Galle, Sri Lanka. Carla Browne came to Sri Lanka from the U.K. to help following the Tsunami of 2004. She has lived here ever since.
Carla Browne came to Sri Lanka to help and never left.
With her director, Subodha Liyanage -- and the support of the local community association -- Carla runs a home and school for the hearing and visually challenged.
The project is known as Children’s Hope. With 60 live-in children and 14 day-students, the organization has matured enormously since Carla discovered it following the Tsunami.
"We have been able to build this beautiful dormitory," Carla told me. It houses 30 boys on the first floor, and 30 girls on the second. Each child has their own bed and drawers.
"Our children’s disabilities are simply known here in Sri Lanka as ‘deaf and dumb,’" Carla said. "These children are learning skills here, including sign language."
"Children's Hope believes in children regardless of their circumstances, gender, race disability, or behavior," Subodha says.
A deaf boy stares quizzically as we snap his portrait over lunch.
Activities for the children include painting, gardening, and sports. Playing cricket, so popular among the former British colonies, is perhaps the boys favorite pastime.
"Depending on their interests and skills, we can make sure we find the right volunteering opportunity to suit our volunteers," Carla told the Daily Kos.
Director Subodha looks on as Carla and I chat with the children.
Under Sri Lankan law, an able child comes under the nation’s Probation and Child Care Department. A disabled child, however, comes under the Social Services Department. Both Departments come under the Ministry of Social Services.
The kids could not believe I had never played cricket.
Neither the government nor non-governmental organizations (NGOs) know the exact number or percentage of disabled children in Sri Lanka.
It has increased from the conflict that has raged here for thirty years, just ended. The fighting, bombs, mines, and trauma of that conflict finally and thankfully over.
A young deaf boy enjoys his lunch as I chat with staff.
There are many factors for underdevelopment of children in the developing world. These include poverty, not enough nutrition given to the mother during and after pregnancy, and not enough nutrition given to the child.
The Sri Lankan Government has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These rights are universal and take into consideration all children, that is to say, able and disabled children.
The children range in age from 6-16.
Within Sri Lankan culture, families of disabled children -- especially the mother and the child -- are sometimes seen as having done something wrong in a previous life.
I have witnessed this same sad phenomenon in Islamic Indonesia and Catholic Haiti.
Kids and staff signing the international hand signal for "I love you."
This ‘wrong doing’ is the cause of the disability throughout the developing world. Sadly, sympathy and understanding are hard to find because of this.
Everywhere I have traveled, I have noted that often, families of disabled children are often ostracized from their communities.
"I love you" was the children’s favorite collective signing.
Apart from the emotional shock and strain of a mother giving birth to a disabled child, the underlying factors of embarrassment, shame, and guilt are very heavy burdens on both mother and child.
These factors very much hinder the development of the mother, family and especially the child.
Playing with the kids is so universal.
In developing countries, like Sri Lanka, the disabled and especially the special needs/intellectually challenged are a very disadvantaged group. With very little access to education, health care, training, and the job market.
The problems faced by children with special needs are basic acceptance into the human race and the dignity that goes along with that acceptance. Disabled children are another group who face exclusion and discrimination.
Two Sri Lankan boys who cannot hear.
Contributions are needed. "Giving a gift of funds is one of the best ways you can help to provide long-term care and support for children who desperately need it," says Carla.
With the adults - staff, funders, friends from S.L., the U.K., and U.S.
Volunteers are welcomed to help Children’s Hope in a variety of ways. Volunteers work directly with the children and young people and/or help to raise vital funds.
If you are interested in volunteering for Children’s Hope in Sri Lanka, get in touch with them at email@example.com.
Photos by Indika Bandera.