Celebrating the yuletide spirit | Sunday Observer

Celebrating the yuletide spirit

The month of December is a time for carol services. Choirs are busy rehearsing their selected hymns. One such choir was busy when I visited them at their small chapel at Ratmalana.

The striking difference in these choristers was that their hymn sheets were printed in the Braille alphabet. The visually impaired students of the Blind School at Ratmalana bring a refreshing light to Christmas.

The Principal of this institute, Samanthika Jayasuriya says, “The carol service is a special part of our programs at the school. I am in charge of the Blind School and the Deaf School. The two institutes are different, in that they deal with two separate disabilities and therefore, the methods of teaching differ.

“We have 117 students who are visually impaired and 178 students hearing impaired. A majority of them are residents in the hostel, as they come from all parts of Sri Lanka”.

The school has a long history dating back to 1912, when it was started by Mary Chapman.

It is under the purview of the Anglican Church, with the Bishop of Colombo as the Chairperson.

Joining us at the chapel was Susheela Hensmen who has been a board member of the institute for 16 years.

She explained, “We have the Deaf and Blind School in Ratmalana and the Nuffield School located in Kaithady Jaffna. We ensure that the students get a good education along with the skills required to live an independent life.

Our annual budget for the three schools amounts to almost 128 million rupees, and we are thankful to those who help us”.

Pointing to the choristers, Jayasuriya says, “These children are taught other vocations . As the choir sings, the hearing impaired children express the carols through sign language. We encourage the students to engage in activities such as, making Christmas cards, mushroom cultivation and even operate a printing press. Some of these children are rejected by their parents who consider them a burden. They are not mature enough to accept a child with a disability. In Sri Lanka we must break the stigma associated with any form of disability.

“Most people refer to this school as ‘golumadama’. It is rude and unethical. This is not a ‘madama’; we run an efficient school that imparts life skills.

“I am proud that along with my dedicated teachers we were able to create history by sending our students to work in a global brand food franchise operating at Thimbirigasyaya, Colombo 5.

“Hearing impaired students are taught graphic designing on computer at our school, and they are very talented. Being visually and hearing impaired leads to rejection and stigma in our country. In Western nations such people have more access to public places.

“There is respect for the white cane. Look at Stevie Wonder the world renowned singer and musician, though totally vision impaired he rose to fame and success, because of the independent life he was able to live”.

The student choristers at Ratmalana have been continuing this annual carol service for the past 50 years.