Tall and beautiful, Himali Isurumathi of Ratmalana Bihiri Vidhyalaya smiles broadly as she uses sign language to communicate with other girl guides. “I made a lot of friends and I am happy as I can develop my talents,” 16-year-old Danushiya from Vakarai said confidently.
Months of hard work, planning and dedication paid off as Sri Lanka’s first ever International Differently Abled Girl Guide Camp on the inspiring theme ‘Creating Our Future’ held this month with guides from Hong Kong and India joining their counterparts from all over Sri Lanka was widely seen as an inspiring success.
|Making new friends and harnessing talent at the camp.
Pix by Mangala Weerasekera
The camp was for the sight impaired, hearing impaired, Down’s Syndrome, Slow learners and mentally impaired girl guides. Guides from the Eastern Province and the North joined their counterparts after many years.
“We have passed yet another milestone,” said Differently Abled Branch Director, Marlyn Dissanayaka, recalling unbelievable moments, when they received calls from various donors just as they were faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. The wonderful support they had with contributions coming ‘from an eight-year-old to a great-grandmother’ made the camp a reality. “It is an answer to prayer,” said a grateful Ms Dissanayaka.
The camp began with a procession starting at the Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association (SLGGA) Headquarters ending at Ladies’ College, where the school grounds served as the camp grounds. The girls marched into the college hall for the opening ceremony, proudly bearing the various girl guide and country flags to welcome and entertain the audience with dance and song.
Chief Guest- Bank of Ceylon chairman, Gamini Wickremasinghe declared open the camp- rolling back the flap of a tent on stage. Out scrambled three guides from the participating countries wearing beaming smiles and waving gaily at the audience. As the opening ceremony drew to an end, campers expressed their gratitude in English, Sinhala and Tamil and sign language.
Held from August 12 to 17, the camp had fun filled and enriching learning experiences with a sports festival, activity day, trip to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, open day and a camp fire. The international camp was a first not only for the Sri Lankan guides but those from Hong Kong and India as well as for the volunteer from Britain.
“The guides are excited and have made a lot of friends,” said an enthusiastic Chan Wing Hang, guide leader from the Hong Kong Girl Guides’ Association. She accompanied the participants from Hong Kong where a special needs camp is held annually. Puli Elinar Ames, the Guide leader from Bharat Scouts and Guides India, was appreciative of the fact that separate camps were held for the differently abled girls.
Amelia Frances Schofield, a guider from Girl Guiding UK who flew out to help with the camp found it to be brilliantly organized and an ideal platform for the potential of the guides to be unleashed.
“The talents of the children are brought out and the camp helps them build confidence,” she said.
“We hope the procession served as an eye-opener and that the public realized that they too have a responsibility towards these children,” said Chief Commissioner, Shantha Jayalath in her welcome speech.
Here in Sri Lanka, the newest area of work for the Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association (SLGGA) is the Eastern Province- Batticaloa and Ampara- where some have disabilities as a result of the war.
An awareness training programme was held in Batticaloa last December. Prior to this there were no differently abled guiding facilities. Now there are around 60 enrolled guides of whom 22 attended the camp this time.
“The children and their parents used to think that no one cares about them and felt isolated,” said Jothy Jesuratnam Sudath who accompanied the guides from the East adding that they now realize that they are part of an international movement which works for them, and this makes them feel secure and happy.
The camp presented the girls with the opportunity of making a lot of friends and developing their talents and leadership skills. The girls also learn to be independent. “I can see a difference in the girls” said Jothy happily. For many others too, it was a dream come true. “It is a gift from God,” said Malkanthi Perera from the Moratuwa Balika Lama Nivasa, talking affectionately of the Commissioners and Guiders who she says were very helpful and like parents to her. The camp also provided the guides with an opportunity to meet fellow dfferently abled guides and share their experiences.
“It was a nice experience,” said 15-year-old Sanduni Pubasara who is from the Ratmalana Blind School. She added that they were able to learn many languages through song.
“It is a good chance for the girls to increase their capabilities” adds Hindumathi Karupayya who is a guider at the school.
Sister Premila Gamage who is the guide captain from the Supam Uyana Home in Galle which had nine participants at the camp said the girls also learnt about discipline-- working on time, walking in line etc. and became more independent while having much fun through dancing, music and art.
Behind the scenes, the organizing committee worked tirelessly to ensure the smooth running of the camp. “The hostel matrons and support staff at Ladies’ College worked cheerfully even during vacation, said Ms Dissanayaka. Many came forward and helped in many ways with donations in cash and other necessities such as food, shoes, caps, bags etc, she added grateful for the support.
“People are more aware now,” said Ms Dissanayaka adding “we want society to learn to accept the Differently Abled and not marginalize them.”