Samanala Valley Foundation
The Samanala Valley Foundation is a charitable trust consisting of a charity eye care hospital, a sustainable tea estate and an English language school.
We are a privately registered Charitable Trust and NOT an NGO – with a special designation granted by the Sri Lankan government.
The Trust Author does everything anonymously because he believes that what is done is what matters. Not who does it.
The hospital specialises in cataract surgery at no cost to the patients, with all staff working entirely for free on a voluntary basis. The ethos behind the project is that of ‘helping hands from across-the-sea’.
The Samanala Valley Foundation also has a non-profit English language school based in the capital city of Colombo with over 10,000 students graduating so far.
It all began in 1995 when an expatriate of European/Sri Lankan background and his British wife returned to the island of his birth after 38 years in the UK and established a charity called the Samanala Valley Foundation. The word ‘Samanala’ means butterfly and was found to be a fitting description for the beautiful fauna and flora of the area.
Having grown tired of endless debates in the West fuelled by “armchair sympathy” and theories on ‘how to make the world a better place’, the donor challenged his family and friends to do some real work where it matters. They took up the challenge enthusiastically and the donor bought a derelict tea estate, initially, which was developed into a self-sustaining project providing employment for people in the area.
For the first three months he had to pay his workers each month while sitting on the bonnet of a friend’s 4x4 vehicle. It took him four years with the help of a Sri Lankan planter friend to reclaim the land from the jungle and get the estate back to producing the famous Ceylon Tea. It is now self-sustainable with all profits put back into its upkeep and maintaining better conditions for working people there.
In this spirit, the project grew and a hospital was provided for their care which grew to provide the present impressively equipped unit that it is today.
Over the years the medical project has welcomed highly distinguished medical practitioners and their teams from all over the globe. With the help of doctors from various medical disciplines we have provided medical care for the local people of the area. In recent years the facility has leaned towards specialising in cataract and ophthalmic surgery.
Approximately 90% of people with visual impairments live in low income settings, with 51% of all cases of blindness caused by cataracts, amounting to over 20 million people worldwide. (WHO, 2010)
Though Sri Lanka has free socialised healthcare where the nation provides doctors and hospital services free, patients have had to bear the cost and thus the burden of paying for ancillary and replacement medical necessities such as Intraocular Lenses (IOLs) and disposable surgical equipment used in surgical operations. This comes to costs that many just cannot afford, putting themselves sometimes in penury because charges are so high for this equipment. We provide all this free of charge for Sri Lankans living in areas where services for comprehensive eye care are lacking.
During screening clinics it became clear that the exposure of the population to higher levels of equatorial UV radiation at the higher land elevations where they work, in addition to the high incidence of both diabetes and alcoholism, has created a much higher incidence rate of cataracts.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that over 90% of people with cataracts are unable to work, and that their life expectancy is reduced by one third when compared to those of a matched peer group in age and health.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Some of the world’s finest Eye Surgeons both from Sri Lanka and all over the world come with their requisite teams to provide cataract and minor eye surgery and the necessary follow up care, free of charge.
All specialist medical work is done voluntarily by qualified staff and administrative helpers, a part of which is made up from the donor’s extended family. The hospital boasts some of the best medical equipment in the country, some purchased by the foundation and some donated through acts of kindness on the part of various individuals around the world - inspired by what we do.
The ethos behind the project is to provide for those in need, and equally provide a place where people can participate and have the opportunity to extend their technical and social experience through an act of personal donation, the accent here is on the ‘personal’. The project has always been open to those with the required experience and goodwill to join us in changing the lives of the underprivileged.
The challenge of curing preventable blindness in countries like Sri Lanka is an ongoing one. It must be stressed that Sri Lankan medical services are very good and their doctors outstanding. However, they do have a shortage of medical practitioners and lack modern equipment in the outlying areas. Cataract surgery is life changing for each and every one of our patients. We are appealing to any Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeons who might be mindful of these problems in developing countries and would like to offer their time and expertise for whatever period of time they can spare, to join us in trying to make a difference. We are not asking for money, we are asking for your goodwill through personal skills and expertise in this field if you can spare the time.
WHERE WE ARE
The hospital is located in the central hills of the island in one of the most economically deprived regions of the country.
Income here is generated from primary commodity exports like Tea and Rubber. These industries have been in steady decline due to aggressive competition from other developing regions in the world and the increase in input costs.
The area is still relatively unspoiled and pristine with some of the most beautifult forests, rivers and waterfalls in the island.