Honouring Helping Hands
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
Being a developing nation, Sri Lanka has continually struggled in its efforts to reach out and assist in developing the capacities of the country’s differently abled population. In this deficit, a number of well-meaning organisations have stepped in to ‘fill in the gaps’ and care for those who have often gone ignored and unheard, secluded in their own homes.
One such organisation is the Sri Lanka based, Equality-based Community Support and Training (ECSAT) organisation. Founded by Catherine Liyanage in April 2005, the organisation furthered Liyanage’s vision to enable families to have more options to help them in the effort to raise their differently abled children in their communities. As such, the organisation has been helping hundreds of Sri Lankan families and beneficiaries ranging from six months of age to 35 years, providing their services using three community centres in Galle, Matara and Hikkaduwa.
Hard work awarded
After 16 years of operation, the past November had the efforts of ECSAT being recognised by the Department of Social Services, which felicitated the organisation as the Best Charitable Organisation for Child Development in Sri Lanka. Ceylon Today had previously featured ECSAT and their immense service, and having received news of the award, reached out to Programme Director Roshan Samarawickrama to learn more about what this award means to him and the organisation as a whole.
Thanking the staff who have been part of ECSAT’s journey, its supporters and sponsors, Roshan expressed his joy and thrill for the honour that has been awarded for the organisation’s efforts.
“We are ecstatic at the honour we have been awarded with,” he shared. “Although ECSAT never operated in expectation of any award or felicitation, it is something that we are all excited about.”
This accolade validates and acknowledges ECSAT’s capacity to be a force for positive impact in society and especially in the lives of its beneficiaries.
Not an easy road
Needless to say, the 16-year journey has not been an easy one to traverse. However, it is a testament to the dedication, care and commitment of a few individuals who persevered amidst the challenges that would naturally come along with caring for those who rarely have access to the help they need and deserve.
One of the biggest challenges faced by the organisation is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which not only affected the usual operations at ECSAT but also affected the lives of those who were given guidance and care at the organisation’s three centres and their families.
Through it all, ECSAT has been able to persevere and continue to help their beneficiaries in need, adapting to the circumstances and maintaining close contact with every individual throughout the lockdown periods.
Funded by donations of local and international benefactors, ECSAT provides educational support, vocational training, therapeutic and outreach support, free of charge to its beneficiaries, many who come from destitute families with little educational background and access to sufficient aid. Through ECSAT, differently abled children have been able to access Government schooling. They also have their own operational pre-school, school preparations classes for students who have never been to school and after school classes for children who are struggling in school.
Differently abled individuals aged between 16-35 have the opportunity to gain vocational training and are supported in setting-up their own businesses. Some are even hired as ECSAT employees.
Not just that, the organisation also provides speech and language therapy as well as physiotherapy to those in need. With proper, timely intervention, it hasn’t been uncommon that ECSAT has seen children with cerebral palsy take their first steps, assisted with a walking frame and well onto walking independently, or children previously unable to vocalise, speaking fluently.
Hundreds of lives have changed for the better thanks to the efforts of ECSAT. Many who had been unable to live independent lives now are self-sufficient, and are either employed or own and operate their own businesses, while others have gained a considerable level of autonomy. Not only that, the families of these individuals have also changed for the better as well.
“Many families had lost hope, believing that there was no way to care for their child or that they themselves couldn’t care for them,” Roshan explained. “Through our centres, our beneficiaries are equipped with skills and are cared for, and we also provide them with guidance on taking care of and assisting differently abled children and their development.”
“Many of the families who are our beneficiaries are not economically self-reliant, which makes caring for a child who has special needs even more challenging. But we don’t want to take the care of the parents out of the equation either,” Roshan explained. “We want to elevate the living standards of the whole family, while allowing the child in need to grow up to be an independent individual at his or her capacity.”
Help is needed
“Many of Sri Lanka’s differently abled children, although having some limitations, are perfectly able to continue as productive human beings. Sadly, with the lack of support by the Government and lack of recognition of many organisations that are engaged in this effort, many such people who have the potential to be independent remain stuck in their homes, with little ability to care for themselves,” Roshan shared.
“When ECSAT was in its early years, we never fathomed that we would come this far. Through this award, we hope that we can spread a message and be a voice for these children and point out that they are all capable individuals with their own gifts and talents, and organisations have to gather together to create opportunities for them.”
(Pix courtesy Roshan Samarawickrama)