The salient heroes of a forgotten Jaffna



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On a recent visit to Jaffna I was fortunate to experience first hand the resilience of a-few incredible people that hail from the Northern peninsula of our country. I spent a week in Jaffna and its surrounding suburbs interviewing parents who had children with special needs and asking them about the special education services that were available to them. This was as part of a research project that I needed to complete as part of my doctoral studies.


Parents were overwhelmed with gratitude for the few places in the North that provided facilities and services for their children. One of the first places I visited was "The Ark" a residential and day school for children with intellectual impairments. The Ark has been in existence since 1978 and is managed by the Holy Family sisters. The love and dedication with which these sisters conduct this school despite many challenges and hardships was clearly visible.


The school accepts both boys and girls between the ages of 6-16 years who have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, intellectual impairments, seizures (fits), learning disability and hyperactivity. Currently the school has enrolled 40 children of which 25 are residential. Many of the children are residential due to their parents having to travel vast distances to be able to access this school.


The sisters who run this school have received specific training in the field of special education initially in Sri Lanka and subsequently in India. Upon speaking to the sisters I found out that a few of the hostellers pay a minimum sum while it is completely free of cost for the others. They also provide a mid day meal to all the children. The school functions purely based on donations.


At the time I visited, I spoke to Sr. Daniela and Sr. Shanthini who shared that they have a shortfall of Rs. 80,000 per month when having to cover the cost of food, staff salaries and hostel living. I was incredibly touched to witness one of the sister’s waving down an ice cream van, which within minutes was surrounded by the children as soon as it pulled into the school compound. The sisters then proceeded to buy ice cream for all the children, even an adolescent who was wheelchair bound due to cerebral palsy and could not independently feed himself was not forgotten.


The immense love and kindness with which the sisters served these children was very visible. The Ark is located at Udduvil, Chunnahahn. The sister in charge is Sr. Daniella and can be contacted at 021-2240792.


I had the opportunity to visit Sivapoomi School for children with special needs located in Jaffna. I was amazed to find that the school had over 200 children with Down syndrome and autism in attendance. This is a day school that children attend in the morning and leave by 2 p.m. The school not only provides transportation to ensure that their children attend regularly, but also provides a morning snack, lunch and tea daily.


The principal of the school confided that many parents are unable to bring their children to school due to economic difficulties. The parents that I spoke to had high levels of satisfaction with the services that this school provides. They spoke highly of the quality and dedication of the teachers that taught their children. The principal proudly pointed out a banner of one of their students who had participated in the youth Special Olympics (2011) and had succeeded in winning a silver medal at the games. The school is completely free of charge for all the children who attend.


The principal of the school shared that they function based on donations from well-wishers which in recent times have been hard to come by. The school has been functioning for the past 8 years. Sivapoomi School is located in Kondavil, Jaffna. The principal can be contacted at 021-222-7938 or sivapoomi@gmail.com, website: www.sivapoomi.orq


My visit to Jaffna would never have transpired had it not been for the efforts of Dr. Anand Kumar who runs an organization called "God’s own Children’s Foundation". The foundation is responsible for the "Achchuvelli home for differently abled children" located in Achchuvelli, just outside of Jaffna. This home houses 13 boys of which 7 have special needs.


The children are of varying ages and are resident at the home either because both or one of their parents have been killed in the war or due to their parents not being able to afford to keep them at home.


During my time in Jaffna I visited the Achchuvelli home daily and had the opportunity to interact with the boys and see the capable skills of their matron. It struck me how almost every person at the home including the matron had faced the brutalities and effects of the war. All the boys participate in helping to run the home in different ways. I personally witnessed the boys helping each other with activities of daily living and their household chores.


In addition to the residential home for children with special needs Dr. Anand also has several schools in the surrounding area of Jaffna that provide children with learning disabilities the opportunity to attend school with their typically developing peers, one of the few schools in the area that permit this. God’s Own Children’s Foundation has been operating due to the commitment by its founder Dr. Anand and through donations by well wishers. Contact information for this foundation is godsownchildren.com or www.godsownchildren@gmail.com


I was introduced to Dr. Sivarajah who resides in Jaffna and has been living there for the past 30 years or so. He has taught at the Jaffna University during this time period as well. The organization he is in charge of is called "Association for Rehabilitation of the Disabled" (AROD) which has been functioning since February, 1990. AROD is unique in that it is one of the only places that caters to adult individuals with disabilities in the Jaffna peninsula. The organization conducts vocational training in various skills such as sewing, handicrafts, rattaning, plants and beauty culture. They provide assistance for individuals to be self employed or employed through AROD. The organization empowers adult individuals with disabilities as it provides a means for these people to be self-sufficient and earn a living. They employ many individuals with physical disabilities as well. AROD can be contacted at arodinjaffna@gmail.com or 021-3217718.


I felt compelled to highlight these institutions and organizations that persisted in providing much needed services to individuals with disabilities despite their difficult circumstances over the past few years. These salient, silent heroes of the North should be given credit so that their untiring efforts can be recognized. These individuals and institutions need to be supported so they can continue their journey of selfless service. At the same time there are still many unfulfilled needs in the area.


Dr. Sivarajah shared that there was an immense need for services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. By supporting these institutions we show our support for those individuals in our society who are the most vulnerable.


"Hope doesn’t come from calculating whether the good news Is winning out over the bad. It’s simply a choice to take action." - Anna Lappe, O Magazine, June 2003.


Nimisha Muttiah


Speech Language Pathologist


Penn State University, Pennsylvania.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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