Arpita Dé, our new programmes and partnerships manager, recently visited our partners MENCAFEP to see how Hope for Children can provide them with more support so that together we can help even more children with special needs and disabilities in Sri Lanka. Below is her experience:
It is hard to believe that even in the 21st century, communities in Sri Lanka still believe that being born with special needs or being physically challenged is a result of bad karma in past life. Or that you have been cursed with an abnormal child because of your sins in a past life!
“The government of Sri Lanka does not look at disability with insight or empathy. No facilities or resources are provided for this population group with special needs”, said Christopher Stubbs MBE, founder of MENCAFEP, the only organisation in Nuwara Eliya that works for children with special needs or disabilities.
Spread across two acres of lush green grounds, MENCAFEP runs an integrated pre-school programme for both, abled and disabled children, aged 2.5 to 6 years. These children do not discriminate or realise disability. Such child-to-child unhindered interaction allows the abled child to assist his or her disabled friends and help develop their social and cognitive skills.
This is a recurring theme prevalent throughout MENCAFEP – the less disabled help the profoundly disabled for further development. The special education unit, overlooking the town, provides education and basic life skills to children and young people with special needs. The speech therapy within this unit assists the children to develop their communication skills. The healthy teacher-student ratio ensures specialised attention to each child.
The sheltered workshop is the vocational training unit for young people over sixteen years of age with varying degrees of disability.
Based on their interest and aptitude, they are trained on various skills to help them into employment in later life. Many of them work in the unit itself, producing handicrafts and garden products, for which they are also paid, while a number of them have been able to find jobs in the wider community.
The Butterfly group is the unit helping the profoundly disabled. Despite the adversities, MENCAFEP makes sure that these children are able to enjoy their childhood as much as possible. The eye to detail for holistic approach is very encouraging – teachers working closely with these severely disabled children with (sometimes) very limited lifespans are also provided psychological support.
Every child, irrespective of their degree of disability, is accompanied by an adult, who is responsible for their protection and safeguarding, during their travel to and from school. A family group home unit is the safe haven for those children who are at risk of abuse at home or whose homes are too far away to allow them to attend school regularly.
The earlier a child with special needs is given the necessary special care required, the better the development of the child and the easier it is to integrate that child into mainstream society. Every Tuesday, during the paediatric clinic in the only hospital in town, at least one staff of MENCAFEP is present to check babies and children visiting the hospital. Through years of working with children with special needs, the experienced staff can easily identify these babies and they immediately start liaising with parents and caretakers for rehabilitation. Many a times, as these children are too young to come to MENCAFEP, the outreach worker conducts home visits.
Satellite centres, which are replicas of the main MENCAFEP centre, but on a much smaller scale, sometimes, with just barely a room for the children to come to, have been set up across the province and beyond to allow those in remote locations access to education and training.
“We have lots of challenges. There are so many things that we would like to do but lack the funds to be able to implement, yet we are very happy here and proud of what we have achieved”, said Shyamali, who has worked for MENCAFEP for 27 years in her role as outreach coordinator when I asked her about her experiences at the organisation.
It is indeed an emotional as well as exhilarating experience to visit MENCAFEP, in getting to know how they work. Stigmatised by society, forgotten by the state, sometimes hidden away by even their own parents, these children with special needs have the hope to lead a fulfilled life, courtesy of MENCAFEP.
Posted on May 1st, 2015