 'special' people in rural areas
By Vidushi Seneviratne
The atmosphere was electric. Oblivious to the audience in front of them, these young artistes were preparing for their big night. The title was aptly "A Journey into the Subconscious", for the kaleidoscope of images and emotions the show evoked would have surely transported the audience into a different world allowing each a different interpretation of the scenes that unfolded before them.

"A Journey into the Subconscious", an abstract dance drama was colourfully and creatively presented by the differently-abled artistes of the Sunera Foundation. The performance was directed by Rohana Deva Perera and co-directed by Chandana Vasantha, Hemamalani Udayakumar and Mahinda Abeysena with choreography by Ramani Damayanthi.

This was the culmination of the Foundation's latest project, where young volunteers were trained to help others like them. Around 20 youth underwent the two-year training before being selected as representatives for particular zones. Working in areas such as Pottuvil, Kalpitiya, Kurunegala and Vavuniya, each representative had to conduct workshops in the selected area, on a weekly basis.

The trainees received their letters of appointment on August 10, this year from the President of the Foundation, Ms. Sunethra Bandaranaike.

Almost a month after they were sent out on their assignments, some of the trainees, along with the members of their workshops, were invited to perform at the 32nd Triennial Congress of the International Alliance of Women, hosted by the Sri Lanka Women's Conference. The young artistes presented their performance "A Journey into the Subconscious", on September 19 at the Galle Face Hotel.

There are many young people, the differently-abled who need not only love and caring, but who also deserve to be treated as individuals in their own right.

Unfortunately in Sri Lanka, they are most often ignored or overlooked. But where there is art, there is hope, believes the Sunera Foundation. Since performing arts is one of the most powerful modes of communication, they strive to combine its many facets, to make these special people accepted in society.

Since most of the members of the Foundation are mentally and physically disadvantaged, straightforward drama which includes dialogue, is almost impossible for them. Dance-drama, is the innovative variation which the Foundation has come up with to counter this problem, combining music, dance and drama. This form of theatre goes beyond the boundaries of ethnicity, religion or race. It is an 'inclusive' method in the performing arts, which engages individuals of all abilities.

The Sunera Foundation's previous productions, Butterflies Will Always Fly and Flowers Will Always Bloom, in 1998 and 1999 respectively, brought together not only the members of the Foundation, but also reputed artistes such as Khema and Upekha.

M. Surendra Raj from Ampara, the representative for the Eastern Province said he intends going from house to house, getting young people involved in the project. "We will be involving people who are both disabled as well as others who are perfectly fine," he said enthusiastically.

One of the requirements of the Foundation is that each workshop needs to be 15 km apart. This way, they believe the maximum number of individuals can be reached. The trainees are also advised to limit the number in their group to a maximum of 30, so that they would be able to get to know each member personally.

Among the trainees are a few differently-abled young people. "Integration is a process of learning and respecting each other," said Wolfgang Stange, Creative Director of the Foundation.

Funding for the programme was also received from the British government and channelled to the Foundation through the British Council.

The main focus of the Foundation is to spread the message of 'Love for humanity'. They believe that this is all that is needed for the world to be a success. "Where there is love, there is hope," were the words of wisdom from Mahatma Gandhi. Here is a classic example of it.

The blind graduate
By Hiranthi Fernando
Ranjith Jayatilake was 15 when he awoke one July morning in 1985, to find he was surrounded by darkness. It was a horrifying experience. Confused and frightened, it took some time before he realised he was blind.

"My parents rushed me to the Ratnapura Hospital," Ranjith said, recalling the events following this catastrophe which changed his whole life. "We were informed that children would not be seen that day. We then consulted a private ophthalmologist, who referred me to the Eye Hospital in Colombo. As luck would have it, the nurses were on strike that day. However, Dr. Upali Mendis, the well-known ophthalmologist himself filled out my admission ticket and warded me for a month for tests to be carried out."

Ranjith's ailment was diagnosed as retinal detachment. An operation of the left eye only brought him temporary vision for one month, after which he gradually began to lose his vision again. Further operations on both eyes followed up with Ayurvedic treatment yielded no results. He remained blind in both eyes. Ranjith joined the Yasodhara School for the Deaf and Blind, where he learned Braille and completed his G.C.E. (O.L) examination in 1990 after three years of hard work, with a distinction in Buddhist Civilization, six credits and an ordinary pass. He was also the School Captain and headed the Literary Association. He also actively participated in track and field events.

Having followed Advanced Level classes at the Balangoda Dharmananda Pirivena, he gained admission to the Kelaniya University for a Bachelor of Arts degree. Ranjith and his batch of 13 visually handicapped students had to overcome many obstacles such as the lack of reference facilities in Braille. However Ranjith performed particularly well, obtaining a Second Class Upper degree.

His troubles however, are not over. Since graduation Ranjith has been trying to find suitable employment with little success. From March this year, he has been attached to the Sri Lanka Federation of the Visually Handicapped on a temporary basis as a Braille transcriber. This assignment ends in June next year.

Ranjith's fervent hope is to be able to obtain suitable employment. "What I would really like to do is to teach. I can teach blind children of any age or other children over year 6. I am qualified to teach Buddhism, Sinhala or History," he says.

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