The Colombo Friend-In-Need Society

‘A friend in need is a friend indeed,” is an age old adage which has rung true throughout the ages and none more emphatically than the Society which bears its name, The Colombo Friend-in-Need Society (CFINS), which has provided prosthetics for over 34 years to scores of destitute folk who are in dire Need of prosthetics due to various reasons such as trap gun injuries, war injuries, diabetes, cancer, birth defects or accidents.

As I was walking into the compound, the older couple who walked in beside me spoke to an official and I watched the ‘uncle’ trying on a new limb. “Meka issara ekata wada godak hodai,” (This is much better than the last one) said he with glee as he walked along the corridor with his new limb intact. Upon further inquiry, Wimalaratne, a farmer from Balangoda said that his leg had to be amputated due to an accident which occurred 10 years ago. Subsequently, he was gifted a limb by the CFINS which was a source of great help as he continued with his work. His wife works as a tea plucker and since they earn a minimum wage, finding the resources to visit the CFINS headquarters to obtain the new limb had taken awhile but the journey proved fruitful as the desired limb was a blessing.

Over a century of yeomen service

Supem de Silva, President of CFINS who himself is a volunteer, explained the magnanimous service rendered to the marginalized citizens of our country who have the added burden of sourcing limbs when they meet with unfortunate circumstances in life. Established by Governor Edward Barnes in 1831, CFINS was birthed out of sheer necessity to assist people in need. Over the years, the service provided has changed based on the needs of the society. For example, CFINS helped set up the first hospital in Jaffna in 1850, which was called the Friend in Need Hospital, and during the world war, the centre operated as a transit hospital for allied forces. In 1986, the focus changed to set up the manufacture of limbs as the soldiers who had suffered the loss of limbs were given a new lease on life through the charitable organization; Jaipur Foot Programme. In the ensuing years, the extent of support expanded to reach all citizens of the country who are unable to afford a limb as life does not end despite the lack of certain parts of the body.

While all the board members are volunteers, there are many medical professionals among them as well ensuring that the beneficiaries have access to a comprehensive care package in addition to the gift of the limb.

What CFINS offers to society?

Throughout the years, society has seen a multitude of changes and CFINS too has contributed immensely towards the upliftment of the marginalized – empowering those who are part of their fold as part of their mandate to inspire and motivate, in numerous ways, through the sports meet held annually for 30 years, mobile workshops and health screening camps, self-employment/job opportunities, learning opportunities and educational grants.

Speaking of one of the amputees who has been an inspiration to others, Supem said, “This gentleman had to undergo an amputation during his tenure in the armed forces. We knew him from the time he was fighting in the frontlines and it shook us to the core when we learnt of his predicament but when we visited him in hospital, his mental strength was astounding as he ended up comforting us. He was determined to learn a new means of being a productive citizen and requested us for a second-hand computer. Subsequently, he learned the fundamentals of IT and pursued it as a career. He achieved his goal, when he was promoted as the Head of the IT Department in the Service and he now takes time off to speak with amputees to encourage them by sharing his story and mentors and provides the psychological support required. He is a source of inspiration and accompanies us during our campaigns in various villagers and cities in the island,” added he.

We have also gone a step ahead by providing artificial limbs for animals who have undergone severe amputation due to road accidents, booby traps or landmines. At present we are designing a limb for an elephant in the Ampara area who lost a hind leg due to a trap gun. Initially, we have to alter his gait which has been severely affected due to his disability but we have hope that the artificial limb will prove to be a success in the ensuing years. While speaking, I viewed images of sambhurs, dogs, deer, bulls and other animals who have benefitted from the limbs by CFINS.

Transit Hostel for Amputees

There is a 30 bed male and female ward/hostel managed within the centre in Colombo providing all meals and accommodation free of charge for persons who come from outstation areas. They are able to stay for up to two (02) weeks to obtain a new limb. The Stump preparation, Physiotherapy, Psychological rehabilitation, Posture and Gait training is required to enable a person to use the new limb properly. A Warden, male and female attendant and a cook-cum-manager work on 24/7 basis to provide all facilities to amputees.

Reaching a wider network of people through Mobile Workshops

“Some of the challenges our beneficiaries face are; abject poverty which leads to the inability to obtain money to make the trip to our Centre in Colombo. Normally, the children who are gifted with limbs have to obtain a new limb every 6 months but many parents are unable to forego a day of work in order to bring the children for a fitting. Inadequate resources which leave them incapable for fending for themselves, which again makes it impossible to visit the Centre in Colombo to obtain their limbs. Hence the mobile workshops which commenced in 2008 have proved to be a resounding success as we reach a wider network of people from the rural areas who are faced with hurdles as mentioned above.” The mobile service also provides the NCD (Non Communicable Disease) screening by way of Diabetes, Hypertension, BMI, Vision and Hearing testing, and provide the reading spectacles required.

Apart from many of the additional services offered to those in need, CFINS provides Physiotherapy to the amputees who initially need to come to terms with their new way of life. “This is crucial to their journey,” said Jithmi, the in-house Graduate Physiotherapist who showed me the newly refurbished Physiotherapy room. “We received some funds and equipment from magnanimous donors and this is of immense value to each person who needs to undergo the physiotherapy which pivotal for the rehabilitation progress.

Extending support and love

I was further amazed to see the staff, who were mainly volunteers and in most cases, amputees themselves (this fact was revealed to me by the staff) who went about their chores with a briskness which masked the loss of limbs as the limbs made their daily tasks relatively easy. As I was given the tour of the premises which houses the workshops, hostel- facility, physiotherapy wards and more, I came across something far greater – compassion, humanity, empathy, selflessness and above all love. Discovering it in the heart of the city filled me with warmth as the fact that there are individuals and organizations who would step out of their comfort zone to extend a helping hand to the needy is truly wondrous, proving that love does make the world go around!

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