“Feet across the Land, One and All”: The Vitality of the Colombo Friend-in-Need Society

Michael Roberts, 27 May 2010

The Colombo Friend-in-Need Society was established as a philanthropic body as far back as 1831 on the initiative of the British Governor, Sir Edward Barnes. Its history doubtless has many chapters and it will require an assiduous historian to detail its continuities and transformations. One transformation is self-evident. It has been run by Sri Lankans for decades. Its present President, Kalyani Ranasinghe, has been in charge for around ten years. She is a lady who has earned a reputation for her indefatigable work in many fields.  

The Board includes professional personnel such as Professor A.H. Sheriffdeen, Dr. L. Wijeyeratne (Rheumatologist), Dr. J.K.S.Weerasekera (Orthopaedic Surgeon), Dr. Ranjan Dias (Paediatric Surgeon) and Engineer Krishan Jayawardena. This management team’s work in this field is entirely voluntary.   

My introduction to this organization was accidental and arose from my interest in the travails of the Tamil citizens of Thamililam who had become IDPs in the last stages of the Eelam War IV. Dawn Goonasekera, nee Buultjens, put me in touch with Dr. Susiri Weerasekera whose methodical ways, attention to correspondence and grass-roots connections proved to be an asset in maintaining touch with events.

However, my visit to the precincts of the CFINS in early May was truly an eye-opener. Here, in the heart of Colombo in a pleasant spot facing the Beira Lake in the vicinity of the Gangarama one finds a major cottage industry and a little hospital. It was a hub of activity: within a series of single-story buildings a handful of technicians within each sub-department concentrated upon their tasks in turning out limbs and adjunct-parts; while physiotherapists nurtured patients taking their first steps in ‘new terrain.’ At a covered walkway with rails I witnessed some patients learning how to use their new limbs.

 To my utter amazement I found that there were three little wards, two for males and one for women, where amputees from beyond the immediate locality are housed and fed. The service is free for one and all. The CFINS web-site at http://www.silvercircle.biz/Jaipur notes that “amputees from areas outside Colombo are provided free board and lodging in the Transit Hostel run by the CFINS to enable them to stay in the premises until their limbs are fabricated, fitted and aligned and they are trained to use them. It is a unique and complete package of services no other Institution in Sri Lanka can provide.”

 Thus, today, the CFINS limb-fitting centre “has become a one- stop service facility for all disabled persons who require prosthetic, orthotic and orthopaedic appliances to overcome their disabilities.”

 The CFINS secures this benefit entirely through monies donated from well-wishers; so that there is another tale within a tale here about the hearts and pockets that have sustained this enterprise over so many decades.

 It costs CFINS Rs 8,000 on average, or roughly 80 Aus dollars, to treat each patient who attends the hospital, a cost that covers food and therapeutic training as well. The low-cost operation is testimony to the effectiveness of the “Jaipur foot technique.”

The specialists who man CFINS have found that the aluminium shanks utilized by the Jaipur method, once melded with the plastic sockets developed in modern Western establishments, result in a low-cost limb much more suitable for local amputees than ‘western’ prostheses. Indeed, aluminium has all-round qualities for this purpose: it is light weight, yet bears any weight; it is mouldable and malleable; its outer appearance can be easily rendered a cosmetic brown; and it provides protection.

The composite rubber foot piece introduced from Jaipur forms the basis for all the limbs. It is cheaply produced, very durable for all types of work and weather, useable barefoot, with slippers or shoes. It is truly a miracle foot-piece, far more suitable for locals than imported synthetic items. Above all, its cost is comically low in comparison with the Rs. 180,000 or so needed for the standard mass-produced limbs in Europe.CFINS had produced 134 limbs in February 2010 to make up a total of 18,298 limbs since establishing their workshop in 1985. As significant were the statistics for that month: 58 males and 21 females treated or below-knee limbs; and 37 males and 4 females for above-knee limbs. The reasons for these disabilities and amputations were quite varied, with “gangrenous wounds” and “road accidents” being among the more significant — though “trap-gun explosions” caught my urban eye!

 Sri Lanka was truly fortunate to have such an institution on hand when the last stages of Eelam War IV sharply increased the numbers of people whose legs had to be amputated. The .CFINS factory went into overtime mode and .CFINS assembled mobile teams to service victims of war far and afield.

   The first camp was held at the Jayasumanāramaya Temple in Trincomalee District on 24-26th April 2009. The 39 patients provided with limbs included a mix of Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims. Eight were Army soldiers, but the rest included 7 fishermen, 3 farmers, 3 drivers and a mosaic of other occupations as well as two unemployed.

 Thereafter, over the period July 2009 to March 2010 these teams visited the following distress areas and fitted another 556 limbs with the following distribution being recorded:

Mannar in July 2009                                  = 139

Vavuniya in August =                               = 116

Mannar I September =                               =   39

Chettikulam IDP cam in October                   = 105

Pompanadu in November                           =   83

Chettikulam in Feb/March 2010                 =   74

 These special endeavours should be set aside the normal work of helping those without limbs. I have chosen December 2009 in arbitrary fashion to illustrate their work. 40 males and 9 females were admitted to the wards that month; 46 below-knee and 8 above-knee limbs were fitted. The victims had lost their limbs for a striking variety of reasons, ranging from road accidents (5) to cancer (2) and “trap-gun explosions” (3), besides “civil commotion” embracing 8 army personnel and 4 civilians. They came from a wide range of districts, with Colombo District providing the largest number at 15. The others in this particular month came from Gampaha (6), Kalutara (4), Ratnapura (3), Kegalle (1), Kandy (2), Monaragala (3), Matale (1), Badulla (2), Anuradhapura (4), Kurunegala (4), Matara (1), Puttalum (2), Amparai (1) and Galle (1).

 Here, then was a service to mankind and a reaching of hands and, of course, feet, across the island’s communities. Saludos, to all you PEOPLE within and for the Colombo Friend-in-Need Society.


Filed under reconciliation, Sinhala-Tamil Relations

5 responses to ““Feet across the Land, One and All”: The Vitality of the Colombo Friend-in-Need Society

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