There are more than a million Sri Lankan children left behind by their mothers who migrated overseas for employment. According to the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) statistics, the majority of women who migrated overseas, especially to the Middle East, are married and of them more than 90% have children. Many family lives of migrant married women become complicated as the mother who brings the family together is no longer there. Children who are left behind by their mothers are vulnerable to various social and emotional problems which start within the families.
Senuri Dewmini Silva is one such child. Fourteen-year-old Senuri’s parents are divorced. Her father has re-married and has children. As her mother was trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, she decided to leave her daughter behind and seek employment in Kuwait as a housemaid. What makes Senuri’s story more pathetic is that she is suffering from a disorder known as Cerebral Palsy (CP) caused by brain damage which had occurred during her birth. She can’t move without someone’s support. Due to the brain damage, her vision is gradually weakening. Senuri has a younger brother. Though she was neglected by her father due to her disorder, her younger brother was accepted and is living with the father and his new family.
She had experienced plenty of emotional problems. Senuri who dropped out of school was sent to ‘Methmihira’ Centre for Children with Special Needs in Koralawella, Moratuwa. The Centre, led by a group of sisters at St. Michael’s Church, Koralawella supported Senuri in many ways, in an attempt to restore some normalcy to Senuri’s life by providing her the opportunity to connect with same aged children and improve her creative skills.
Senuri’s maternal grand-mother Namali Fernando had been taking care of her since she was born in a very small house in Egodauyana, Moratuwa. Due to recent heavy rains, their house collapsed several weeks ago. Namali used to escort her helpless grand-daughter to the Centre. After their house collapsed to the ground, Senuri was sent to her paternal grandparents’ house, which is far from the Centre.
Namali said since she was unable to bear the transport cost of Rs.400 per day for three-wheelers, she was unable to escort Senuri to the Centre during the past few weeks.
“Neither of the parents is treating her right. I sent her to her grandparents’ place temporarily. It has only been two weeks. They had already started complaining that they can’t do any other work, as they always have to pay attention to Senuri. Senuri is confined to a room there. She used to try walking when she was living with me. But, now they treat her like an outsider. I don’t have a place to keep my grand daughter now. I am also staying at my relative’s place,” Namali said.
Meanwhile, Senuri’s physiotherapist said children with such disabilities need proper and regular exercise.
“Senuri lacked exercise since the day I saw her. She only receives what we do here at the Centre,” the physiotherapist said. She also explained about Senuri’s disorder.
The disorder affects muscle tone, movement, and the ability to move in a coordinated way. CP is usually caused by brain damage that happens before or during a baby’s birth, or during the initial 3 to 5 years. Senuri was a premature baby. According to research findings, premature babies have a high chance of having CP.
This type of brain damage can lead to other health complications which can affect vision, hearing, and speech, which result in learning disabilities. Opthalmologists who reveiwed Senuri’s medical records stated that the condition of her eyes could not be restored to normal eyesight. According to the Physiotherapist, there is no cure for CP, but physiotherapies and special equipment can help in the management of the malady.
“Both of her parents are alive but neither of them had even spoken to us. They neglect her. She needs love, affection and support. She needs to feel that she has someone to care for her,” the physiotherapist said.
Methmihira Centre for Children with Special Need Dalsi Padmini, a teacher at the Methmihira Centre said the Centre was established by Sister Jasintha in year 2000 in a garage of St. Michael’s Church, Koralawella, Moratuwa.
There are about eight teachers including a dancing teacher, a Yoga teacher and a teacher for sewing.
“I was one of the very first people who were there since the beginning of this institute. We used to go to houses and teach special children. We got financial support to build the institute from the BBC after they broadcast news about a child from our institute. That child’s mother died in the Tsunami
“They bought this building for us to maintain the institute. The Centre works as a school for 51 students with special needs. It starts at 7.30 am and ends at 1.30 pm. We recruit children from age 1. Hospitals and schools in the neighbourhood send children with special needs here.”
“There are about eight teachers including a dancing teacher, a Yoga teacher and a teacher for sewing. The institution has a van to transport all students. Rs. 40,000 per month is paid for the van driver by the institution itself. A few parents of children here are paying the institution only when they have money. Monthly payments for teachers are paid by a donor living in the United Kingdom” Residents in Koralawella too help the institution sometimes by offering meals and other requirements.” Miss Padmini said.