‘No thanks, we have our own problems here, why would I give my money to those abroad?’

I have been confronted with this response quite often when fundraising for the S-H-A-R-E foundation. S-H-A-R-E became established as a UK charity in July 2002, aiming to provide healthcare for the elderly, those terminally ill and those living in poverty in Sri Lanka. Founded by Celine Samarasinhe, a Sri Lankan-born UK resident who, after many years of working for the NHS, decided to embark on a charity project designed to aid those in need in her home country.

This year, I decided to travel to Sri Lanka to take a first-hand look into the workings of the charity and to observe for myself why one should consider donating to a foundation which does work abroad. I spent my time visiting the various projects S-H-A-R-E runs, all in different areas of Sri Lanka.

My trip began with a six-hour bus journey from Colombo to the North Central Province of Anuradhapura. Here, I visited the Renal Dialysis Unit, located within the state Anuradhapura Hospital. The unit was set up to deal with the huge problem of chronic kidney disease that is rampant throughout the province. One in ten people out of a total population of 1.4 million in this province suffer from the disease, which if not treated, commonly results in death. To highlight the extent of the problem, the director of the hospital, Mr W. Atapattu, told me of one case, in a local school nearby, where 55 children had lost both their parents to the disease. It is a crisis he told me, which he did not see slowing down.

In a bid to get to grips with the crisis, the S-H-A-R-E foundation provides patients with the cost of transport, medication and items necessary for the dialysis process. Additionally, the charity also funds cases of kidney transplant surgery for patients who cannot afford it. So far in 2014, ten successful kidney transplant surgeries have been funded by S-H-A-R-E.

The work I witnessed was one of utmost importance as those patients in need were not only in very poor health but also living in horrific conditions of poverty. In Sri Lanka, whilst state funded hospitals exist, they lack even the most basic of necessities, resulting in patients having to pay even for essential medicines, which are extremely expensive. If poor, one finds themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of financial insecurity and dire health.

A two-hour bus journey away, my trip continued with a visit to the SHARE-funded Community Health Care Service in Alagollewa. Alagollewa is a rural area made up of impoverished villages, where people live in isolation. Indeed, the nearest medical facilities are located 11 kilometres away- most are too poor or too ill to reach the hospital. The Health Centre, set up in December 2008, was therefore established to provide medical assistance to the elderly and poor in these neglected villages.

Consisting of four nurses and one physiotherapist, the team at the Health Centre go out into the field on a daily basis, visiting individual patients in their houses. This particular project deals with a total of 445 patients from ten villages in close proximity, all with various problems.

The first patient we visited was a very elderly woman in her 80s who severely struggled to walk. She lived alone and did not have nearby access to water, which meant that even the basic consideration of keeping clean was a challenge. The nurses were tasked with picking her up in a minivan and taking her to the nearest lake to bathe her. In addition to this, the same woman had high blood pressure, which the nurses would continuously check up on.

Another patient the health care team attended to required physiotherapy treatment to help with basic walking, after the patient had suffered a stroke. Moreover, any patients that are required to go to the hospital are driven there by the Health Care Team.

It must be understood, that without this team, there is no system of basic care provided for such vulnerable individuals. This service is vital.

The following day I visited the S-H-A-R-E project in Kotahena, where there too, a Health Care Service has been created to provide aid to those living in the slums of Colombo. One cannot explain the complete devastation that engulfs the area. The horrific stench of litter, urine and sickness encompassed everything. Inside many people’s homes individuals existed that needed urgent medical attention. They had been completely abandoned by the state.

The experience was strikingly  intense. It felt as though I was locked in a dark room with the walls crashing down on me. Crushing any hope or optimism that could exist in life. It is here that the services of the Health Care Centre are needed more than ever. Visiting the patients in the slums and offering medical assistance provides a glimmer of light and hope for the community.

The most vivid image of that day, which highlights the absolute desperation and devastation, was of a 23-year-old boy who had been in a car accident five years prior. He had not only lost one leg but had been left paralysed due to a severe spinal chord injury. As a result, he could not even sit up on the bed without assistance.

The only care this boy received was from his brother who looked after him on a daily basis and from the S-H-A-R-E medical staff that would visit to clean his bedsores and to routinely check up on his health. Without their help this boy would lack even the basic medical attention he so desperately needed.

Therefore, when a person challenges me as to why I would donate money to those abroad, I would say: humanity. For whilst we must always look after the most vulnerable in our own country, we cannot merely turn our backs on those suffering in absolute poverty.

Where possible we should try to help. In this regard, the S-H-A-R-E foundation is performing critical and invaluable work. It is hugely commendable.

For more information visit: http://s-h-a-r-e.org 

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