The priority ministry of the Perpetaul help sisters is the ministry to the hearing impaired.
St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf Ragama 1935- 2014. “The seed that fell on the fertile ground yielded a hundred fold … ”This is the story of the school for the Deaf and blind at Ragama that saw its dawn in May 1935. It was Rev. Fr. Majorel O.M.I. who was instrumental to venture on this project. He approached the missionary Belgian sisters who were ministering to the tuberculosis patients at the Ragama chest hospital, to get some sisters to begin this school.
The next Principal Sr.Blanda who had a large heart for the deaf and the blind, stands out as a as a stalwart of this school. The School was run by the generous donations received from benefactors here and abroad.
In 1947 the school was registered as an approved charitable institute, under the Department of Social services and became eligible for a grant for the food of the hostel children. For 30 years the services at the school went on smoothly and the standard of education kept improving. By that time by the witness given by the way of life and loving services of the Belgian sisters to the handicapped children young local girls had already joined the congregation by now. At the school “the harvest was great but the labourers were few.” However the Belgian sisters had trained and prepared the local sisters to carry on the mission that was entrusted to them.
The event that took place in 1965 was heart breaking. Due to a government policy , all Religious nursing sisters had to leave from the government hospitals. It became very difficult to renew the visas of missionary sisters. As a result the Belgian sisters had to give up their services to tuberculosis Patients at Ragama Hospital and the sisters at the Deaf school also left the island. It was not an end….
But a beginning of a another era. The deaf and the blind find relief, the sick comfort. Local sisters were gradually graduating in taking responsibility and going into the vineyard.
Today the School for the hearing impaired cares for 200 children of any denomination.
Vision – to fully integrate the hearing impaired child in to the society
Mission – We commit ourselves to struggle together with the hearing impaired children to give them an all-round education , enabling them to empower themselves and grow into fully fledged citizens.
Deafness is a complex problem and the earlier it is diagnosed and treated the better it is for the child’s total development. Therefore early intervention programs and preschool classes are held as the children can acquire basic perceptual skills and language skills during the first few years of life.
In view of this, the first preschool was started in 1982 June and early intervention programs for the hearing impaired babies aged one year and above, in 1982.
The educational programs at the school were gradually developed following school syllabus. Now they sit for G.C.E O/L examinations and G.C.E. A/L examinations.
An Audiology clinic was started in 1980. The science lab, the library, home science and sewing sections are assets for the children to develop their skills.
In the field of dance and drama the performance of our students is on par with their hearing peers . Many students excel in the field of sport too.
In the year 2000 a language development program was launched to develop the language skills of the deaf. Consequently A computer literacy program from grade three onwards was initiated. The teachers were trained for this purpose.
Training of the sisters and teachers abroad and at the Teacher training College (Special education) has been going on from early 1960’s.
Today there are 31 staff members including six sisters. Two teachers are hearing impaired, and they are past students of St Joseph’s school for the hearing impaired. The successes and achievements of the students are due to the dedicated hard – working staff who spare no pains to give of their best to our students and school.
Our purpose is to give them a holistic education that would enable them to develop to the fullest, their God given abilities. Our final aim is that they may become productive citizens contributing to the growth and development of the country.
St. Joseph’s center for hearing impaired was started in 2002 in the Kurunegala diocese with the view of serving the hearing impaired children. At present there are 26 children from ages 5-16. The majority of children are Buddhist and only a few children, are Catholic. There are five teachers in the school.
The aim of the school is to integrate children to the society at large. Some of the children have been integrated into normal schools and follow the school curriculum.
The children who are not integrated to the school study at the center for the hearing impaired and they are also being prepared to sit for the O/L examination. This involves a lot of hard work. Along with academic education the children learn art, handicraft, music, dance and drama, computer etc. They are given speech and auditory training. Sign language is not encouraged much but they ae helped in speech – oral method. Hearing is tested regularly and children are encouraged to use hearing aids in both ears since it helps in their education and communication.
Meetings are organized for parents to build awareness and help communication with the children. Main religious festivals like Vesak, Poson and Christmas as celebrated since we have children from both denominations.
Rev. Sr. Blanda who was the then Principal at St. Joseph’s School for the hearing impaired inaugurated the past pupils association. She felt it was necessary the school leavers should come together for support and strength. That time the deaf were a marginalized group. They would not have been able to launch into the future on their own; hence the birth of the Past pupils association. Sr. Blanda was the first patroness of the association. She lent a helping hand to school leavers to find jobs, to help in their problems and religious instructions.
Her successors were Srs. Antoinette , Charmaine and Angela. The sudden demise of Sr. Angela in a road accident was a great shock to every one. She is much remembered with love, appreciation and gratitude.
The work was continued by Sr. Clarice and at present Sr. Jacnitha and Sr. Damayanthi take care of their needs.
Today special attention is given to their spiritual and material up-liftment. The annual get to-gether at Ragama school is a joyful occasion for all the members. The bonds of friendship are strengthened. There is much enthusiasm and excitement at the Annual General meetings, over the election of office bearers and committee members. The aim is to integrate them into the hearing society, enable them to empower themselves and blossom into full personhood.
The association helps to find jobs for the youth , prepare them for marriages, organize retreats, Religion classes, intervene in marriage problems and help the deaf who are poor. As a result of a long journey under the guidance of the Perpetual Help sisters the past pupils association stepped into new ventures.
Sr. Angela who was the patroness at the time had a vision for the past pupils; it is to find permanent and lasting self employment possibilities for the hearing impaired. Her untiring efforts in this area resulted in stable and longstanding training programs like tailoring for the deaf youth , animal husbandry and agricultural farming.
In 1994 The first tailoring centre was opened for the boys and girls in a rented building at Grandpass. Girls were enrolled in 1995.
In 1997 a land was bought in Weralugama in view of animal husbandry as a training place for the past pupils.
This is a center for agriculture and animal husbandry. It was also inaugurated in view of training in self employment for their future. Side by side training in animal husbandry, a “finishing school ” is run for the girls – sewing and hand work. After this they receive a certificate at the end of the course. Many programs are organized for the mothers , youth, family and religion right through the year.
An exhibition is held yearly to display their abilities. This year 2014 the past students celebrated their 6oth anniversary at St. Joseph’s School for the deaf, Ragama.
In 2002 a new building was ceremonially opened in Moratuwa. Sr. Angela’s untiring service was rewarded. The sewing center which was started in 1994 in Wattala, having its ups and downs, was shifted to a permanent place in Moratuwa where a land was donated for this purpose. Foreign and local donations came to its aid and today there stands a beautiful building named “Sew smart” which is a tailoring and a training center for the deaf school leavers. Some are being employed as trainers.
The saddest part of the story is between laying of the foundation stone for a permanent building and the ceremonial opening of it on 2nd of Oct. 2002, which was on Sr. Angela’s birthday, Sr. Angela passed away unexpectedly. It was a great blow for the Congregation and for the Deaf children who were so much a part of her life.
St. Joseph “Sew smart Centre” today continues with the guidance of the sisters.
Past Pupils are employed as trainers. Today the past pupils association oversees the running of these programs along with the sisters. They try to maintain that unity, brotherhood welfare of the members which was there at its inception. A Perpetual help sister is always there as their guide leading them to live up to its vision and mission. The group meets regularly to see their progress.
Deafness has many related branches. The association of the parents of the deaf children, under the guidance of Sr. Charmaine, worked its way into several of them: such as education, social welfare, sports, aesthetics, culture, training of teachers, educating parents on the subject of deafness and creating public awareness.
To work towards the improvement of the education and the social well-being of the hearing impaired children and youth aiming at the maximum integration with the normal individuals in society in Sri Lanka to make them useful citizens.
The association organizes capability development programs for the deaf school children at national level such as sports-meets, drama, art and essay competitions.
Liaise with the ministries and department of education and social welfare in upgrading the educational and social standards of the hearing impaired. The youth are being helped to find employment in the private sector or given financial assistance for self- employment.
Get -togethers are organized for youth of marriageable age to choose partners.
Awareness programs and sign language classes are conducted for parents of the hearing impaired at district level.
It stages public demonstrations, performances, rallies, etc. on the International day of the deaf to impress upon the general public the talents and capabilities of deaf children.