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Dharisanam School for the Visually Handicapped - Mrs. Nadani Welikala's visit - 2009
Dharisanam School - Batticaloa
A trip to Batticaloa
I had to cover 350 kilometres by road to get to Dharisanam School for the Visually Handicapped, the beneficiary chosen at our last AGM, in order to personally hand over a cheque for £1,500 and meet the 28 resident students.
As Priya was unable to accompany me, our son Ossie and cousin Roshan joined me in this adventurous journey to the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. We set off at 5a.m. on the 12th of October 2009, making our first stop at Kurunegala to refresh ourselves with breakfast. I enjoyed the drive through Habarana and Polonnaruwa, the dry zone of Sri Lanka which had held a great fascination for me since my early schooldays. We reached Batticaloa, tired and famished by 1:30p.m. for a fabulous seafood spread of fish, crab and prawn lunch laid on by the school officials. We were very warmly welcomed by the Executive Committee members – the President – Mr. Dayanandan, the Secretary – Mr. Kamaladas and three administrators who were blind.
Unlike my first visit to Batticaloa eleven years ago when I went with the UNICEF volunteers to the uncleared areas of the Batticaloa District, which was under the control of the defeated LTTE roaming the streets fully armed with complete lawlessness, it was a contrastingly different scene which unfolded before me. The highway from Polonnaruwa to Batticaloa was a smooth run with a newly built carpet road which was better than the London motorways! There was a lot of construction work going on in the city. It was indeed a beautiful sight driving along the blue lagoon, with fresh sea air blowing and schoolgirls and boys smartly turned out in white uniforms on bicycles returning home after school. Most ladies were riding scooters and the roads were quite busy. There was an air of confidence among the people who were getting about without fear or restrictions. The driver of our vehicle, Rohana, who was going to Batticaloa for the first time, was pleasantly surprised that the eastern province, which had suffered the tragedies of war for three decades and the tsunami, was in an upbeat mood. Our son, Ossie, simply fell in love with the place.
The Dharisanam School and hostel is a well planned and constructed building provided by the Social Services Department. It has a separate wing with two large guest rooms above the building, donated by a charity from the Netherlands, which we occupied for our overnight stay. It was spacious and clean, with attached bath and toilets. I was overwhelmed by the treatment given to us by the executive members – typical Sri Lankan hospitality offered with a generous smile!
After lunch and a brief rest we were taken around to view the school and hostel which accommodates 28 students between the ages of 5 to 22, both boys and girls. The students, who attend the mainstream schools for their academic studies, assembled in the Main Hall along with all the staff members in order to be introduced to me. The President addressed the meeting, acknowledging our donation. This was followed by a musical concert performance by the students and a party to celebrate the function.
Though the schools had the space and facilities to accommodate up to 50 students, they had difficulty in getting children to join them due to the negative attitude of the families. The school is very well run by professional and experienced staff members who give priority to the children’s needs and care. The students expressed their wish and desire to continue in the school because of the care and motivation to continue with academic achievements. The school prepared the children to attend mainstream schools in the area to achieve academic standards. The school has successfully produced 13 graduates reading different disciplines – Science, IT, Commerce, Political Science, Environmental Studies. The students were happy in this school/hostel system.
We were taken around Batticaloa town on a sightseeing tour by the Executive Committee and entertained to a sumptuous dinner, which we all thoroughly enjoyed.