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6th December 1998

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Having fun as one

A group of young people-some disabled, others not, from different races and backgrounds have come together to give us a dramatic fusion of their hopes and dreams in an improvised drama- 'Butterflies will always fly'

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

Lilting music. Laughter and dancing with abandon. Spontaneous. Rhythmic. Pure enjoyment. This was the scene that greeted us last week at the open-air theatre of the National Institute of Education in Meepe.

This was no rehearsal. It was fun. There were no inhibitions, no nervousness and the fun was infectious.

The music stops and the group of about 42 prepare for a "scene". There is no script, no theme, no plot. As some can play "music by ear" the ultimate outcome of the play would be decided as they go along, on the group's experience....on what they take to....on improvisation.

Suddenly a line of youngsters come on stage, led by a pretty girl on crutches. Then only is it apparent that some of those on stage are "special" some on wheelchairs, some on crutches and some with Down's Syndrome.

The main character on a wheelchair gives out an agonised scream: "Mage sihiniya bonda karanne" ("Shattering my dream")...... followed by a strident cry from a girl and a youth, in Tamil and English respectively, that it is their dream. Yes, it is their dream....their dream which they will try to bring to us in "Butterflies will always fly" on December 16 at 7 pm at the Bishop's College auditorium.

The performance is being presented by the Sunethra Bandaranaike Trust and sponsored by the Union Bank, German Cultural Institute and Heritage Foundation. The box-office proceeds are to be utilised to set up an Integrated Theatre Workshop for disabled and non-disabled youth.

What is their dream? Like the butterfly which flits from flower to flower, life is fragile, but beautiful. There is good in every creature, even the delicate butterfly that we see everyday, but scarcely notice. That is the message though physically or mentally some of them may be impaired, there is good in them. They too can contribute something towards society. What they need is just a little bit of understanding, not sympathy but help and understanding.

"Integration is not a dirty word," Wolfgang Stange and Rohana Deva Perera who are directing the play said, explaining that it was one reason they decided to use both disabled and non-disabled young artistes to perform. It is also a first in the country, for such a fusion of the two groups.

And the performers are a mixed group Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim, from different intellectual levels, from different backgrounds, with different experiences and from different parts of the country. Here they share their experiences and work together to get people to realise that they all have "good" in them, that they should not be banished to a lonely isolated world of their own but accepted as part of society, Mr. Stange who is from Germany and has been involved in the creative arts in Sri Lanka since 1973, said.

The group consists of young people from Ranaviru Sevana, the Sunflower Village, Rohana School for the Deaf in Matara and Home for the Physically Handicapped in Kegalle among others. One mother had even walked into the NIE with her son, who has a slow mental development, when she heard of the project. Fourteen teachers involved in special education from the provincial education departments, who had come in as observers are also now part of the cast.

Explaining what prompted him and Mr. Perera to think of a play by disabled and non-disabled youth, Mr. Stange said, when chatting with the disabled he realised what they wanted. Some soldiers from Ranaviru Sevana wanted to learn a "skill" to continue leading a normal life. They had no big dreams ..... just ordinary ones.

Even after losing part of their bodies there was no animosity towards the Tigers. They made him realise the "good" in people. Things may be difficult. Life short like that of the butterfly, but they taught him a lesson that even that short life could be beautiful. Life goes on, and these disabled youth had proven that there was no need to be stuck in sadness.

The more vociferous Mr. Perera, of the Natya Silpa Shalika, was critical of those who just gave some food to the disabled and forgot about them and some non-governmental organisation which even "earned" money by using them.

Making a passionate plea for assistance from the media and society itself, Mr. Perera said he felt that the disabled were the "least" used people in our society.

The Trust's chairperson, Sunethra Bandaranaike outlining the objectives of the project said they needed a base such as land, buildings, teachers and administrators to run the proposed Integrated Theatre Workshop. They would seek assistance from the government, NGOs and private sector to make this a reality.

She explained that "Butterflies will always fly" was put together to convey a simple message from the disabled "We need help. We are prepared to work, but please help us."

For 24-year-old Saman Thilaka, who plays the main character, the play is fun, but helps convey a serious message. "I am from Bulathsinhala and was like any other youth, until that day September 25, 1996 when I was caught in an artillery attack in Paranthan." He lost both his legs but not his verve. He is all there singing, dancing from his wheelchair, humming and taking his part very seriously telling us in no uncertain terms that they can do something.

Teacher M.S.M. Rajadasa from Moratuwa treats this is a learning experience. They came as observers, but joined in seeing the enthusiasm of the group, she said.

Those with slow mental development were reluctant to join in the dancing at the beginning, but after three days of residential practice they do everything the others do. "We are gaining a lot of experience which will help us to further interact with the special children we teach in our own schools," she said.

The love and the affection they show us is amazing. They even accompany us to the gate each day when we leave for home, Ms. Rajadas said.

The lead female role is played by stage actress Ramani Damayanthi (24) from the Natya Silpa Shalika. After taking part in numerous plays, including "Hunuvataye Kathawa", she sees this as a chance to impart her knowledge and expertise to others.

'It's a pleasant task. The appreciation shown by the group is very moving," she says.

As one scene depicts, Saman attempts very hard to reach out to Ramani, while the others try to restrain them shouting and chanting, "No". After many attempts, the couple break their shackles and are united at last "their" world and "our" world become one.

So on December 16, let us take that first step in making that dream a reality. Not so much by giving of our sympathy, but our understanding by keeping an open mind. Let us help "special" people find their "niche" in society, thus making it one world.

Tickets for "Butterflies will always fly" will be available at the Bishop's College Auditorium from Monday, November 30.

The Trust's chairperson, Sunethra Bandaranaike outlining the objectives of the project said they needed a base such as land, buildings, teachers and administrators to run the proposed Integrated Theatre Workshop. They would seek assistance from the government, NGOs and private sector to make this a reality.

She explained that "Butterflies will always fly" was put together to convey a simple message from the disabled "We need help. We are prepared to work, but please help us."

For 24-year-old Saman Thilaka, who plays the main character, the play is fun, but helps convey a serious message.

"I am from Bulathsinhala and was like any other youth, until that day September 25, 1996 when I was caught in an artillery attack in Paranthan."

He lost both his legs but not his verve. He is all there singing, dancing from his wheelchair, humming and taking his part very seriously telling us in no uncertain terms that they can do something.

Teacher M.S.M. Rajadasa from Moratuwa treats this is a learning experience. They came as observers, but joined in seeing the enthusiasm of the group, she said.

Those with slow mental development were reluctant to join in the dancing at the beginning, but after three days of residential practice they do everything the others do.

"We are gaining a lot of experience which will help us to further interact with the special children we teach in our own schools," she said.

The love and the affection they show us is amazing. They even accompany us to the gate each day when we leave for home, Ms. Rajadas said.

The lead female role is played by stage actress Ramani Damayanthi (24) from the Natya Silpa Shalika. After taking part in numerous plays, including "Hunuvataye Kathawa", she sees this as a chance to impart her knowledge and expertise to others.

'It's a pleasant task. The appreciation shown by the group is very moving," she says.

As one scene depicts, Saman attempts very hard to reach out to Ramani, while the others try to restrain them shouting and chanting, "No". After many attempts, the couple break their shackles and are united at last "their" world and "our" world become one.

So on December 16, let us take that first step in making that dream a reality.

Not so much by giving of our sympathy, but our understanding by keeping an open mind. Let us help "special" people find their "niche" in society, thus making it one world.

Tickets for "Butterflies will always fly" will be available at the Bishop's College Auditorium from Monday, November 30.


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