Street art was a major trend seen all around our island in the recent past. Every corner of sidewalk walls and bridges started covering with graffiti done by the youth of Sri Lanka. Each and everyone contributed in any way to make the country beautiful. It was a very nice thing to witness, young people getting together day and night volunteering to paint. This was appreciated by all.
Meanwhile Ms. Bandini Jayasena (Audiologist, Department of Disability Studies, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya) reached out to our president Rtr. Duleesha for a similar task. Rtr. Duleesha gave me the opportunity of chairing the project thus we named it Break the Barriers. Although I mentioned before that this was like the street art happening around Sri Lanka as I thought so was for a completely different purpose. Our task was to do a mural on the walls of the audiology wing of the Ayati center, Ragama.
Ayati (meaning ‘Hope’ in Sanskrit) is Sri Lanka’s first national center for children with disabilities. The Ayati Trust is a charitable trust incorporated between the University of Kelaniya, Hemas Holdings and MAS Holdings. The board of trustees also include former Dean of Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya Prof. Nilanthi De Silva; former Sri Lankan cricketer and captain of the Sri Lankan National team Kumar Sangakkara; former Sri Lanka Cricket Captain and ICC Elite Panel Match referee Roshan Mahanama; co-founder and Managing Director of MAS Holdings Ajay Amalean; Group Director of Hemas Holdings PLC Abbas Esufally.
The Center has been designed by renowned architect Channa Daswatte and is spread across a two-acre land in Ragama with a 42.000 sq.ft floor area that includes an Audiology Wing, an Assessment and Learning Center, a Supported Employment Center, a Multi- Disciplinary Training Wing, an Occupation Therapy & Physiotherapy Wing and a Speech and Language Training Wing.
Although the Ayati Center was functioning for the past couple of years the audiology wing was yet under construction and the hospital was incomplete. We got the great opportunity of making the walls of the Audiology Wing colorful and to make the smiles of the special children brighter and beautiful.
The project Break the Barriers initiated by a visit to the site. We were warmly welcomed by Ms. Bandini (soon became Bandini Akki) and a tour of the center was given. The Audiology Wing had three walls where they wanted us to do a mural on, under the theme ocean or under the sea. My first target was to find a rotaractor who is willing to play the role of the main artist and who gets the idea I have in mind. Then only I came across Rtr. Nimsara Fernando whom I have known through our club. Nimsara was more than willing to take part in the project and help us out in completing these walls. Hence, we started the painting on 19th December.
Day 01 – Let’s get started
The first day kicked off by a participation of 25 rotaractors of SLIIT. We were provided with the necessary paint, brushes and buckets by the Ayati team. Not only those they also made sure our tummies were always full because we were provided with snacks, tea and lunch.
Two medical students of University of Kelaniya came to give us a hand with the paintings and they were more than happy to bring us dinner since we spent the day working on the painting till 10.00 pm.
The walls of the audiology wing were more than 20 ft tall. Since we cannot reach that high, we designed our paintings to stop by 8 ft. Day one concluded with completing only one wall and we all were satisfied with the outcome.
Day 02 – The messier the merrier
Started on the second wall after two weeks. Everything went smoothly till one person kicked a can of paint and made a big mess on the shiny new tiles of the Ayati center. Since I made a promise to Bandini akki to do the work neatly I was horrified and the only thing I could tell was “කෑවා කෑවා” which became by tagline and everytime someone mess up everyone started screaming “කෑවා කෑවා”.
By the end of second week we were able to finish all the big details of the wall. Leaving a few small sea creatures and the chest box protected by a big pink octopus which looked a bit sleep deprived.
Day 03 – Bling!! Add more bling!!
The 3rd day was short since we only had a few details to finish in the second wall. The star of the day was the treasure box. Where we (especially me) wanted to make the coins look shinier. Most of the time was allocated to that and I guess we succeeded.
Day 03 concluded with two finished walls and a good praise by the Ayati team.
Day 04 – Pizza party
The third wall was the biggest wall we had to do a painting on and the most important one because it was inside the lobby area of the audiology wing. It was difficult for us to paint there since other construction work of the center was also going on in the same place. However, we were able to cooperate with those workers and start on the painting.
The opening of the Ayati center was scheduled to be on the 25th of January. The 4th day of our project was the 21st. So, you can say that we were running on a tight schedule to complete the walls. Bandini akki was nice enough to find us two more volunteers who have experiences with the street arts. They were very talented and friendly and blended with us quickly.
We were working till late night so to take a break and to have a little fun we threw ourselves a pizza party. A major part of the third wall was completed by the end of day 04. The last few days were hectic because we were running out of time to complete the project and due to lack of participation from the club. Even though we kept on informing the members that this is not the typical wall painting no one had an idea on what they are about to miss out.
Day 05 – Final touches
Ayati was like home for me during the last few days. The site of the play area was part of my daily routine. Even the security guards knew us that they greeted us warmly asking how much more work we have. Day 05 with only three more days till the opening we finally completed our painting work and only left with cleaning the mess we made. Leaving that to the next day we were able to finish the paint job by 10.00 pm. Yes, we almost had a sleepover at the Ayati center.
Day 06 – Truth or Dare
Our final volunteer day: finished our work on a high note by helping the workers to clean the audiology wing. After our work was done, we had our last lunch at the canteen in our special spot and played the classic game of truth or dare by collecting more memories to Break the Barriers.
We thanked and bid farewell to everyone who helped us. As appreciation to the hard work we put into making the walls colorful they invited us to the grand opening which was held on 25th of January.
Day 07 – The Grand Opening
By honors of the president His Excellency Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Ayati center was officially declared open on 25th of January. Around 200 distinguished guests attended the event. Seeing these adorable special souls brought tears to my eyes. They are with great potential and we should be grateful to Ayati staff for doing what they do and giving hope to these children for a bright future.
Professor Nilanthi De Silva thanked all the volunteers who spent time on the wall paintings in her vote of thanks and not going to lie we all were self-satisfied for that compliment. After the ceremony the chief guest president Rajapaksa was given a tour around the center while all the other guests were enjoying refreshments.
As I mentioned earlier the legendary Kumar Sangakkara is a member of the board of trustees and we were very excited to catch a glimpse of him. We were fortunate enough to talk to both Roshan Mahanama and Kumar Sangakkara. They appreciated the work we put into making this center colorful.
This experience is something I will never forget in my life. Not only did I learn to work with different personalities I learned to be grateful for my life and the people around me. I wish the Ayati theme for great success and thank them for a wonderful service done to our country.
Written by :
Coordinator – PD 19/20