WFSAD representatives Radha Shankar and Diane Froggatt attended the Council of Mental Health Conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in April, 2002.
This meeting was the first major conference in Sri Lanka on community based psychiatry and generated tremendous public, professional and media support. The conference was organized by Nalaka Mendis, Director, and his team from Sahanaya, a major mental health agency in Colombo. Thus, the timing of our visit to introduce ourselves to the local family group was very opportune. Dr. Nalaka Mendis took us to the Sahanaya premises. These are typical tropical buildings with open windows and drop-down blinds. Many of the rooms overlook the Colombo Golf Club. Patient crafts were on display. We were given an official welcome with betel leaves and the lighting of the ceremonial lamp before conducting the first workshop for the family group. This entailed beginning and developing a stand-alone family self-help organization. To the present, the family support group has been under the wing of Sahanaya. We learned that Mr. Sunil Galagadera, a father and leader in the group had drafted, and had approved by the Sahanaya authorities, a constitution for the family self-help group.
Later, during the conference, we gave another afternoon of workshops and were pleased to meet some of the consumers and their families. Most of the families have relatives who attend Sahanaya rehabilitation in this clubhouse-like setting, though there were several families at the workshop whose relatives were not associated. Following the sessions, we left materials with Dr. Fernando and with Mr. Galagadera. WFSAD learned later that members of Sahanaya had translated into Singhalese the booklet “Rays of Hope” by the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, which we had given them.
Radha Shankar and Dr. Nalaka Mendis in the grounds of Sahanaya.