Disabilities create serious challenges for children no matter what part of the world they are born in. Growing up in the shadow of the brutal Sri Lankan civil war meant that Kajan never received a proper diagnosis for his cerebral palsy. Unable to walk, he spent most of his time seated on his front porch or sitting on the sidelines of an adjacent soccer field watching kids in the neighborhood play. “When I saw other children playing and him just sitting and watching I used to feel so sad, so hopeless,” says his mother, Pathmalaka. “We used to do everything for him. He could not do anything. From brushing his teeth, to washing his face, to taking him to the toilet, changing his clothes, bathing him and feeding him, we had to do everything for him,” she remembers. “I also worried about what would happen to him if I was not there. Who would care for him? And what would his future be like?” His parents, working as daily laborers performing odd jobs, couldn’t afford the medical care he needed. Nor could they afford the time and expense it took to transport him long distances to the nearest care facility. If Kajan went somewhere it was because he was carried on someone’s back.
Pathmalaka knew his son had greater potential than to remain isolated at home. “He was very eager to study in the beginning. He would take pencils and paper and learn to write letters on his own,” she recalls of his time spent seated on the front porch. When Kajan reached seven years of age, his mother was determined to enroll him in school. “I tried to enroll him in school at the normal age for grade 1, but we were refused admission,” she says. The principal sited the need for Kajan to be able walk and keep up with the rest of the children.
It was around this time that ChildFund began a program in Kajan’s District called Community-Based Inclusive Development. When a volunteer stopped by to visit his home, the family were invited to a medical camp where Kajan was screened, diagnosed and immediately enrolled in the program. “We had to carry him to the first medical camp. Initially he was given intensive physiotherapy for the first 3 months,” remembers Mom. Pathmalaka was also given physiotherapy training and began a twice-daily regimen with Kajan to begin to straighten his crooked limbs. “Through ChildFund, I was able to get the required training from doctors on physiotherapy using equipment like gym balls, dumb bells, that I could do at home,” she recalls. “I used to wake up early in the morning and do the exercises with him. Medical staff sometimes visit our home to check on progress and see if I am doing the training properly as taught.”
As Kajan’s strength grew, he was provided with needed equipment to help improve his mobility; first a wheelchair, then a walker and leg braces. “I didn’t want him to get used to [the wheel chair] too much, as he would be seated all the time without moving. So we didn’t use the wheel chair much. Instead, I used to hold him by the hand and we used the walker and that’s how he learned to walk,” says Mom. “When we initially put [the braces] on, he could not even stand up when wearing them. Because he started wearing the splints and started walking, his legs – which were crooked and bent – became straighter and his joints became more flexible. He now is able to walk upright.”
ChildFund’s Inclusive Development program worked not only to get Kajan walking for the first time in his life, but also to advocate for his rights. “When ChildFund visited our home one day, I told them about Kajan’s desire to study and how he was denied admission to school. They went and met the school administration and were able to get him in,” recalls Mom. “Even though he might be disabled, I want him to be able to have the best education possible and study well. Only then he can get a good job one day.”
Today Kajan is still attending school and performing most activities that a 12-year-old boy might normally do, from playing soccer to participating in competitions at school. He’s especially helpful to Mom in performing daily chores around the house: “I wake up early in the morning and wash my face. I water the flowers. I sweep the house. I help my mother with the cooking. My mother drops and picks me up from school every day,” says Kajan, referring to the twice daily rides on the back of his mom’s bicycle. When he grows up, Kajan says he’d like to be the mayor of the village.
“Earlier he was not able to come out of the house and walk, so he had no self-confidence,” says Mom. “But he started gaining confidence as he learned to walk. He’s building that self-confidence by walking and moving around, not being shut away at home.” With so much time dedicated to the rehabilitation of children with disabilities in the family, ChildFund’s program includes an economic component in the project to help families like Kajan’s earn money closer to home. Pathmalaka and her husband were initially given two goats which they now breed and regularly sell to meet daily needs.
“I am really happy today. Kajan is intelligent and excelling in school. I’m confident he’ll be able to look after himself on his own and be independent. From the way things are now and his progress and personality, I really believe he will turn out to be successful in the future.”.