Caritas helps Sri Lankan war victims stand alone

Center started in 1999 provides amputees with artificial limbs and rehabilitation services
Caritas helps Sri Lankan war victims stand alone

Caritas Valvuthayam in Mannar helps people regardless of ethnicity and religion. (Photo courtesy of Caritas Valvuthayam)

Thambirasa Mariyanayagam lost both his legs in a shell attack in 2009 in the final days of the Sri Lankan civil war.

The shell fell on his house as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fought for a separate homeland for Tamils against government forces in a civil war that began in 1983.

He lost his livelihood as a casual farm worker. "I faced many difficulties after losing my legs," said 25-year-old Mariyanayagam from Wattakandu in Mannar. "I couldn't even go to the toilet and do my day-to-day activities."

Many civilians were disabled by landmines and shells during the 26-year war. Thousands had damaged limbs amputated.

Caritas Valvuthayam started the Center for Disabled with Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar in 1999 to help victims by providing children and adults with comfortable, high-quality artificial limbs and working with them to improve the limbs' functions.

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Patients received free artificial limbs until 2014 when they were asked to pay one third of the cost if possible. Mariyanayagam was fitted with free prosthetic legs in 2011. He returned this month to collect a new artificial limb and only had to pay 2,500 rupees (US$15) of the full cost of 30,000 rupees.

"Caritas Valvuthayam helps the life recovery of differently abled people and guides them to stand alone," he told ucanews.com. "I got married and earn 28,000 rupees per month working on a farm."

Through its qualified staff Caritas Valvuthayam offers total rehabilitation care for those in need.  (Photo courtesy of Caritas Valvuthayam)

 

Sri Lanka, one of the most densely mined countries in the world, has more than 150,000 amputees, many of whom were disabled in the civil war. Civilian and military victims of mines are permanently disabled. Many people with amputations live in isolated rural areas.

Johnis Tharcius Sosai, 78, a retired Land Commission officer who lost his leg due to an infection, said Caritas trained him how to use his prosthetic leg for walking and even riding his motorcycle.

Hygiene is very important. Socks are cleaned before being fitted over artificial legs, which are regularly cleaned and never kept under direct sunlight to dry.

"We check bolts, nuts and screws of the device regularly and report to Caritas every six months for a proper follow-up. If the device is too tight or too loose, we report it to Caritas immediately," said Sosai before riding off on his motorcycle.

The center provides physiotherapy, prosthetics, wheelchairs, exercise therapy, electrotherapy and advocacy services. It helps people regardless of ethnicity and religion. It is funded by Catholic Relief Services and UNICEF and gets technical support from the Motivation Charitable Trust.

Caritas Valvuthayam director Father S. Anton said the center has a well-equipped physiotherapy department ensuring total rehabilitation care with qualified professional staff with modern clinical standards.

"Caritas has professionally designed gait training and wheelchair training areas," he said. "Caritas has assisted 4,000 victims in the last 10 years. It is a challenge to find money. We need 1.2 million rupees per month to run the service."

Other organizations also help injured people to get prosthetic limbs and orthotic devices to help them walk.

Sakthivel, a Hindu, appreciates the invaluable assistance rendered by Caritas, which is celebrating 50 years of service in Sri Lanka. "They made a difference to my whole life," he said.

Johnis Tharcius Sosai, 78, lost his leg due to an infection. Sosai is now able to ride a motorbike with the support of a Caritas-made prostheses. (Photo by Quintus Colombage/ucanews.com)

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