Nothing Down about it | Sunday Observer

Nothing Down about it

Volunteer training
Volunteer training

Give life to a life is their theme. ‘Nothing Down about it’ is what they are trying to prove. Exuberant and enthusiastic, they sacrificed the Poya holiday to be trained on how to interact with persons with Down Syndrome at the D.S. Senanayake College, last Thursday. Two hundred and fifty youth volunteers, a majority just out of school are rallying together to make life a little better for fellow youth and children. Their charity organisation, One Stage for All (OSFA), aims to change the attitude of the society towards people having Down Syndrome (DS) and to present their true selves to the community.

Thareendra Liyanage, the master-mind behind the project says that it is the impact of her parents’ lifestyle. From the time she could remember, her parents had been volunteering and helping others. “Sometimes, it was me home alone with my grandparents looking after me while they went out helping other children. They used to help a lot of children and we went all over the country helping them,” she reminiscence. She always had a soft corner for children with DS and autism, says Thareendra who had many opportunities to interact with them through her volunteerism and social activism. A school leaver who wants to start her own company, she wants to contribute to the country through charity before she does so.

At first it was just an idea which she translated into words and sounded off to a few friends. The immense response she had, resulted in her sharing it with more friends, resulting in a core group of 40 persons gathering around her. Soon the buzz of the social media opened up avenues for over 250 others to volunteer. This is a series of events culminating in building a national centre for children with Down syndrome and autism in Colombo. “I was envisioning a centre where children could get together and enjoy hundreds and hundreds of them. A place especially for them,” she says.

“In other countries, they get educated along with other children. They have normal lives, graduating from universities, getting employment, getting married and having responsible families. But when it comes to our country, we don’t see any of it. We put them in a corner and treat them like sub-human,” said Ramitha Dilan, who heads the event. He speaks with passion as he remembers the treatment of differently abled children at his own school. Limited to a classroom in a corner and not being allowed to mix with others, their innocence and differences were misused by some students, he reveals. Many differently abled children and adults have varied talents of their own. Some are much more talented than the so-called ‘normal’ persons. Therefore it is a must that we give them voice, is his opinion. “Have you ever seen any person with DS at a voting centre?,” questions Ramitha. “Though they are easily manipulated by politicians due to their trusting nature, they should be given the opportunity, they should be given their due right,” he says. He jumped at the opportunity of being part of the team, the moment the subject was broached, says Ramitha.

The target is to make the lives of 500 children happy on December 2, at their ‘Spend a day’ event, held at the Royal College Mas Arena. Twelve special activities such as singing, dancing, painting & colouring, speech therapy and so on are organised for them inside the arena at 12 different centres inside the area. “After participation every child gets a certificate,” says Dinusha Hewavitharana. She volunteers as the Internal Coordinator for the event, making sure that the wheels of the volunteer mechanism is well oiled to run the activities smoothly. There would be a special health care centre for the children as well. “Everything is free for children and one person who comes with them.” The moment children enter the arena one volunteer will be allocated to the child with Down syndrome and his or her caretaker, so that the volunteers interact with the children one to one, giving their total attention and take them through the activities organised. “Three hundred and fifty children have already registered, many from out of Colombo such as Kandy and Galle,” says Dinusha. They had to augment their volunteer base due to the demand from volunteers and to be able to cater to the 500 children expected says Dinusha. In addition to 150 volunteers who are school leavers, there are a 100 others ranging from school-children to professionals who had contacted them due to interest in the issue.

The mini-carnival event outside the arena is to raise awareness of the issue. Entertainment would be the main theme with 32 young celebrities joining hands with (OSFA) to take the message to the public. A super hero themed comic con, gaming and DJing will also be included. An entrance fee of Rs. 500 will be charged for this event. This event is just the beginning, says Kaveen Athuraliya a member of the Organising Committee. There are some parents still among us who try to keep their children with Down syndrome covered up and hidden in their homes, he says. The ‘spend a day’ event not only raises awareness among the public but serves to raise awareness in parents, guardians and caretakers of persons with DS, which would lead ultimately to eradicate the social stigma they face in the society, explains Kaveen. A fund raiser, ‘Evening with Billy,’ a concert supported by celebrities, will be conducted in February 2019.

Adult had been a great support throughout, say these youth. For legal recognition, One Stage For All (OSFA) has partnered with and comes under the Peter Mohan Edirisinghe Trust and bound by their code of conduct. They are also supported by ventures such as Butter Boutique, Chocolatte and Move & Pick Hotel with various sponsorships.