Ayati An angel of mercy for needy children | Sunday Observer

Ayati An angel of mercy for needy children

Parental love for children is universal. Children are the parents’ most valuable treasure. It is their greatest desire to see their offspring be the best in the world. It is unfortunate when parents have to seek help to look after an impaired child. Ayati, Sri Lanka’s first National Centre for differently-abled children has now stepped in as an Angel of Mercy to these children.

Hemas Holdings PLC and MAS Holdings as key donors of Ayati (Hope in Sanskrit) have spearheaded the setting up of the centre together with the Faculty of Medicine, Kelaniya University and Rotary providing audiology equipment. The Roshan Wijerama Family Foundation has stepped in as a third key donor. The Sri Lanka Army supported the initiative by providing its services free to construct the centre in a short span of 13 months. The Ayati Centre is now open to serve all needy children across the country and provides its services free.

Ayati is equipped to provide opportunities and hope for children with disabilities to achieve their maximum potential and be fully integrated into society. By establishing a national centre of excellence to provide multidisciplinary care for children with various disabilities, this initiative of public-private partnership will address a burning national issue.

The centre has been set up at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Kelaniya at Ragama, as it is the only medical faculty in the entire Asian region that has a Department of Disability Studies, which offers a multidisciplinary team for the care of children with disabilities. It is also easily accessible by public transport as the railway and bus stations are in close proximity to the Faculty premises.

According to data, disabilities are on the rise worldwide for multiple reasons. Hence it has become a national need in the country to address the issue with a vision to enable children with disabilities to reach their unique potential. One in five children could suffer from some form of disability, either mental or physical. If identified early, with continuous intervention, significant improvements can be achieved enabling such children to be productive.

Hemas initiated the Ayati project owing to the success of its primary CSR project Piyawara, which focuses on early childhood development.

Launched in 2002 together with the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs Piyawara has become a National Project with 41 pre-schools island-wide and more in the pipeline. Today, there are over 100 teachers and approximately 3,500 children in Piyawara pre-schools. Over the years it has grown in stature and impact to become one of Sri Lanka’s most successful public-private partnerships.

“The confidence and trust gained through our partnership with the Government led us to initiate this project to address the burning issues of children with disabilities,” Executive Director Hemas Outreach Foundation/ Head of Group Sustainability and Corporate Communication Hemas Holdings PLC, Shiromi Masakorala said.

The aim of the company was to contribute its support in ensuring equal access to education, healthcare, social participation and employment for children with learning disabilities in Sri Lanka.

“A significant amount of capital for the newly constructed Ayati centre was funded by Hemas, but we would like to invite all other corporates and business partners to join us and be a part of this much-needed facility in Sri Lanka. “Ayati is a dream come true for the company, which is always extending help to promote education among the children of Sri Lanka”, she said.

“Do you think that there are mothers who pray that their children with different disabilities will die just a few hours before they breathe their last?” she asked.

“Yes, six years ago, I met a group of mothers whose children can’t walk, talk and think as they were born with various cognitive and physical disabilities. They said: ‘Every mother wants her child to live 100 years but our only wish is to see our sons and daughters dead just one hour before we die as no one will look after them like us.’ I felt very helpless but was determined to find a way to help them,” Masakorala said, That was the incident that led to the birth of Ayati.

She started searching for more details about children with disabilities and the facilities for such children. Each time she went to Piyawara centres around the country, she started looking for children with disabilities and listened to pathetic stories on how their parents were struggling to raise them.

“Most of the parents said that the villagers did not want to meet their disabled sons and daughters in the morning as they think it will be a bad omen. Social stigma has made some of the parents lock them in rooms or leave them at home with no education,” she said. The lives of those mothers become nightmares as their husbands leave the family with the birth of a disabled child. At village level, people think giving birth to a disabled child is a fault of the mother. According to Masakorala, out of 40 children at the Piyawara Centre in Alokapura, Hambantota, 30 small kids have no fathers.

Living in very remote areas with fewer facilities, most of these mothers are struggling to educate their children while doing odd jobs to make ends meet.

In the backdrop of this understanding and armed with startling information on pathetic situations with statistics relating to disabled children, Masakorala approached the top management of the company, which earlier agreed to expand the Piyawara project to help disabled children and get approval for the novel project.

“I am thankful to my company for giving the nod to embark on this noble project to ensure a brighter future for the disabled children in this country. I am very positive that Sri Lanka can produce an Albert Einstein through this project. Most of these children, who are as capable as normal children, just need a small push to brush up their skills to become productive citizens of Sri Lanka,” she said, adding that society needs to be more empathetic rather than feeling sorry for these children.

Masakorala said that any company, organisation or person who likes to contribute to Ayati could sponsor to build units of speech and language therapy, audiology, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. “Although Ayati is a brainchild of Hemas, we will not display our name as this is a national centre,” she said.

The Ayati Centre has multi-disciplinary clinical operations throughout the week. The areas covered extend to all disabilities with initial screening and interventions. It consists of a state-of-the-art audiology unit, Sri Lanka’s first Sensory room, a multi disciplinary training centre and research and development facilities in addition to clinical support services.

The centre designed by Architect Channa Daswatte, is spread across 1.5 acres in Ragama with a 42,000 sq.ft. floor area. With an estimated cost of approximately Rs. 350 million, the centre will function as a hub which is connected to the peripheries within 25 districts in the country. It will pioneer the provision of telemedicine to distant centres within low-resource areas during the initial phase. The Sri Lanka Army which constructed the centre now supports it by maintaining a pleasant environment. The army touch that comes with discipline could be seen throughout the facility and cleanliness is maintained to the core.

The centre has Prof Nilanthi de Silva as Chairperson and is under the care of Prof. Samanmali as Head of Department with her efficient team. It’s managed by Col. M.M. Wimalasurendra with his assistants Aroshi Wijesekara and Sanjith Sivakumaran.

Pix: Samantha Weerasiri

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