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Empowering people with disabilities in Sri Lanka

People with disabilities are some of the most vulnerable people in Sri Lanka. Without support, disabilities can become a huge barrier to accessing appropriate education, employment and full participation in community life. Because of this, people with disabilities are up to five times more likely to live below the poverty line.

Some people never get the support they need to truly thrive.

That was nearly the story for Raj, a Tamil man who grew up on Sri Lanka’s West Coast. From an early age, his parents knew he was different because he couldn’t speak as well as other children and his teachers said he couldn’t understand their lessons and instructions.

His parents became worried and confused. Without adequate schooling, how could Raj get a job? Who would look after him when they were old?

Not long before he was due to start high school, Raj was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Local disability organisation Deaf Link became aware of the family and offered Raj a place in a disability-inclusive class in their school nearby.

Deaf Link is a partner of Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) NGO UnitingWorld, providing access to education for children with disabilities and occupational training to adults with disabilities.

Purpose-made for children like Raj, the class provided a place for him to feel included and valued while he learnt the skills he would need to succeed throughout his life.

He remembers it fondly. “It was good, better. I got to do sport and dance! I got to talk more,” said Raj.

Once he graduated, Deaf Link helped Raj find work. They know that education can only take you so far if you do not have connections that can lead to opportunities.

After being approached by Deaf Link, a mechanic agreed to take Raj on as an apprentice and for the past two years has been teaching him the tools of the trade. Raj now proudly demonstrates his welding prowess, chats with regular customers and jokes with his supervisor throughout the working week.

“We know what a difference we can make when we work together to support these families, and how much potential people with disabilities have,” said Rev Gnanarajah, who founded Deaf Link after his own son was born deaf.

Rev Gnanarajah can confirm Raj still loves to dance at every opportunity.

This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and impacted the lives of 1,370 people with disabilities in Sri Lanka in FY 2020-21.

Thank you ANCP and our supporters for making this life-changing work possible!