In late 2018 I met Roshan Samarawickrema at Flinders University via my daughter Maya who is a senior staff officer there. Roshan had arrived to further studies in Disability Teaching. Via the vagaries of the covid endemic both of us found ourselves in good old Lanka in the second quarter of the year. A visit to my home beat of Galle Fort in July-August enabled me to explore and ‘experience’ the work of ECSAT at its HQ in the old “Serasinghe Walauwwa” building at Wackwella [albeit in covid circumstances whereby school attendance was drastically low]. My readings via picture and tale will follow. I begin here with Roshan’s introduction to ECSAT with due emphasis on the initial impetus provided by Catherine Liyanage (nee Mole become Macleod). …. Michael Roberts
Equality-based Community Support and Training (ECSAT)
Equality-based Community Support and Training (ECSAT) is a registered NGO based in Galle, on the south coast of Sri Lanka set up initially to support victims of the 2004 tsunami. It was set up by Catherine Liyanage (now Catherine McLeod) who was awarded an MBE in 2011 [in recognition of her social service work]. ECSAT’s mission has broadened to seek an inclusive society, especially for children and young people with disabilities, through the provision of education, vocational training, therapy services and outreach. There is no Government or public funding for these services in Sri Lanka and little support for families.
ECSAT’s work is based on the principle of inclusion, and all projects are designed to ensure that disabled and non-disabled can live, study and work together in society. ECSAT believes in the rights based approach (RBA) to disability and is against institutionalisation and exclusion or discrimination of any kind. We have discovered that these people have no proper access to their rights and most of them have had their rights violated since they were born. The lack of awareness and the negative attitudes towards disability has created an environment that compounds the difficulties these families face.
Over the years we have supported over 5,000 beneficiaries. Currently we have 27 staff (2 men and 25 women) supporting 417 beneficiaries with disabilities ranging from Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism to hearing and speech and language impairment. We have two Community Centres at Galle and Matara and a satellite Centre at Hikkaduwa. Our education services are Preschool (10 children), School Preparation for children who have never been to school (42 children), One-to-one support (51 children) and After School classes for children who are underachieving (72 children). Referrals are made to local government schools.
Our vocational unit is for young adults aged 14-30 who receive training in life and social skills, gardening, cookery, handicrafts and basic business skills (83 young adults).
Our therapy services include physiotherapy (89) and speech and language therapy (42). We support 28 children with severe disabilities through our Outreach service.
Vocational Training for Institutionalised Women with intellectual impairment in a local residential home. ECSAT visits two days a week for two hours providing social and life skill training and handicraft training to produce items which are sold locally to provide a small income. In addition the residents receive basic literacy skills and community visits.
In 2018, we launched an Educational Framework and Teacher Training Programme which is in great demand from local schools. This supports underachievers from single parent families with a low income. We work with three schools and have trained 62 teachers to date.
ECSAT is now an influential trainer of other organisations in supporting people with disabilities as part of mainstream activities and has delivered training sessions to organisations such as UNDP, Caritas, Sarvodaya, SEED, and a large number of individuals.
ECSAT`s staff have worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the rights of people with disabilities. Also we have been helping them to understand their rights and empower people with disabilities and their family members to advocate for those rights. In local Galle communities, ECSAT has a strong relationship with local government service providers and community based organisations. We network with disability organisations locally and nationally to share experience and advocate for better support for children with disabilities.
To make it possible to achieve all these objectives ECSAT has been implementing different projects with the support of different local and foreign donors. Although we work closely with the Government in Sri Lanka, there is no state funding for the type of work we do. ECSAT is funded entirely through grants, donations and fundraising activities. Our work has been supported by a range of partners UK, Europe, Australia and America. We have a support group in the UK called Friends of ECSAT. Our projects are delivered effectively and managed by a capable field team in Galle and Matara. All of our partners receive regular updates on delivery progress and fully audited annual accounts.
We have hosted international volunteers from Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), Volunteer Sri Lanka (VSL), Travelteer and Australia Volunteer Programme.
Our Board of eight directors oversees our work. Directors’ interests and specialist knowledge include management, accounting, organisational development, psychosocial as well as disability.
History of ECSAT
2005-2007: Initially, ECSAT focused on providing vocational training and marketing opportunities for people who had lost their livelihood. This included training women to make high quality handicrafts to supply Odels, a top department store in Colombo, and woodworking and metalworking skills for men. We ran Peace Building programmes to resolve hostilities between local people and resettled tsunami victims. Staff ran a Kids Club for children orphaned by the tsunami at the resettled village of Katupolwatta and their non-affected neighbours. We trained community members in the running of the club.
2008-2009: ECSAT launched their Outreach programme to provide education and sensory skills to children who are housebound with severe disabilities. Also we started teaching handicraft skills and life skills to women with intellectual impairment in a local residential home. In 2009, we brought the local community and people with disabilities together for the first time by organising a Shramadanna campaign for World Environment Day. Local businesses supported the day and joined in the litter clean-up and tree planting at the beauty spot of Rumasalla Peace Pagoda. ECSAT launched a new range of handicrafts at Dwellings department store in Colombo which was visited by the Swiss ambassador who placed a commission for serviettes featuring the Swiss flag.
2010: ECSAT completed a two year project sponsored by Deaf Child WorldWide to Build Inclusive Communities through Communication and Advocacy. Staff completed a 12 week training programme in Sinhala sign language and the Project Coordinator went on to complete a Diploma in Sign Language. Our ‘Wheels of Fortune’ event in Colombo, which challenged able bodied people to complete tasks in wheelchairs, raised £4,500 (1 million LKR) and was supported by the British High Commissioner Dr. Peter Hayers. He then paid a visit to our Galle Community Centre.
2011-2012: ECSAT handed over the running of Katupowatta Kids Club to the local community after working and training there daily since 2005. Our handicrafts were launched online through Ebay selling from stock in Sri Lanka and an outlet in the UK. In 2012,we were part of the Fringe Programme of the Galle Literary Festival and ran workshops, a dancing programme and a handicraft bazaar. We started Speech and Language therapy for 12 beneficiaries.
2013 ECSAT was registered with the National Council for Persons with Disabilities. Registration No. MSS/NSPD/R/178. The Australian High Commissioner, Robyn Mudie, and Foreign Minister- Mr. Bob Car visited Galle Centre and decided to continue funding support for our Educational Project. Sri Lanka hosted the Commonwealth and Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and delegates and journalists visited Galle Community Centre. Project REACH sponsored our new satellite Community Centre at Hikkaduwa which opened three days a week.
2014-2015: ECSAT held their first big fundraising event supported by the five star Jetwing Lighthouse hotel in Galle. Beneficiaries put on a dance and drama programme for an audience of over 300 people, raising over 1,000,000 LKR. This money enabled us to open a physiotherapy unit for 42 beneficiaries in 2015. We raised another 1,000,000 LKR with a dance and drama programme in Colombo supported by Colombo Rotary Club. We were very proud to make a role model transfer of a wheelchair user from beneficiary to part-time employer as an administrative and handicraft assistant.
2016: In response to requests from parents, we opened a preschool four mornings a week at Galle. Our beneficiaries put on a fashion show at Jetwing Hotel to an audience of over 300 people and became the first fashion models in Sri Lanka who had disabilities. Feminist Review Trust sponsored a year project called ‘Disabled Women Unlock Doors’ promoting life, social skills and handicraft skills to the women in the residential home. They visited local shops to buy materials, sold their items to visitors and went on an overnight stay to visit Kataragama Temple. In July, in response to requests from parents and local government officers, we opened a Community Centre at Matara on the southern coast thanks to funding from the Australia High Commission. ECSAT’s Programme Director went to America in August having been awarded a four month Fellowship with the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) at the World Institute on Disability in California.
2017: ECSAT showcased the abilities of the beneficiaries by staging an Arts & Crafts Exhibition at Galle International Cricket Pavilion. It was visited by over 1,000 local people. To celebrate out 12th birthday, we held a Medical Camp taking blood donations from the community and holding clinics for advice and conduct Pap tests A new Speech and Language therapist joined our team. A new project, funded by Hilden Trust, was launched to ‘De-institutionalise Women and Girls with Disabilities.’ LemonAid and ChariTea funded a vocational skills project to ‘Transform Livelihoods and Lives through Income Generation, Training and Support – for families affected by disability.’ The skills offered were gardening, cookery, handicraft and basic business training.
2018: Two of our female staff are disabled. One is a wheelchair user and one has hearing impairment. We supported them to attend a week residential training programme in Colombo with the Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD). As a follow up to the programme, they carry out training sessions for women with disabilities in the Galle and Matara area. On October 7th, the beneficiaries staged a Dance Event at Weligama Hotel Matara and raised Three Million LKR funds for a Therapy Unit at Matara, which opened on December 20th.
2019: A project called ‘Teach Me’ was started at Matara to reduce the waiting list of the education classes. This was funded by Souter Charitable Trust. After the Easter bombing tragedy in Colombo, ECSAT closed its services for two weeks while it reviewed its security procedures. In October the programme Director was awarded an MA scholarship in the field of Disability Studies at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia. This is a two year course and, while he continued to support ECSAT by Skype and email, the day to day running of ECSAT continued under the leadership of Lakshika De Silva who was promoted to Operations Officer.
2020 The vocational unit hosted twelve representatives from Lemonaid & ChariTea who visited the project they are funding. In March, ECSAT closed the Community Centres due to the curfew during the coronavirus pandemic. Staff continued to support beneficiaries and their families by phone and gave them therapy exercises and education and vocational skills homework. Due to the pandemic, the Programme Director returned to Sri Lanka and will resume his scholarship in January 20
- Purchase land and building
- Research suitable land and premises and any permissions necessary for construction
1 = ECSAT requires land between 80 perch (0.5 acre) and 1 acre which is a maximum of 6 km from the main town of Galle and close to the main road with easy access to bus routes. The staff and most parents do not own a vehicle and need easy transport to the premises. The land requires a house with a minimum of five rooms to enable staff to continue with their activities while an architect designed premises is constructed on the site. Alternatively, land without a house can be purchased but it would be a financial advantage to stop paying rent at our existing premises as soon as possible.
- = Finalize legal requirements for purchase
- = Appoint architect to prepare plans, estimates and specifications to meet ECSAT’s requirements and draw up time scale for building works
- Complete construction on site
- Equip education classrooms for children aged 3-16
- Provide play park
- Equip handicraft room and kitchen for vocational training
- Equip therapy room with specialized apparatus
- Equip rooms for respite care and crèche
- Equip dormitories for volunteer hostel.
- Equip animal shelter
- Design and equip marketing outlets for handicraft, garden and bakery products
- Education support
ECSAT provides a pre-school four mornings a week for children aged 3-5 from 9-12 noon, school preparation classes for children aged 5-12 who have never been to school, four mornings a week, from 9-12 noon, one-to-one support for autistic and hyperactive children once or twice a week for one or two hour sessions and after school classes for underachievers at school five afternoons a week from 2-4.30pm.
Staff carry out initial assessments to prepare the Individual Education Plans and syllabus. Referrals are made to government schools.
- Vocational Training
ECSAT provides vocational training from 9am to 4pm five days a week- in handicrafts, gardening, cooking and business skills. Also there are opportunities for a residential training programme to develop independence skills and a training in bakery products.
Staff carry out basic skill assessments to prepare Individual Vocational Training Plans.
ECSAT provides regular weekly physiotherapy and speech and language therapy support. We also provide an Outreach service for people with severe disabilities who cannot come to the centre or are unable to access appropriate transport. This service trains other family members to support the person with the disability. ECSAT assesses the most appropriate type of therapeutic support required, including outreach support.
ECSAT aims to research local hotels and international tour companies and start partnerships with agencies to expand market opportunities and raise funds.
- Respite Care
Community research to identify suitable families with housebound people with disabilities.
Community research for mothers of babies who wish to return to work.
- Volunteer Hostel
To strengthen our existing partnerships and find new ones with organizations for hosting international volunteers. ECSAT will create opportunities for national and international people of all ages to share their enthusiasm and knowledge in a different cultural context.
Madushani and Samra
This is a young man named Naslak who is 37 years old and afflicted with cerebral palsy that renders him non-verbal …. what impressed me was his cheerful demeanour and industry in the occupational therapy-work he was engaged in …. a happy chappie
Any Person wishing to donate monies for ECSAT’s charitable work can deposit their grant in this account
 Where I was hosted by Ranjit and Minna Goonewrdena whose daughter Piyum now works as teacher’s aide at ECSAT — a happy coincidence deepened by Ranjit’s Aloysian background.
 The importance of Catherine’s initiative after the tsunami cannot be overestimated. I only wish I could meet her … and maybe hug her in thanks. All of us should embrace her.