Providing acceptance and inclusion to special needs children in Sri Lanka by Chaya Foundation

Every parent dreams of the best things that could ever happen to their children. But nothing comes easy in life. Living with Down’s syndrome, autism and other health conditions could add to the burden of life. While society still turns a blind eye to these individuals, certain groups are working to make a change. One of these initiatives is the Chaya Foundation.

A brainchild of SLFP Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa, the vision of this foundation is to promote acceptance and inclusion of special needs children into society. Chaya, which translates to shadow in Sinhalese, is what the team intends to be for these children. “A shadow never leaves you and likewise we want to be their shadow,” said Bhashika Jayasinghe, Chairman of the Foundation while speaking to Mirror for Hope. The Foundation aims to establish Chaya Care Centres around the island by 2021. Speaking further, Bhashika said that each of these centres will provide many facilities including diagnoses, counselling services, healthcare, guidance for parents and children, vocational training and other skills development activities. “At the moment we have focused on children, their parents and society. We want to educate the children and when they grow up we will help them integrate into society. In addition to that we also assist parents to be mentally stable in assisting their children to improve their life skills. One needs a great support system when there’s a special needs child. Society too is slow to accept these children and we believe that it’s our responsibility to change the mind-set of the people.”

After a year of discussing and planning, The Chaya Foundation was launched in July 2018, opening its doors for any child and parent to walk in and experience their facilities and services. The Foundation also works closely with the Reach Beyond programme and a school for special needs children based in Kelaniya. The livewires behind the foundation come from diverse backgrounds and each one of them aims to achieve a common goal of assisting these children and integrating them into society. Bhashika further said that a greater percentage of these children are still at home as parents don’t want to bring them out due to the prevailing stigma and discrimination. “Initially when parents brought their children, they didn’t even allow their children to be in a photograph. But now it has changed. Likewise we see a change in the way they think and in time to come it will get better.”

The Foundation currently runs on personal contributions and donations from well-wishers. The team invites interested individuals to join them as volunteers and give a hand to these deserving children.