A Spend a Day, at the Royal Mas Arena / An awesome experience for all | Sunday Observer

A Spend a Day, at the Royal Mas Arena / An awesome experience for all

“It is a great experience,” say all in one voice. The parents and carers, as well as children and volunteers are thrilled about the experience. When the doors of the Royal Mas Arena opened last Sunday for a ‘Spend a Day’ event organised by ‘One Stage for All’ (OSFA) a youth charity orgaisation, it was smiles for all. While those with Downs Syndrome (DS) enjoyed a day, being away from the mundane daily tasks, for those who volunteered it was a new experience as well.

The event as well as the charity OSFA, is the brainchild of Thareendra Liyanage a student and volunteer herself. Though started very small with a handful of friends, the interest of her friends and acquaintances and the support by her parents and interested adults had made it possible to make the ‘Spend a Day’ the first event of a series culminating in compiling a registry and building a centre for those with Down Syndrome or autism. The charity is supported by the Peter Mohan Edirisinghe Trust.

From morning till evening on Sunday December 2, the Arena was full of the sound of laughter as people enjoyed the event. Many were seen engaged and enjoyed the different activities organised.

Rajeswari is a mother who brought her 9 -year-old daughter Darshika for the event. “Though my daughter started special school at three years, this is the first time we had the opportunity to participate at this kind of event,” said the mother from Kirulapone. Though they live in Colombo there are only a very few events organised where children with DS could participate. Moreover, even if such events are organised they are only for the ‘rich and the elite’ says Rajeswari. Once she had been offered a ticket to attend a musical evening for children with DS held at Nelum Pokuna. “I was surprised. It was Rs. 3000 per person,” she said. She was happy that the event at the Arena was free of charge for the children and one parent with all their needs taken care of.

D. A. Samanthi a primary teacher of Sukitha School for the Differently Able from Kalutara said that it was a great programme which brought out the hidden talents of children with DS. Further, it had been a good opportunity for them to socialise with others. “It was good to see them not driven under the protective care of parents teachers or other adults, but being independent. This gave them an opportunity to explore, find out exactly what they want and engage in those activities they liked as long as they liked.” Echoing the sentiments of Rajeswari, Samanthi said that they do not usually get this kind of opportunity. She wanted similar activities and events to be organised more often for the benefit of children with special needs. Another benefit of the event was, that it was open to all individuals with DS, without age barriers.

Darshanie an older residential student of Sukitha School explained how she enjoyed the program. She visited all the centres with her volunteer friend, said Darshanie. Out of all the activities, she had liked dancing and singing. “I danced for a long time and enjoyed it very much,” she said. She had never participated at such an event before.

An 82 –year-old grandmother, who had visited the event with her daughter’s child from Galle, agreed. “My grandson had never been to such an event,” she said. The 20-year-old boy has very few opportunities to interact with others, or to stimulate his brain in the area they live. Describing the enjoyment of her grandson brought tears to the eyes of this grandmother.

A teacher from Daya Mina school for the Differently Able from Embuldeniya, Nugegoda said that the varied activities was the main attraction of the event. Though the 55 students of varied ages, attending their school had had many such opportunities through the activities of the church they are affiliated to, this event had given the students their independent choice. Further, it had been an event where they could mingle with many others from different backgrounds and different parts of the country.

Awesome, was the way volunteers described their experience of the day. Gisandu Kumarasinghe from Gampaha says he is happy to be involved with the event. “I enjoyed it as much as they did. I danced with them so much,” he said.

Aysha Ibrahim, an Advanced Level student, studying psychology as a subject said that she enjoyed the event immensely. “As a student of psychology, being able to be with children with special needs is a rewarding experience,” said Aysha.

Though she could not get involved earlier, to be in the team of 150 official volunteers she had managed to come on Sunday offering her services. She had been volunteering at the Arena since 9.00 a.m. helping at different centres. “This is the fifth child I’m helping out. They are very sweet and nice at heart. They get attracted to colours or sounds or something very special and then they find what they want to do,” she described her experience of how the individuals with DS selected the activities to participate in.

Shamara Fonseka, had been involved in the activities of OSFA from the beginning. “As I saw my friend’s social media posts I got really excited. I always had this special soft corner for those with DS and autism,” she described how she got involved. As her friends gathered and supported the event, she gave her fullest support, participated at the training workshop held the previous poya day and arrived early at the venue on Sunday. However, her parents still hold on to a different opinion about those with DS, said Shamara. “They said because we don’t know them it is dangerous to be with them. That’s the attitude of the society we want to eliminate. Those with DS are also human.

They hear, they feel, they understand and act a bit differently from us but what’s wrong with it? Without knowing them or understanding them it is wrong to judge. Today is one of the happiest days of my life. It proves that they are wrong,” says this 21 year old.

Niluka Nadeeshani had travelled from Bentota to be able to volunteer at the event. This 23 year old primary English teacher at an international school has a heart for all children, including those with special needs. The event had been an opportunity for her to work very closely with those individuals with DS.

“Taking them around different activity centres, I thought singing and dancing were their favourite. Dancing definitely was. It was like they are learning by hearing,” she said. She is of the opinion that it is beneficial for children with DS as well as those who don’t, to be together learning in one inclusive classroom.

Learning together brings people closer and there will be more understanding and openness and less stigma in future society if they study in inclusive classrooms. “These children learn by imitating, they can learn much from others. Also there is much others can learn from them,” she said.

That’s what the organizers of the event and the volunteers hope for. A future without ostracizing and stigma for the differently able individuals cannot be created without creating avenues and making the larger society accessible for the differently able. The second event in the series organised by OSFA, an ‘Evening with Billy’ is planned to be held in February 2019.

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