For *Sonali over the past few years, life has changed. During her tender years Sonali was deprived of independence as her parents were intensely protective of her not allowing her to do things other children her age enjoyed. Her parents, like many others who bring up differently abled children, have a deep set fear that their child cannot cope in the real world. However, it might just be their teeming protectiveness for their children that’s most damaging.
Since Sonali, who is intellectually impaired, joined the Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association (SLGGA) she has developed a sense of independence and competence. Being given the same opportunities as other girl guides such as camping, participating in concerts and improving her skills, strong-willed Sonali has discovered her talents and is better equipped to face the world and its challenges by herself.
That’s exactly what the SLGGA is striving for with the establishing of its differently abled branch. The first move to accommodate the differently abled was made 80 years ago when guiding was conducted for the girls at the school for the Deaf and Blind in Ratmalana. Since then 6 to 7 guiding institutions for the differently abled, which includes the intellectually impaired, have been set by SLGGA. “Age is not a barrier for them to join the SLGGA. The oldest girl is about 40 years old,” says Marlyn Dissanayaka, director of the branch for the differently abled.
Keeping in mind each of their varying limitations, Marlyn says they are given activities that aren’t beyond their abilities, though they are designed to help them become more independent and be able to take care of themselves. She stresses “the parents must realise that they won’t be there for their child forever and so they have to learn to do everyday things for themselves. We have projects such as the cook’s badge,” says Marlyn, going on to explain that “for this activity they have to prepare a simple meal, such as noodles, or simply chop vegetables.” The children are also given the opportunity to discover their talents and integrate with other children.
For the differently able guides, the SLGGA becomes a support system of sorts that has done all within its power to help its differently able members throughout their lives. SLGGA will help these girls in their educations and later to find jobs. This is done to ensure that they receive equal opportunities. Over the recent years, the SLGGA has been working closely with the Ministry of Labour and Man Power to provide employment for their extended branch members- the differently abled. The Ministry has recently increased the percentage of the necessary 1% employment at organisations to 3%, much to the delight of the SLGGA differently abled branch.
Although Marlyn explains that there is a lot more that needs to be done when it comes to employment of the differently abled, as these women will also need a supervisor to check in on them and in some instances be by their side to and ensure that they are treated well. This she says are additional costs that they currently are unable to meet which hampers the progress and the smooth functioning of the differently abled branch. In fact, for a long time now they have been low on funds and sustaining their projects has been difficult.
The SLGGA branch for the differently abled is indeed a life time support system as the associations strives to improve the lives of the differently able and give them equal opportunities in a society that seems to be sightless to their existence. “All that people offer them is sympathy but that’s not but they want,” says Marlyn, “what they want is to be accepted in society and live normal lives.”