16th January 2000
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Let there be some light

Tucked away from the bustle of city, near the Katubedde campus, is a commune of 13 blind people. Though they manage to live independently, with age their future looks bleak. Hiranthi Fernando reports

Sirisena is blind and so is his wife MarigoldSirisena is blind and so is his wife Marigold. The elderly couple live in a little house at the blind colony opposite the Katubedde campus, with an old cat for company.

There are 13 blind people and four who are deaf and dumb at the colony. 

The couple first came there in 1970. "We built our own house, at first in cadjan with a cement floor," Marigold recalled. "We had help from many people over the years to improve the house, build a toilet and put in a tap."

Sirisena has been blind from birth, while Marigold went blind as a child. They both attended the Blind School at Ratmalana, although they never met there. Sirisena, who was a good musician played the accordion, guitar, violin and banjo and had even recorded advertisements, mostly of confectionery products in the past.

For five years, he sold lottery tickets, walking all the way to Beruwela, Matugama, Horana, or Panadura, but had to stop as dealing with money became difficult. He cannot hear well now and so even crossing the road is hazardous.

He now potters around doing little jobs around the house and cleaning the little patch of garden outside.

Despite all their difficulties, Sirisena and Marigold are an uncomplaining couple, grateful to their many benefactors. HelpAge provides them with lunch on most days, with the Association For Lighting A Candle (AFLAC) stepping in on other. They manage to prepare their own dinner.

"We have a lot of friends around here who help us with dry rations and other necessities," Sirisena said.

"At Christmas time, we got a big box of foodstuffs. We also give from what we get to those who are in need." As if to prove his words, there were two stray cats, two kittens and a dog visiting them in the hope of tidbits.

Two helpless blind ladies, Sybil and Lucy live next door to Sirisena and Marigold. Sybil was boiling water for tea in a little kitchen while Lucy, who was ailing, sat on her bed fanning herself. Sybil and Lucy had both studied at the Blind School at Ratmalana, after which they were trained in knitting. They used to take in orders but Sybil cannot knit anymore as her finger is permanently swollen. 

They are fortunate to have someone coming in daily to help. "We would be lost without her," Sybil says. Latha, who lives nearby brings the HelpAge lunch for the blind folk. She also helps to take them about and do their shopping and other little chores, which they cannot handle. "We would like to go to a home," Sybil said wistfully. "I cannot work now. Yesterday, I spilt the curry I was cooking."

Hema, Mary and Creta, whom they affectionately call Teacher, have lived together , since they first came to the colony in 1955, when it was set up. "The Christian missionaries built ten houses with donations collected," Hema recalled. 

"The land was donated by E.P.A. Fernando. We used to pay a monthly rent of Rs.11 to the Blind School Board. In 1959, the missionaries left the country and handed over the houses to the Government. For 20 years, we paid a monthly rent of Rs. 10 to the Housing Department. Thereafter, President Premadasa gave us the deeds."

The British Wives Welfare Association has helped the colony from its inception and continues to provide a monthly allowance of Rs. 400 for the needy folk. They also receive an allowance of Rs. 300 from the Social Services Department. "We do our own house repairs and manage our living expenses with the allowance we get," Hema said.

Creta suffers from a heart ailment so the other two handle most of the work in the house, which they keep neat and clean. Since the water supply stops at 6 a.m., the ladies wake up at 4.30 a.m. each day to fill containers for use during the day. Water is available again only late in the night. During their free time, they write in Braille to penpals, who often send them books and magazine. Beatrice, who lives in a house nearby, writes articles and poems in Braille for a university magazine and also for a Braille magazine 'Kalaya' put out by the Blind Citizens Front. 

Podimenike, another resident of the colony, lives with her young daughter who looks after her. She has been twice widowed. Both her husbands were blind like her. Podimenike now manages on her allowance and is trying to rent out a room in her house to supplement her income.

Mostly old and infirm, these blind people eke out an existence thanks to the assistance they receive from kind neighbours and benefactors. A community kitchen in the neighbourhood would greatly ease their burden. Some of them need to find an Elders Home where they could be looked after, since they are getting older and more feeble by the day. A water tank for their houses is also needed since they have to fill up their water late at night or early in the morning. "The access road leading to the colony is in a bad state and is not easy for even a normal person to negotiate. It gets badly flooded during the rain, since it slopes down from the road," added Jayasiri, President of the Blind Citizens Front, who also has a house in the colony.

In the new year, one can only hope that someone will step in to help ease their way.


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