The Nuffield School was founded in 1955 and is the oldest and largest Institute that provides education in the Tamil language for hearing and visually impaired children. It was almost completely razed to the ground during the brutal civil war that raged in Sri Lanka between 1983 and 2009 that cost over 100,000 lives.
The Tamil speaking community who live mainly in the North of Sri Lanka paid heavily for the strife. Their standard of living was destroyed and that included health care. At the conclusion of hostilities, it was quite clear that a generation of children with hearing loss and visual impairments had been forgotten. Steps to rehabilitate them for their sensory losses lagged far behind their Sinhalese neighbours. The formative years of these children’s lives, when with the help of speech and language specialists, the hearing and visually impaired develop these skills had been entirely lost. The resulting impact on their education, likely future employment prospects in adult life and quality of life in general was huge.
In its political appeal and in its humanitarian justification, everything practical must be done to mitigate hearing impairment in this generationLady Jean Wilson, Founder & President Hearing Conservation Council.
Understanding the School’s significance as virtually the sole resource for the specialist care and education of its pupils, the Hearing Conservation Council (HCC) along with other charitable organisations within and outside Sri Lanka became involved with a project started in 2005 by Orupaanai (OP). Orupaanai is a voluntary humanitarian organisation that was established by Dr Muthuveloe, a British General practitioner. Its primary aims were to alleviate hunger in school children who live in the Jaffna Peninsula and to re-establish the Kaithady School and improve its facilities.
Some of the many issue’s Dr Muthuveloe faced were a lack of trained staff to teach and assess Hearing Impaired Children and few if any facilities in which to carry out hearing assessments. Furthermore, he had no hearing aids to give those children that needed them. There are now 139 students at the school of which 67 are boarders and 72 are day students. All have very special needs that had been neglected for years.
No one person could possibly achieve this. Thankfully, British Sri Lankan doctors working in the fields of Otolaryngology & Audiology, Paediatrics and General Practice within the UK, spearheaded and lead by Dr Augustus Thambapillai (HCC Trustee) have given generously of their time and made regular visits every year. His colleagues include Mr. Ranjit Thabyrajah (British ENT surgeon), Dr. Elmo Thambapillai (British Paediatrician), Dr Muthuveloe (British General Practitioner), Mr Vigneswaran (British Senior Audiologist), Ms Yoganathan Ushaline and Mrs Shami Nishanth (British Audiologists).
With the help of funding and support from charitable bodies that included HCC, significant in-roads have been made at the School to improve the educational opportunities and the facilities for the many Hearing and Visually Impaired Children.
In the first 10 years of the project many of the initial and most urgent needs have been met. These include the following :
- All the deaf children at the school and some from the surrounding area have been assessed in order to determine their audiological needs.
- Children and staff have received a full general medical examination, ENT and audiological assessments.
- The children have been fitted with digital hearing aids and provided with batteries.
- Two staff members have been trained to carry out hearing tests, take impressions for hearing aid moulds and to programme the hearing aids.
Having addressed the most urgent issues, the longer term aims of the project now include:
- Refurbishment of a classroom as a temporary Audiology facility for testing and fitting of hearing aids.
- Providing children with appropriate amplification so that they can access all the educational facilities provided by the School.
- To maintain their amplification needs throughout their entire educational years at the School.
- Educating the children and the staff at the school about the care of hearing aids, including accessories.
- To facilitate vocational training for future careers and employment. Already a small farm has been established with a cow and chickens. Essential crops and vegetables are grown to provide much of the School’s nutritional needs. This also ensures that the children will be able to establish and manage their own small holdings in future life. The girls are taught hair dressing and sewing skills, while the boys become proficient carpenters and potters.
Ultimately, the longer-term aim for the Kaithady Nuffield School for the Deaf & Blind is not only to expand on the significant improvements made to date in the facilities, care and education of the pupils locally, but also to establish it as Centre of Excellence for the entire region. In this way, Audiology services would be extended to other schools and provide training opportunities and support to their staff across the North of Sri Lanka. It will become one of the keystones in Sri Lanka’s long-term National Plan for the Prevention of Hearing Impairment and Deafness, a blueprint for the value of a holistic approach to clinical screening. This will take time and money.
The School has an immediate and more urgent need for which we ask your generous help now. A large number of the students require regular outpatient consultations at other hospitals in the region. They are totally reliant on transportation provided by the School’s 14-seater van and its dedicated driver. The van is now over 17 years old! Its driver has made sure that the van has been regularly serviced, repaired and looked after meticulously. It has now clocked up nearly 320,000 miles but also become very unreliable, a liability, and must be replaced as soon as possible with a new vehicle that will last another 15-20 years in careful hands.
HCC is determined to raise the funds for the new vehicle in memory of its past Vice President, Mr Padman Ratnesar. Padman was a Tamil by birth and educated both in the Sri Lanka and the UK where he became a highly respected ENT surgeon. Padman never forgot his home country and worked tirelessly to help those with hearing loss in a number of other developing countries throughout the whole world.