Truly a case of the blind leading the blind

One woman’s determination and courage has helped many other visually handicapped women, like herself, to lead a normal life
By Smriti Daniel

In a world moulded to suit the needs of people who can see, Violet Yakandawela is determined make room for the blind. President of the National Women’s Forum of the Sri Lanka Federation of the Visually Handicapped (SLFVH), Mrs. Yankadawela and her team currently work with about 75 women between the ages of 20 to 45. Their concerns range from the financial to the emotional, and the institution does what it can to help them cope.

Violet Yakandawela Rienzi Benedict

The forum dedicates sessions to teaching daily skills and has a modest fund that offers business loans and medical stipends to their members – but sometimes the scale of their challenges can seem daunting. Here Mrs. Yankadawela seems to lead by example.

The first visually handicapped woman in Sri Lanka to actually attend university and graduate, she’s worked as a teacher, is married and has a raised a son and now hopes to help others like her take their place in the world.

Trained at the School for the Deaf and Blind in Ratmalana, Chitra Gunesekera can type in Braille, and is an accomplished singer. Today, she is working with a trainee, helping him get used to managing the phones in their reception. Chitra is one of the many blind people employed at SLFVH’s office in Colombo -7.

In some ways, she’s fortunate to be so independent; many visually handicapped people rarely leave their homes, imprisoned either by well meaning relatives or the challenges of navigating the hustle and bustle of unfamiliar streets. Even though SLFVH tries to cover transportation costs, many members still need a guide to get them to the offices, says Mrs. Yankadawela. Still, this year seven women made it from the Northern province. “We have to depend on others,” she says, adding that as many as 80% of their members have no fixed income.

They do what they can to help themselves. Some women make wicks, while others make small ornaments and candles, reveals the Federation’s Assistant Administrative Secretary Rienzi Benedict. Small loans issued in collaboration with Handicap International are used to support some of these entrepreneurs, and they are encouraged in turn to save some amount, however small, every month.

The organisation then deposits the money into savings accounts under the women’s names. Especially for aging women, health bills are difficult to meet and many want for medicines as simple as panadol. An emergency health fund, courtesy Technique International provides a small safety net, and the organization continues to look for ways in which to nurture it. At the annual meeting of the women’s forum, held to coincide with International Women’s Day, Mrs. Yankadawela and her team try to address issues that the women face. Some of these are extremely serious and include domestic violence and sexual abuse.

For others, over protective parents will not consider allowing their children to study or marry. Mrs. Yankadawela, who is herself married to a visually handicapped man, says encouraging a handicapped person to gain some measure of independence and to begin their own families is often the best for everyone.

Should they choose to keep a home, these women need to learn essential skills, but these can be mastered, says Mrs. Yankadawela. At workshops where daily living skills are imparted, members of the women’s forum have been taught some basic cookery alongside child care and household skills such as sweeping and cleaning. Essentials of personal hygiene and manners and posture are also taught. Having mastered how to drape her own saree, Mrs. Yankadawela says she encourages her protégés to take pride in their appearance. Many of these women are also fluent in Braille, yet are forced to use a fingerprint in place of a signature on official documents. Equating the thumb print with illiteracy, Mrs. Yankadawela shows me a little card that when placed on a paper allows the user to sign in a straight line. “We try to teach them how to write at least their names,” she says, as Mr. Benedict demonstrates.

But the most valuable lesson is not one that’s easily taught. Determination is the quality that makes the biggest difference, says Mrs. Yankadawela. Having lost her eyesight to nerve damage as a four-year-old, Mrs. Yankadawela says that it takes willpower for a visually handicapped person to make his or her way in the modern world, but she herself is proof that it is far from impossible.

Celebrating Elders Day

The National Women’s Forum will be celebrating International Elders Day for the first time on October 2 commencing at 9. 30 a.m. The event which will be held at their headquarters at 74, Church Street Colombo – 7 will offer elderly women advice and information on issues that concern them. All are welcome.

Top to the page  |  E-mail  |  views[1]
SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
Other Plus Articles
E-Waste, The next garbage time bomb!
Want to know all about our stamps? Click to
New and old at Thihariya mosque
Executive Presidency is fine if it’s you who’s in power -- Letter to the editor
Ruination of Mattala says plenty about us -- Letter to the editor
Bouquets to Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and the concert organisers -- Letter to the editor
Country Roads regular Darlen passes away -- Appreciation
He made a huge contribution to agriculture and livestock development -- Appreciation
Doc with healing touch and artistic hands -- Appreciation
We’ll miss the voice and presence of our beloved Q -- Appreciation
Gentleman banker , man of integrity, wisdom and compassion -- Appreciation
A cyst that was bigger than an average baby
‘How will we survive?’
Step in for a state-of- the-art lesson in history
Modern, local look to colonial setting
September Song: A burst of promising opera
Light classical music and jazz at LC Classics III
Two friends and a shared love for art
Annual Madhu Ganga Open Troll with Ceylon Sea Anglers' Club
Chocolate Chefs at their best
Fruits of his labour: Students felicitate GDL a pioneer
Shanil Young pianist with great deal of poise and sangfroid
Pradeep enchants Melbourne
From old to the young: Getting to know the country
Exciting travelogue takes off again
From a wasteland into a wonderland?
Truly a case of the blind leading the blind
Pranic healing: Connecting between the therapist-a cartographer and the patient- a traveller
Are we caring enough for our elders?
Championship fever hits Colombo
Popular plant exhibition on again


Reproduction of articles permitted when used without any alterations to contents and a link to the source page.
© Copyright 2010 | Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka. All Rights Reserved.| Site best viewed in IE ver 6.0 @ 1024 x 768 resolution