Thousands of Sri Lankans were gravely wounded in the war. A local NGO has helped them regain normalcy, providing everything from artificial limbs to livelihood loans.
In March 2009, on a day of fierce fighting in Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka, Parasothan, a 30-year-old civilian, was trying to flee the vicious war. But as he ran, a mortar shell fell near him and exploded. He was rushed to a local hospital, and his left leg was amputated below the knee.
Being disabled, he thought he would never resume his livelihood of fishing in the northern sea.
But in June, he received an artificial limb from the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation (JJCDR). To some degree, his former life has been restored.
"Now, I can walk and carry out normal activities," the father of two told Khabar South Asia. "I can restart fishing. I am so happy to see an artificial limb."
Support for the injured
With the assistance of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), JJCDR provides artificial limbs and mobility aids including crutches and wheelchairs to those who need them. After a three-decade war, there are thousands of disabled people in Sri Lanka who need them most.
According to the Ministry of Social Services Secretary, Emelda Sukumar, as many as 4,912 people from the Vanni region in northern Sri Lanka – site of the fiercest battles between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) and government forces – are disabled.
"We purchase artificial limbs to be fitted to the needy," she said. "We welcome the assistance by others such as JJCDR."
Sukumar said many local and foreign organisations such as UNICEF, ICRC and Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) also provide livelihood assistance.
JJCDR believes 10 to 15% of northern people are disabled due to illness, accidents, the war or birth defects. The centre has helped around 2,600 people with disabilities since its inception in 1987, Damayanthi Tawarasa, JJCDR physiotherapist, told Khabar. The help ranges from limbs to loans.
"For school children who receive our assistance, we provide an educational grant of Rs.1000 ($7.55) a month. For adults, we provide revolving loans of Rs.25, 000 each ($189) as a livelihood support. They can start various activities such as farming. Once they start earning, they can settle the loan," Tawarasa said.
An uncertain future
With a staff of 27, JJCDR provides a range of vital services. It has hostel facilities for those seeking limb-fitting or mobility assistance, and offers physiotherapy to help recipients adapt to new limbs.
"When young beneficiaries grow up, we have to readjust their artificial limbs," Tawarasa said. "We carry out field work to identify those needing our assistance. We also do counseling for disabled persons."
In 1999, with technical and financial assistance from the ICRC, JJCDR introduced more efficient polypropylene technology, replacing aluminium previously used for producing prostheses.
Though its services are vital to the community it serves, the organisation is facing a major challenge. The ICRC has announced that its funding of JJCDR will end in 2014, and it must find new donors—either locally or internationally—to survive.
The impact of artificial limbs on the life and livelihood cannot be understated, JJCDR Chairperson J. Ganeshamoorthy said.
"We have a picture of a person with artificial limbs climbing a palmyra palm to collect sap," she said.