Susiri Weerasekera … a report penned on 21 August 2011 for the benefit of FINS donors, a report that bore a different title; and reproduced here at my insistence with some minor editorial insertions and with emphasis [highlighting in colour] added as my prerogative. Web Editor.
The Colombo Friend In Need Society, the leading artificial limb suppliers in the country since 1985, is situated by the Beira Lake at 171 Sir James Peiris Mawatha. The society supplies about 70 limbs per month, having in its 26-year period of performance served 19,800 amputees all over the country between 1985 and 2011. All prostheses are low cost and of appropriate technology, a combination of a rubber foot piece aluminium shank and, often, a plastic socket. These artificial limbs are all issued free supported by donations from individuals and groups and is completely independent of single large donors from any country. We are completely independent in our decisions.
With a well-run mobile camp unit, Colombo FINS had served 40 plus outstation camps by 2009. We were the only organisation with adequate infrastrucure to run mobile camps. We promptly took up the invitation by the Ministry of Health, in their letter of June 6th 2009, soon after the war, to help the IDP amputees. As the war ceased on 19th May 2009, our compatriot doctors were ‘ informed’– wrongly as it turned out to be — that there were thousands and thousands of fresh amputees as a result of the escalated war in the last few months with large numbers of deaths (quote Dr. Panagamuwa of U.K.).
With the Meththa Foundation and the UK doctors and dental surgeons who joined up with us to serve the IDPs in the earliest stages, we were able to run our first Mobile Camp at the Govt. Mannar Hospital for two weeks. Working long into the night, we supplied 139 limbs. Most at Mannar camp received foreign components with often adapted local techno. to suit needs. The support from the hospital staff was tremendous, as was the help from VAROD organization of Mannar.
Soon, large donations from a few individuals and a couple of religious organizations began to come in. I have to make special mention of the doctors, former students of the Jaffna Medical Faculty living in the USA, who contributed generously. These contributions allowed us to serve a total of 556 amputees from (10) ten mobile camps from July 8th 2009 to March 2010. These were at the Vavuniya Hospital, Chettikulam IDP welfare villages, the LTTE ex-combatant rehab-centres for males at Omanthai and for females at Omanthai University premises.
Collectively these constituted 90% of the total IDP population with amputated limbs. The work was tough and in the early stages tinged with anxiety of untoward happenings, [as we were] going into [what were considered to be] inaccessible or dangerous areas. But the Ministry Of Health and the Defence Ministry were in control of all challenges with the Social Services Dept. too supporting our work. Locally at these centres we were supported throughout so that the gathering of patients, their welfare, interpreting were all possible due to these organizations helping.
By June 2009, the Ministry had clear statistics on the numbers of war injured hospitalised (900+) in IDP regions.
The amputees overall were a total of 500+ in the IDP villages plus Mannar and Vavuniya hospitals, a low figure in reality compared to the thousands ‘estimated’ in the foreign media according to our UK partners. Mannar hospital, even with a large bed strength was the most taxed, with many temporary shelters being erected to cope with ‘normal’ admissions and the war casualties. But all 139 amputees within the Mannar hospital had already been supplied with imported quality crutches. Surprisingly, the 100 wooden crutches we took to donate were not needed by anyone, our items being looked down upon by the amputees sporting shiny aluminium crutches.
Moreover most of the amputees we saw had been supplied limbs, partly by ‘White Pigeons’ set up in Kilinochchi over the previous years. I subsequently met and worked with one of them. Others had been supplied in Jaffna or other places.
Again we were pleasantly surprised, when on camp in Vavuniya we were invited by Brig. Napagoda to serve the male ex-combatants at Omanthai. We served 39 of them in a semiclosed/open camp. The inmates strolled around leisurely in the open ground and we selected the site [for our work within the camp] as we pleased.
It was August 2009. Brig. Napagoda confided “Doctor, we were fighting them in April. Now that is past. We have to win their minds over.” I never anticipated or expected such a farseeing comment from recently embattled soldiers. They obviously had been educated/enlightened fast — so soon after the event.
We also thank Capt. Lakmali, young energetic, so obviously respected by the 1300 female ex-combatants occupying the North Central province Vavuniya University at Pompamadu who, backed by her superiors, helped us serve 70 amputees. Most of them were ‘old’ amputees — meaning that the injuries were old ones, not related to the last months of the war. The inmates again were free to roam about the large campus, confined loosely by simple fences of what we call ‘kambi’.
I examined about 40 inmates with various injury problems helped by two former female LTTE ‘doctors’ who had a good knowledge of their problems. Soon the ‘doctors’ were at ease with us, seeing that we were as eager to help as they were to get it. They stated that over the years they had performed hundreds of amputations for the LTTE.
A few weeks later, we received hand crafted ‘Thank you’ cards from the two ladies for ‘giving them hope’. To us, those words were enough reward!
Yes, hope materialized within a few months. About 1000 of the females at Pompamadu had been sent out of camp to their homes, according to Capt. Lakmali. Each one [of the amputes within this group] carried away the new as well as the old artificial limbs.
Over the 11 months of our work with them, it was borne out that the Ministry figures were dependable about the numbers injured. On our assessments of the total served, the majority of amputees did not fall into the category of recently injured.
Whereever and whenever we had dialogue with the IDPs — we had some Tamil staffers who got close to them — there was no hint of army misconduct, let alone mass killings.
On July 8th 2009, less than two months after the war ceased, passing by the Chettikulam camps on the way to Mannar camp, we noticed IDP camps, either western types or local, studding the many kilometers wayside. Each zone was confined loosely by ‘kambi weta’ . Never did we see any touted ‘razor wire’ fences. Anybody could have crept through them with ease, but that would have been a walk into the unfriendly desolate open stretches.
There were no queues at any spot visible to us, nor toilet queues. Order was apparent within, and that was more evident later when we came in to conduct the subsequent [mobile artificial limb] camps at Chettikulam.
We did note with some sympathy the soldiers standing single sentinel along the stretching hot road away from his mates and families! And we did not experience any harm to us at all in spite of fears of the unknown, except a couple of flat tyres to the bus on one occasion during the [several] months of our work.
Dr. Hemantha Herath and Dr. Thushara Ranasinghe of the Colombo Disaster Management Team were essential for our work, and later on as things stabilized Dr. Safras, who was left in charge of all IDP villages.
The silver lining from the destructive tsunami of 2004 was that our doctors of the Disaster Management Team had loads of experience from it and as such were masters at tackling the influx of the 288,000 IDPs, [was a great help].
We were aware and grateful that very many foreign countries had pledged help well before the final phases of the war so money, material and medical help were forthcoming at all stages.
Since then, within the last year, I and my friends have travelled to Jaffna on two occasions, lived with the people, and found nothing but friendship. Those we engaged in conversation seem to have not faced the problems that far off countries are all too readily concocting.
I have kept in touch with the doctors overlooking the IDP welfare centres, noting that every month the numbers of IDPs kept decreasing, being told that the last 25,000 to 30,000 IDPs may not wish to leave, the living conditions being a bonanza — food, health, TV, cinema children’s schooling compared what they were used to.
Together with all active participants, we take pride in our help, given in the hour of utmost need, to our brethren, Sri Lankans all.
Dr. J.K.S.Weerasekera, FRCS
Orthopaedic Surgeon and Coordinator, IDP Limb fitting camps Colombo FINS, Former Senior Orthopaedic Surgeon National Hospital of Sri Lanka
Breakdown of data available of amputees served at Mannar Hospital.
8th july to 23rd July.
Mannar hospital had received the heaviest load of injured patients, having over thousand beds and space for temporary camps.
Number of patients examined; 146
Number of patients fitted with limbs 139
Shell injuries 77
Land mine injuries 19
Aerial attack injuries 07
Injured from Jan 1st 2009 till end of war 68
Injured from March 1st 2009 to end 34
Injured from April 1st 2009 to end 18.
The number of recent injuries in the IDP villages were much less though we missed recording dates there and at Vavunia hospital due to an extremely limited time frame. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
* Michael Roberts: “Feet across the Land, One and All: The Vitality of the Colombo Friend-in-Need Society,” http://thuppahis.com/2010/05/27/%E2%80%9Cfeet-across-the-land-one-and-all%E2%80%9D-the-vitality-of-the-colombo-friend-in-need-society/
* Michael Roberts: “The Jaipur Foot in Sri Lanka: renewable Energy, Little People, Many Miracles,” http://thuppahis.com/2010/06/29/the-jaipur-foot-in-lanka-renewable-energy-little-people-many-miracles/