‘We haven’t forgotten you’

One year on, after the end of the war, child-victims are shedding their past and looking towards a bright future
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi and Dhananjani Silva

They were a set of people who needed special care and attention. They were disabled, more so than others. Totally disabled was their plight, with some even unable to comprehend what had hit them, in a country which had been in the throes of a raging conflict for nearly 30 long years.

That was the reality and as Sri Lanka heaves a sigh of relief and celebrates the first anniversary of peace during Heroes’ Week, this special set of people has not been forgotten. Their families have not been abandoned to cope with a loved one, may be a father, brother or son, who is incapable of looking after himself forever but is totally dependent on them.

Pic courtesy Army media

As Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya laid the foundation stone for the first ‘Abhimansala’ in a scenic setting by the lotus-studded Nuwara Wewa at Anuradhapura under the Brave Hearts Project yesterday, the message to the totally disabled war heroes who are in the prime of their youth is loud and clear.

We are with you, not only the army but also the country, is the message, according to the Head of the Seva Vanitha Army Branch, Manjulika Jayasuriya, the Army Commander’s wife.

Ever-grateful to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and brother Gotabhaya who is Defence Secretary, for donating five acres of land for the Abhimansala, taking into account the needs of the totally disabled and being very supportive, Mrs. Jayasuriya says that they hope to have this “wellness resort” up and running in six months while setting up two more at Kandy and Galle.

There are 228 totally disabled soldiers, the Sunday Times learns, of whom 52 from the Anuradhapura area will find a permanent home at the Abhimansala. Thirty of them are bedridden.

Their injuries are severe, explains Mrs. Jayasuriya, adding that they include brain or spinal cord damage, paralysis, amputations, deafness and blindness. Most of them are from remote areas and even though their families are willing and ready to look after them, how long will they be able to do that, for loved ones cannot be by their side 24 hours a day. They have to work and children have to go to school.

The seed for such a resort germinated when her husband who was Security Forces Commander Wanni during the height of the last battle and she visited the Anuradhapura Hospital numerous times as wounded soldiers from the front were brought in. “It was my husband’s concept,” she says, adding that they were young soldiers whose plight was heartbreaking.

Mrs. Jayasuriya recalls with emotion a visit to the Military Hospital in Colombo….. “there was this soldier with multiple disabilities, deaf, blind and paralysed shouting gahapan, gahapan, still under the impression that he was on the battlefield, oblivious to where he was.”

Moved beyond words, husband and wife discussed the crying need to do something for these hapless men. The Anuradhapura wellness resort alone, the pilot project, will cost Rs. 200 million as it will be based on a different concept, it is understood.

In addition to all the usual facilities and more such as hydrotherapy, ayurvedic treatment spa etc and also a live-in medical staff, there will be dormitory-style accommodation for the bedridden and five villas, each for four disabled soldiers. There will also be five cottages where the soldiers can spend time with their families when they visit.

Already five donors have agreed to fund the cottages while Hatton National Bank and MAS company have come forward to build two of the villas, says Mrs. Jayasuriya, adding that the Tantrimale Hamuduruwo had given a donation of Rs. 1 million. She has also been offered a building at Horana for a similar project.

While the Seva Vanitha Army Branch is actively involved in the fund-raising, and people do help, Abhimansala will be fully-owned and managed by the army.

For more information access the website: Donations could be channelled to Account No. 9846026 at the Bank of Ceylon, Lake House Branch, under the Account Name: ‘Brave Hearts’.

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