On a chance walk through Viharamahadevi Park on a sultry Saturday afternoon in September I came across a large group of children excitedly milling around a handful of grown-ups. Among the adults I recognized were Dhushyanthi Nugawela Wijeyawardana, as effervescent as ever, with her close friends, the Weerasuriyas, Yvonne and Neil, Pamela Marshall and Desmond Fernando, PC a broad smile on his face, in animated conversation with the children.
Drawing Dhushy quietly aside, I asked what the occasion was. What I learnt humbled me.
The gathering was an outing of children accompanied by their carers and select office-bearers of the National Council for Children and Youth Welfare (NCCYW). Dhushy who had recently relinquished office as President of the Council was succeeded by Desmond Fernando. An eminent lawyer and President's Counsel, Desmond Fernando is the only Sri Lankan to hold the prestigious post of President of the International Bar Association.
It was heartwarming to see such a distinguished lawyer with a multiplicity of demands enjoying time with children less fortunate, some from broken homes, others orphans, some abused, mentally challenged etc.
There are around 40 children from the Kularatne Children's Welfare Society, Godakawela, one of seven homes managed by the National Council. The homes are Pamungama, Madiwela, Moratuwa, Dummaldeniya, Wattegama, Lewella and Godakawela. Each has around 50 children with the Government providing only a token grant of Rs. 600 to Rs. 1,500 per month per child. The Central Board of the Council organizes fund-raising projects but needs regular funding and sponsorship to run the homes.
The children are given a balanced education and taught several skills. The Council proudly acknowledges the achievements of some who have excelled. One has become a medical doctor who specialized in Cardiff, UK. Another excelled in athletics. Another got 8 distinctions at the O'Ls. Even among the mentally challenged, there are achievers who won 10 out of 15 awards at the Asia-Pacific competition in Taiwan.
The National Council was founded in 1954 by Sir Albert Peiris, Lady Evelyn de Soysa, Dr. Mary Rutnam, Prof. G.P. Malalasekera and Dr. L.O. Abeyratne whose vision was to provide loving care and protection to needy children so that their talents could blossom and they could live with dignity.
It was indeed a serendipitous encounter.
More information could be had from the Council head office at 385/5, Kotte Road, Rajagiriya, on email: email@example.com or tel: 011-2863823 and 011-2863869.