Set up centres and treat us with dignity | Sunday Observer
Down Syndrome

Set up centres and treat us with dignity

28 March, 2021
Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics Harendra de Silva points to a drawing by children with special needs
Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics Harendra de Silva points to a drawing by children with special needs

As all others we want to be loved, cared and treated with dignity so that we could contribute our talents for the welfare of the society, said Nishani de Silva, a child with special needs and now a crafts teacher at school in Colombo and an advocate for the rights of children with disabilities.

“What will happen to us when our parents are no more. We need places that will look after children with special needs after the demise of their parents,” de Silva said urging the authorities to pay more attention to secure the rights of such children so that they could live in dignity.

Sharing the sentiments of children with special needs at the launch of the Eka Se Salakamu (Treat All Alike) program by Hemas Outreach Foundation to coincide with World Down Syndrome Day. The program was launched with Ayati – the country’s first national centre for children with disabilities.

“We are not fake. We only walk and talk differently. Our needs are like yours. We like when others talk to us where we feel cared and respected. We need love and friends and centres like these where we are loved and cared for while medical attention and all other facilities are at one place,” de Silva said while expressing the immense satisfaction she derives in her occupation.

“I enjoy teaching and my students love me,” she said while urging the authorities not to turn down employment opportunities for children with disabilities and condemn them as misfits, de Silva said while also appealing not to pass derogatory remarks on them and use their condition to condemn another.

Eka Se Salakamu is a social movement aimed towards empowering children and families with Down Syndrome, creating a platform to recognise their rights and promote inclusivity in today’s society.

Misconceptions and myths

There are many misconceptions and myths surrounding Down Syndrome in Sri Lanka which leads to marginalisation and stigmatisation of this community. The movement is rooted in the concept of building an inclusive world through ‘healthful living’ which promotes a society that leaves no child behind. This core purpose will champion the cause and assist in eradicating the stigma being faced by them on a regular basis.

Through this movement, families and children with Down Syndrome will have a platform and the opportunity to express their views and share their own experiences with the public.

The platform will also help to highlight the skills of the children and showcase their talent. The public and influencers are invited to join the platform and assist the community to live a dignified life and eradicate stigma and myth related to Down Syndrome. The Ayati Speech and Language Therapeutic wing aspires to become comparable with the global best in class for children with Down Syndrome by enabling them to develop their latent talents and helping them to become productive members of society.

Executive Director, Hemas Outreach Foundation and Ayati Trust Sri Lanka, Shiromi Masakorala said, “The Ayati Centre was built in partnership with the Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Hemas Holdings, MAS Holdings, Roshan Wijerama Foundation, the Sri Lanka Army, Rotary and other donors to address a need in the country.

“When we initiated Ayati we had three objectives - to build the first national centre of excellence, to eradicate stigma related to disabilities and to establish centers in rural Sri Lanka.

“The Eka Se Salakamu movement is our effort to tackle stigma associated with Down Syndrome. Children with Down Syndrome are one of the most stigmatised groups in society.

“The Hemas Group has always worked towards the betterment of the lives of children with disabilities for over a decade through the Piyawara initiative. “In 2006, a special school for children with disabilities was established in Hambantota. This was the initial stepping-stone for Hemas to support establishment of the Ayati national centre.

Intellectually impaired

“We also promote the employment of people who are intellectually impaired as we work towards providing them with a sense of renewed purpose through the prospect of employment,” she said.

Consistent awareness is necessary to make a difference and change the mind-set within a community. The movement will, therefore, also pave the way for the building of partnerships with key stakeholders.

The project invites international experts to Sri Lanka through Ayati to collaborate and work with professional bodies in Sri Lanka.