Shedding a little light

Young Prabath Attanayake through his passion for the arts is changing the lives of children with
special needs. Dhananjani Silva reports. Pics by Nissanka

He takes pride in what he does. Young Prabath Attanayake has chosen to care for children with special needs as his profession. With intense dedication, this thirty five year old has been the driving force behind the training workshops conducted by Sunera Foundation over the years.

It was in February 2001 that Prabath chose to take up a project that look in to the welfare of a group of children often marginalised by society as his profession, amidst criticism by family and friends. Though he studied commerce subjects in school, Prabath has a passion for arts and drama, he says. He did quite a few jobs in the hotel industry, insurance and business fields, before he came across the Sunera vacancy advisement to join their theatre group as a trainer, Prabath goes on.

“There were so many people who came for the job interview – if I remember right close to about 500 people came out of which about 100 were selected for the first round to take part in training held at the BMICH. Only 30 got selected to become trainers at the end,” he recalls adding that his passion for arts and drama plus interest in social work made him take up the task.

Prabath has come along way since then. Today he holds the position of a Provincial Development Officer - being in charge of the Sunera Foundation workshop in Kurunegala where in he supervises the four training centres in Kurunegala, Nikaveratiya, Narammala and Kobeiganey.

So far he has got involved in about 2000 workshops all over the island in locations such as Hatton, Badulla, Ampara, Batticaloa etc in addition to what he has conducted in Kurunegala. “All this is carried out with the support of the social Services Officers, Divisional Secretaries, Grama Sevakas in the respective areas who help us a lot to collect data about the disabled children, to find training locations and to spread the message across. At the workshops, we try to develop the creative abilities of children and get them to interact with society by way of music, drama, dancing and arts.

Such children who are physically challenged are restricted to their homes; they have no opportunities to interact with society. Through these workshops we try to build self confidence in them and to re integrate them in society. These children often respond to the medium of music and drama a great deal,” he says adding that the intake of participants to workshops consist of those disabled and normal so as to give the former an opportunity to mingle with the normal children and exchange their views.

In fact his efforts to help such children have been a success, a proud Prabath informs the Mirror Magazine. He is proud at the fact that 13 students who were trained under him were chosen last month to undergo vocational training at the Seeduwa Vocational Training Centre. “These children took part in workshops continuously for about six years during which they participated in the Samanalayaya event every year. When they have to take part in the concert we bring them down to Colombo few days before the concert.

Only few parents accompany them during their stay here. This is a good experience for them as they manage to do everything on their own, this exposure could have indirectly helped them become independent helping them in the selection process for the vocational training course,” Prabath explains.
Prabath who unfolds his experiences with the children says initially as he started working with these handicapped children, like any other 24-year-old, he was getting depressed about life when he saw their condition.

His perceptions changed soon after he figured out the enormous talents within these children. “They are as capable as normal children despite their condition. It is amazing to see how they can love fellow human beings and the gratitude they show in return when we do even something small for them,” he says.

Sunera workshops have become part and parcel of life, for Prabath in particular and for children in general. “They look forward to the weekly workshops so much that sometimes children pack their bags, iron their clothes days ahead. For us also it is the same. We care for them as one big family and see them as normal people. Whether it is a birthday party , dana, funeral or a wedding everyone works together,” he says.

It is a job from which he derives lot of self satisfaction, admits Prabath. “As human beings we always search for happiness and self satisfaction. This is a good opportunity for that,” adds this young change maker.

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