They come in despair, hardly able to deal with their physical disability and low self-esteem, in many instances abandoned or neglected by their families and shunned and stigmatized by society. Here they are welcomed with open arms, showered with love and care, provided the necessary therapy to overcome their disability or deal with it, given [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

They find a home and hope

Kumudini Hettiarachchi visits a refuge for crippled children in Pita Kotte

They come in despair, hardly able to deal with their physical disability and low self-esteem, in many instances abandoned or neglected by their families and shunned and stigmatized by society.

It’s hair-plaiting time for these girls at the home. Pix by Amila Gamage

Here they are welcomed with open arms, showered with love and care, provided the necessary therapy to overcome their disability or deal with it, given a good education followed by vocational training and sent back into society.

“Sampurnayenma hedune methana thama,” says 44-year-old D.M. Chandana who is an accountant in a private firm, explaining that this is where he became a complete person.

The Sevana Home of the Crippled Children’s Aid Association of Sri Lanka (CCAASL) in the heart of bustling Pita Kotte has sheltered him and numerous others, providing a safe haven from which flows comfort, security and medical care.

While Chandana is an “old boy” of the Sevana Home, many are the “present boys” who have also made great strides in their lives. The trophies, chock-a-block in a showcase, are ample testimony that the CCAASL is heading in the right direction.

And just last month, on the 18th, the CCAASL passed another major milestone, as President Maithripala Sirisena opened a brand new state-of-the-art building which will help expand its invaluable service, delivered silently since the early 1950s.

It is from within this home that 18-year-old Nishan Madhushanka who has sat the Advanced Level has set his sights on becoming a software engineer while Uthpala Chandimal, 16, has had the privilege of taking part in Information Technology Competitions in Korea and Indonesia and a Wheelchair Tennis Tournament in Australia, like many more before him.

For “old boy” Chandana, studying was a yearning and the home provided all the support he needed. There is contentment, for he is married with two beautiful children and has built his own house with his savings.

Nihal Perera: Tracing the beginnings of CCAASL

Thirty-three-year-old L.G. Pathmalatha has come to meet us all the way from Anamaduwa, along with her husband and seven-year-old daughter.

She had been handed over to the home by her Achchi Amma who was living in Galle, at the tender age of nine, having been struck down by polio when she was just three.

“Godak deval methanin labuna,” she says, adding that she received much from the home. It was after her schooling and while working in a garment factory that her husband-to-be saw her and asked the Matron whether he could marry her.

Her eyes take on a faraway, dreamy look as she re-lives her wedding which was hosted, “lokuwata” (grandly) by the Sevana Home on these very premises on September 7, 2007. That’s why she keeps coming back, for this is the Maha Gedera.

The stories are similar but at the same time different…….Subhash Attygalle, 37, is now into his own business, the sale of vehicles in Passara.

He describes his years at the home as a time when he learnt to do everything by himself which paved the way for him to launch ‘Attygalle Enterprises’.

Thilanka Karunadasa, 28, meanwhile, is working as a receptionist at a dispensary in Nugegoda, having got a solid grounding in people skills and T. Chandrasiri, 40, has become a top employee of a security firm.

The beginnings of CCAASL have been poignant, going back to a chilly December day in 1928. On a visit to the Ratnapura Government Agent’s office on December 22, a former Provincial Engineer of the Public Works Department, Arthur H. Nathanielsz had caught a glimpse of a bundle dumped near the door. A closer look left him aghast – it was a disabled baby.

D.M. Chandana: An old boy of the Sevana Home

Upset over the abandonment of an innocent, he attempted to find the little one a home but came up against a blank wall.

Heart-broken, Arthur had then made up his mind to launch the CCAASL and set up a home, says the association’s current President, Nihal Perera, while Senior Member, D.V. Wirasinha, Secretary Pemadasa Wickramasinghe and Member Melanie Fernando echo that he was “an exceptional human being”.

All on the CCAASL are volunteers who are giving of their time and effort to build up not only the home but also the school for special children which followed in its wake.

Seated around a table with a cloth decorated with bright flowers stitched by the children, we learn that although records are hazy about what happened to that first baby, on March 8, 1937, having canvassed support from the highest government authorities, Arthur was able to form the CCAASL, with himself as Secretary and Treasurer and Sir Vaithtialingam Duraiswamy, then Speaker of the State Council, as President.

There was no turning back and even though Arthur was compelled to head back home to England for personal reasons in 1946, he had left behind substantial funds with the hope that a home for disabled children would soon become a reality.

His vision became a reality only in 1954, when his brother, Rev. C.E.V. Nathanielsz canvassed for more financial support and the home was opened on May 9, 1961, providing a haven for 50 children, both girls and boys from all around the country.

The Sevana Special School came thereafter with day scholars also being accomodated.

The New Sevana Home Project was launched in 1993 to expand services with funds being raised by the team, then headed by President Prof. Priyani Soysa.

In more recent times, a modern building with all facilities and easy accessibility became a dire need. Designed by Architect Ranjan Nadaisapillai and costing Rs. 50 million – monies raised by the dedication of the CCAASL and Matron Sriyani S. Gamage — it is a one-stop centre.

The ground floor is occupied by the Sevana Lama Nivasaya under Matron Gamage and the upper floor the Sevana Special School under the stewardship of Principal Anoma Saroja Wettasinghe.

L.G. Pathmalatha with her daughter

Everything a special child, be it from within the home or coming in from outside, may need is there…..medical services at a centre run by the Specialist doctors on the CCAASL, hydrotherapy, occupational therapy.

Adds President Nihal Perera: “It is a vision accomplished and dream come true.”

It truly is a dream come true not only for the CCAASL but also the stream of young men and women who pass through the portals of this institution they have called home for many a long year.

For they do so with dignity and a strong sense of self-worth, fitting into society with ease.

(Those who wish to help the home can contribute to Account No. 279100193760215 at the People’s Bank, Pita Kotte branch in the name of Crippled Children’s Aid Association of Sri Lanka.)

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