Visit to Prithi
I’ve now been in Sri Lanka for 6 days and already have experienced far more than I anticipated before I left London. After the simple shock of the dramatic humidity increase there have been many demonstrations of fearless tuk-tuk driving, story reading to eager yet nonplussed children who spoke very little English, a classy dinner on a boat and helping teach email to people who had previously never switched on a computer before. But today I visited an orphanage for disabled children and adults. And that was different again.
Prithi was set up in 1964 by the current manager’s father when he took in 2 disabled children who had been abandoned at a hospital. Despite being from a well off family it was made clear to us that he was ostracised by the other members of the community due to levels of stigma attached to the disabled. But he carried on finding and helping other disabled children and now, 50 years on, there is a highly impressive centre dedicated to his ideals. A building for playing filled with soft mats, some others for sleeping, even a swimming pool for hydrotherapy, were each visited in turn as we met some of the inhabitants. We were told there are 75 at present and as such they find themselves short of staff. It seems even with the recent pay rise the stigma attached to the disabled is still too great to overcome for some. After the tour we were granted the opportunity to feed the children, which I took. I’ll be honest, I didn’t offer through selfless intentions. One my friends described the experience as surreal and he was right. While others in the room talked to, played with the children or even cried, I stood awkwardly to the side unable to overcome my own inhibitions to perform any of the above actions – I would hold them wrong, I hadn’t done anything like this before etc. So when feeding came around I was relieved – a definite way of helping the children with a clear right way to do it. So I began feeding a young girl. And as I was spooning the rice and curry mixture into her mouth I was interacting the first time at the centre. In doing so I was able to realise that she didn’t care if I wasn’t perfect, she just needed my help and my love. I loosened up – I held her hand and talked to her – and she smiled at me. If today teaches me only this I will be able to help far better at the asha centre next week. And I’m sure I learn more again there.