Sympathetic ear more potent than any medication

A volunteer looks back on 20 years of Sri Lanka Sumithrayo, Panadura

In 1974 Joan de Mel, a Befriender from Samaritans UK, founded Sri Lanka Sumithrayo, initially in Colombo. It was at the request of Doctors from the General Hospital Colombo, who were distressed at the many attempted suicides in the hospital. The organization was incorporated by Act of Parliament No. 10 of 1986 under section 3 (d) empowering it to set up branches.

The branch in Kandy was established in 1978 and Bandarawela in 1991. At the same time the need for a centre south of Colombo was felt. Two committed volunteers from Moratuwa working at Colombo decided to look for a place in Moratuwa or Panadura. An old house with a large garden on Galle Road Panadura seemed to fit the bill and a part of it was taken on rent. Thus the Sri Lanka Sumithrayo fourth Branch came into being in Panadura, 20 years ago in August 1991.

A senior volunteer transferred temporarily from Colombo, trained us in the skills of listening and befriending and together with another volunteer, functioned as founder co-directors. Of the initial core group of 13 volunteers, we are proud that seven volunteers are still on roll.

After 10 years new premises were built in 2001, in the adjoining block of land donated by a wellwisher. We are open 365 days of the year from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Our membership varies between 25 and 30 volunteers at any given time

Our funding is entirely local, thanks to donors who help us from time to time and fund raisers such as sales and musical shows. Befriending is done face to face, over the phone, or by letter. At the Base Hospital Panadura, persons who have attempted suicide are befriended by a team trained for hospital befriending. Outreach in the form of programmes for schools, children’s homes and elders’ homes are also a part of our work.

We have found very often, that a sympathetic listening ear is all that a distressed person really wants. This unconditional emotional support is a soothing balm much more potent than expensive medication. No one is ever turned away.

So what do we gain from this exercise? Learning and immense self-growth; the look of happiness on the faces of a couple who came perhaps thinking of a divorce and have decided to stay together is often our reward ! If we have managed to avert a suicide, we have saved a valuable life.

After over 25 years at Sumithrayo, both in Colombo and Panadura, I am sometimes surprised at what life throws at us and how we overcome all these obstacles. Come and join us if you would like to be of service to a distressed human being.

We are at 578/3 Galle Road, Panadura. Or call us on 038-2235291.

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