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Senkadagala Deaf and Blind School:

A 100 years into a radiant future

Did you know that some of us live in a world painted entirely in pitch black or hazy blurry shadows? Or that some of us live in a world filled with pin drop silence or unintelligible distorted echoes?

A view of the school hostel

Stepping up the ladder of life they pass each step shrugging off despair and confusion bit by bit, until they find their destined path - the path towards success. And it is what I witnessed at this beautiful little school called Senkadagala Deaf and Blind School surrounded by palms overlooking the Srimath Kuda Ratwatta Mawatha at Dodamwela in Kandy.

On March 14, 2013, I met the Principal Kumuduni Abeyruwan, who generously shared the school’s history and other details and even took me on an interesting tour around the premises. There I met the school’s devoted teachers and cheerful students, and had a glimpse of their neat little classrooms.

The roots of special education run as far as 1912, when Mary Chapman, a British Missionary, opened the School for the Blind at Ratmalana. And 50 years later on March 8, 1962 Senkadagala Deaf and Blind School was founded by Rienzie Alagiyawanna and K.B. Dodamwela. Rienzie was the President of the Ceylon Association of the Blind, who pioneered in establishing several special education schools in the island.

The Senkadagala school began as a small boarding school with just six students and three teachers. Today it has grown to nurture 130 students studying under the guidance of 18 committed teachers. The school operates under the Ministry of Education’s Special Education Unit and is managed by an administrative board presided over by the District Secretary of Kandy.

They follow the same syllabus as other schools and runs classes from Grade 1 to 11. The students sit for Year 5 Scholarship and G.C.E. O/L examination and depending on their performance majority will enter vocational training centres under the Department of Social Services.

Impoverished

Those who successfully pass then enter government schools in Kandy to study for the GCE Advanced Level. Due to the scarcity of special education teachers in other schools, the teachers at Senkadagala school lend their support whenever required. All the teachers here have undergone the special education training at Maharagama Teacher Training Centre.

The Senkadagala Deaf and Blind School is a haven for the blind, visually impaired, deaf and hearing impaired children from all backgrounds. There are children coming from impoverished families with parents not knowing how to raise a child with special needs. There were children who did not know how to walk, or kept staring at blank walls with no interaction whatsoever. Occasionally there are cases where parents have split and walked away from responsibilities, abandoning the innocent child in a world of confusion.

The Department of Social Services hosts various programs to raise the awareness of the parents on this regard. The Senkadagala school too plays a key role by devoting themselves to nurture the child in a favourable and personalised environment. The school also conducts workshops during vacation for students and their parents. At the age of four years and eight months the child joins the school and leaves when they are 18 years old.

The hostel is a second home to 79 students, where a majority receive food and accommodation for free. All students receive uniforms and text books free from the government, whilst funds for the school are allocated by the Department of Social Services through the school’s administrative board. The board also manages all the aid received from the Children’s Fund from Denmark as well as from benefactors, local and abroad.

Training in the carpentry

Some of the art work of students

During the tour I watched a lesson performed by the teacher in sign language. The students responded in sign language as well, accompanied by their loud high pitched voices. They non-verbally yet excitedly expressed their love for learning despite all hardships faced at such a tender age. The school is divided into two sections as Vision Impaired and Hearing Impaired, while each classroom accommodates between five to 10 students conveniently. Majority studying here are hearing impaired students, and they are taught using sign language and lip reading. The blind and visually impaired students are taught using Braille and computers installed with screen readers such as NVDA, Hal, JAWS and Thunder.As I went through a bunch of their beautiful drawings I realised these students are naturally gifted. In fact, they excel not only in art, but also in music and dancing.

The school has provided many talented children who have won places in district and all island contests in art, music and dancing events. One student named Shehani Kaushalya Jayawardena who passed GCE O/L examination from Senkadagala Deaf and Blind School entered Matale Wijaya College and received best results at GCE A/L examination in 2012. She made both schools proud by ranking third in Matale District and 70th in the island. The school has also produced graduates where two of them, Prasanna Wickremasinghe and R.G. Wijesinghe have joined the staff and renders a great service to their alma mater.

Syllabus

As part of their syllabus the school also provides vocational studies such as home science, agriculture, sewing, leather work, computer lessons, bridal dressing and beauty culture, artificial flower making as well as carpentry. When I stepped into their carpentry section, resting opposite the school buildings, a stunning spectacle suddenly caught my eyes. Spreading along one portion of the ceiling was a huge colourful 3D artwork of the Solar System exclusively made by the students here. And stacked on the other end were their woodcraft and products ranging from deftly made towel racks to book stands as well as beautiful relief carvings.

Sports is another avenue for the students to have a good workout and learn team work while having fun outdoors. They play all kinds of sports and games including cricket, table tennis and chess and have won a number of awards at interschool sports tournaments held between special education schools. At present there are over 20 special education schools in the island.

Various schools in Kandy interact with the Senkadagala Deaf and Blind School through several programs which also include recording text books in audio version, due to the lack of Braille text books.

And through this notable cause the girl guides of Mahamaya Girls’ College won the OLAVE award for their project: ‘From darkness into light’ after competing against the guides from around the world. It was awarded by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in 2008.

After spending about two hours at this charming school surrounded by scenic backdrops I realised what a significant role the school plays on the lives of these children. To them, the world is no more dark, hazy or obscure.

The child can climb one step at a time, with each step turning his world brighter and beautiful.

And at the end of the stairs he meets his goal as a full grown citizen confident and strong.It’s never too late to identify a child’s special needs and give them what’s best and watch over their growth.

Let them enjoy a life filled with fun and laughter, blessed with knowledge and guidance, and packed with the ideal dreams they can reach on their own.

 

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