Friend in Need Society makes big strides in Jaipur foot programme

By Dhananjani Silva, Pix by Nilan Maligaspe

Twenty-year-old Subani Udeshika is upbeat. Her achievements in sports speak volumes of her character full of determination and vigour. In 2009, she won the silver medal at the Women’s 100 metres in the Asian Youth Paralympics in Tokyo and there are many other instances where Subani has excelled in track and field events in school.

The Sunday Times met this spirited young woman at the Colombo Friend in Need Society office opposite the Beira Lake – where we saw Subani walking around in the garden in a carefree manner, amidst a group of others in need of prosthetic limbs. Her achievements would not have been possible if not for the Jaipur foot that has been supporting her ever since she was two-years-old, says Subani, who was awaiting her turn for a limb replacement.

The Jaipur Foot project is one of the main charitable initiatives of the Colombo Friend- in- Need Society (CFINS) which develops and donates custom fitted artificial limbs and other appliances free of charge. The beneficiaries include those with birth defects like Subani and other amputees as a result of cancers, tumours etc. Uncounted are the survivors of blasts and cross fires of war who have benefited from this worthy cause.

Subani is a shining example of the success of the project. She has hopes for her future, thanks to the assistance extended by the Jaipur Foot Project in terms of sponsorship for her artificial limb and its replacement from time to time. Subani is the youngest of a family of four. “I got a lot of support from them even during my O/L examination. I have completed my studies now and I am learning Japanese as I hope to go to Japan,” she says adding that she is expecting to receive a scholarship to Japan.

Established in 1831, the Colombo Friend In Need Society is the oldest charitable organization in Sri Lanka. Its activities are administered by a Board of Management consisting of a voluntary group of professionals including doctors, lawyers and executives from the corporate sector. The organization follows the tradition of the Head of the State being its patron since its inception.

The Jaipur Foot programme was launched in 1983 subsequent to Indian surgeon Prof. P.K.Sethi’s visit to Sri Lanka. He offered to train local technicians in India on Jaipur limb technology, explains the President, CFINS Jaipur Foot Programme Kalyani Ranasinghe. According to her, it was Prof. Sethi who came up with the concept of manufacturing a limb that suited the lifestyle of the average rural amputee. As opposed to the Western limb, the Jaipur foot can be worn without shoes. This enables amputees to follow their day-to-day activities, from walking on the streets, riding bicycles to getting into paddy fields without a hindrance, she explains. “Soldiers call it a working limb; there are instances where they have climbed Adam’s Peak wearing this,” she says.

Up to now the Jaipur Foot Project has manufactured about 20,000 artificial limbs both above the knee and below the knee prostheses, artificial hands etc. During the last phase of the war there was a rapid increase in the number of war wounded amputees and CIFIN deployed mobile teams to serve them. Elaborating on the project Mrs. Ranasinghe said people belonging to various age groups from all parts of the country get registered for the programme.

Subani: Shining example of the success of the project

A large number of children with congenital birth defects seek the assistance of the Jaipur limb programme too. However, this is a major concern as artificial limbs manufactured for children need constant change to keep pace with their growth- they need to be changed once in six months or once a year.

Aravinda Lakshan (name changed) is an 11-year-old who has had both his legs amputated due to a birth defect. He has come to the CFINS Colombo from Anuradhapura with his mother to receive his new pair of artificial limbs. Seated on a bed at the transit hostel of the society, Arvainda’s mother watches thankfully as her son gets into his new pair of limbs. She tells us how naughty little Aravinda is; he runs around in the house with his elder brother or plays with his friends at school and the neighbourhood just like a normal child would do.

“This is a blessing for people like us. Buying an artificial limb from outside is very costly. If we had no help like this, my son would not have been able to go to school. Today he continues his education and takes part in various school activities including the school sports meet,” she says.

The tendency in Sri Lanka is to keep children who are disabled at home. But to make sure that their education is not hampered, a monthly education grant is being provided by the Jaipur project for its child beneficiaries, Mrs. Ranasinghe says.

To re-integrate amputees into society, a self-employment programme is conducted parallel to the foot project. It provides the disabled with interest-free loans to enable them to start self-employment ventures.

M.Rizvi (name changed), from Mawanella is a beneficiary of the Jaipur project who lost his left leg in an accident in 1987 while he was employed at the Spinning and Weaving Mills in Wellawatte. Following the accident he was confined to bed for about one and half years, and was totally dependent on his two sisters, he recalls.

“I was mentally down as I thought I would have to spend the rest of my life in bed being a burden on my sisters. I was depressed when I thought of the bleak future before me,” he says. But in 1989, Rizvi’s life changed when he received the artificial limb of the Jaipur project and subsequently an opportunity to be part of the Jaipur foot production unit. Today, Rizvi plays the role of the breadwinner of his happy family of two daughters and wife, he says.

A helping hand for limb programme

The service offered by this non profit-making body depends on the donors and well-wishers. Finding donors to sponsor limbs, especially for replacements for children, is a major concern, says the President CFINS Kalyani Ranasinghe adding that there are a number of other progammes that run parallel to the foot project and also need assistance.

The society runs a transit home for the recipients of limbs, especially for the ones travelling from outstation areas to stay until the limb is manufactured and fitted. Workshops are held to train the first time users until they get comfortable with the artificial limbs. The hostel can accommodate 30 individuals. During their stay, meals are given free of charge. All this needs the support of sponsors. Please call 2421651 or 2544992 for further information.

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