This project was a World Cerebral Palsy Day Merit Award winner in 2017. Enter your project or campaign in the 2018 Awards!
For children living with cerebral palsy in Sri Lanka, life can be monotonous, lonely and unfulfilled. Many don’t have access to the funds and supports they need to thrive, including something as basic as a wheelchair.
The good news is that one outstanding initiative has made substantial inroads to a better world.
Gopi Kitnasamy – Founder/Chairman of the Cerebral Palsy Lanka Foundation (CPLF) – is a key figure behind the 1000 Wheelchairs Project. He is also the father of a child with cerebral palsy.
“Children with cerebral palsy cannot always move freely, so we started this project to give these children greater mobility, more independence and freedom, and we also wanted to give them a chance to actively participate in the community and enjoy a more wholesome and fulfilling life,” says Mr Kitnasamy.
Right now, in Sri Lanka, there are very few options for specialised surgeries to prevent or correct the deformities frequently experienced by people with cerebral palsy.
There are very few parents or teachers who are properly trained in caring for and supporting children with the condition.
Moreover, Sri Lankan census data underlines the extent to which families with disabled children need financial help.
Nearly three-quarters of disabled Sri Lankans are dependent on their families for support to survive – Cerebral Palsy Lankan Foundation
How does the initiative work?
The 1000 Wheelchairs Project began in 2015 with a group of 12 Sri Lankan businessmen taking up the challenge to raise the necessary funds. The brave and committed men set off on a 1427-kilometre bike ride through some of the country’s most difficult landscape.
The ‘Around the Pearl’ ride is organised by SPINNER, on behalf of the Wheels for Wheels Foundation and the Cerebral Palsy Lanka Foundation (CPLF) to bring the project to life. Throughout the ten-day annual ride, the public are able to follow the team of cyclists and pledge donations through Around the Pearl’s website.
Since its inception, the 1000 Wheelchairs Project has actually distributed close to 1800 specialized pediatric wheelchairs in 19 Sri Lankan districts. At district camps organised especially for these children and their families, the wheelchairs are distributed with training on their correct use.
The specialized wheelchairs – with seat widths of 30 and 35 centimetres – are not regularly available in Sri Lanka and as such are imported from China. Their specifications are designed to ensure the children are positioned comfortably, safely and properly to avoid pressure sores and muscle pain, and to maximize the potential benefits of such an aid. The wheelchair’s seat and back rest are cushioned. It comes with shoulder and chest harnesses, waist belts, leg separators, calf cushions and belts, hand brakes, and are easily folded for transportation.
What does this mean for children with cerebral palsy and their families?
The 1000 Wheelchairs Project has already far exceeded expectations and initial goals of the organisers. For the wheelchair recipients, life has changed immeasurably for the better.
Being on the receiving end of one of these specialized wheelchairs gives the otherwise housebound child a chance to truly be a part of their community. And parents are feeling a mix of relief, optimism and joy at their child’s new-found opportunities. They can now go to school. Parents can now more easily take them to the therapies they need. They can enjoy public places like parks, feel included in society and enjoy their lives more fully.
What’s next for the 1000 Wheelchairs Project?
While distributing close to 1800 of the specialised wheelchairs across 19 districts is a great achievement for the CPLF, they have their sights set firmly on reaching all 25 Sri Lankan districts and helping each and every child with cerebral palsy in Sri Lanka (the estimated number of which is 40,000).
“Once we complete the distribution in all 25 districts, we will be organising follow-up and training camps for the parents,” says Mr Kitnasamy. “It is probably difficult for people who aren’t differently-abled to comprehend just how important a wheelchair is to someone who needs to use it on a day-to-day basis. “A wheelchair is so much more than just a piece of equipment; it enables us to transform lives through the gift of mobility,” he says.
“As a parent of a child who uses a wheelchair, my family and I truly understand the important role a wheelchair plays in our child’s life. “Without a wheelchair, we would not be able to take our son to his school, to a park or even to a wedding. He would simply remain housebound.”
The CPLF are also looking into the possibilities of starting resource centres in each district to help children with cerebral palsy and their families.
The 1000 Wheelchairs Project was supported by the Wheels for Wheels Foundation and the MJF Foundation.