VACD AUSTRALIA CHAIRMAN’S ANNUAL 2019/20 REPORT TO THE VACD AUSTRALIA BOARD
“The proper aim of giving is to put the recipients in a state where they no longer need our gifts”
– C S Lewis –
Our Goal is to enrich the lives of children with congenital infirmities & disabilities and assist them and their families in some of the poorest provinces of Sri Lanka, where there is an acute shortage of proper infrastructure and support facilities available to them, beginning with the Uva province.
We aim to achieve our goals by teaching them skills and surrounding them with facilities and infrastructure that will help them lead productive, independent, and fulfilling lives and eventually achieve their future ambitions, goals, and dreams.
How do we achieve our mission? To accomplish our mission, we establish VACD Centres in key townships, engage with local communities, religious groups, local businesses, the provincial government, and local medical authorities. Goals are reached through our leadership teams, parents, and families of our children and our newly established Young VACD Members Club who are the present and future advocates and leaders of our mission in Sri Lanka. Through engagement, awareness programs, workshops, community advocacy, and community dialogue we strive to eliminate poverty, ignorance, superstition, discrimination, social isolation, vilification, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and incest etc. We encourage parents, family members and surrounding communities to care, love, respect, assist, promulgate, and advocate the rights of children with congenital infirmities & disabilities and to promote and uphold these values within their local neighborhoods.
To help these children achieve their dreams and aspirations, we provide them with special education, life skills, vocational skills as well as music, dance, art, sports, and computer literacy training. We also provide their parents with education, vocational training, and guidance to persevere with the challenges and hardships they encounter when caring for their children. We sponsor and equip health clinics at local hospitals, conduct health camps to facilitate regular check-ups and provide therapy and rehabilitation services that will enable these children to be healthy, productive, valued, and respected members within their own households, local communities and broader society.
VACD was established in 2011 in the township of Bandarawela with just 11 children with congenital infirmities & disabilities who attended a government school’s ‘special needs unit’ that required proper facilities, a trained specialist teacher, structured programs and a focus on early intervention and suitable rehabilitation.
We rented a premises in 2014 which soon became our first centre in Bandarawela now known as ‘Sir Robert Clark Centre for Children with Disabilities’ where children receive daily training in basic numeracy, literacy, life skills, sports and music and art instruction etc. and a nutritious meal.
A timeline of notable events & achievements in VACD’s history:
- 2011 – VACD established in Bandarawela, Sri Lanka on 27th December 2011.
- 2012 – Collaborative partnership between VACD Australia and Lak Saviya Foundation of Australia established under a MOU. Fortnightly Health Clinics commence at the Paediatric Clinic in the Base hospital Diyatalawa. Ms. Gabriella Vascotto from Autism School Victoria visits Sri Lanka and conducts Skills Enhancement Workshops for teachers and provides advice and guidance to parents .
- 2013 – MOU between VACD Australia and VACD Sri Lanka signed. Code of Conduct for staff and volunteers adopted. Database of all members, registered children and families compiled.
- 2014 – The first VACD centre established in the township of Bandarawela. A Health Clinic equipped and established by VACD at the Paediatric Clinic in the Bandarawela District Hospital. Parents’ committees formed at VACD Sri Lanka and Educational Assistance Program (EAP) for children with academic potential launched.
- 2015 – Microfinance Program for parents initiated in collaboration with the Regional Development Bank, Bandarawela.
- 2015 – VACD Australia incorporated as a Not-for-Profit Limited Liability Public benevolent institution in Australia, registered with the Australian Charities and Not- for-Profits Commission (ACNC) and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).
- 2015 – Income Tax exemption and GST concessions granted by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to VACD Australia effective 15th April 2015 and Deductible Gift Recipient status awarded by the ATO to VACD Australia effective 1st December 2015
- 2017 – 22nd March 2017 – VACD USA and VACD Australia signed a MOU in Sydney to jointly focus on our mission. The signatories were Mr. James Gruver – Founder Director & Chief USA Representative of VACD USA and the undersigned with Mr. James Meighan – Treasurer VACD Australia and Mrs. Yasmin Stephen – Administration & Communication Secretary VACD Australia being witnesses. VACD USA established on 16th May 2017. VACD Australia receives ‘Tick of approval’ from Australian Charities & Not-for- Profits Commission.
- 2017 – First Wheelchair Camp held in collaboration with Cerebral Palsy Lanka Foundation in Bandarawela. The first ever commemoration in the Uva province of the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities was celebrated with a public procession across the Bandarawela Township to generate public awareness of the plight of children with disabilities and their families on 3rd Dec 2017.
- 2018 – Young VACD Members’ Club formed. Family Assistance Program launched. The second UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities commemoration in the Uva province was celebrated with a public procession across the Bandarawela Township to generate public awareness organised by the Young VACD Members’ Club. VACD Sri Lanka board reconstituted.
- 2019 – ‘Dora Jeanne Centre for Children with Disabilities’ was established in Badulla. Nutrition Program launched to provide nutritious meals for undernourished children. Mr Sisira Ratnayake (Attorney-at-Law, Former Sri Lanka High Court Judge) appointed new Patron of VACD. The VACD Bandarawela centre officially named “ ‘Sir Robert Clark Centre for Children with Disabilities” . VACD USA received 501 ( c ) 3 donor tax deductibility status on 21st June 2019
- 2020 – Second Wheelchair Camp held in collaboration with MJF Charitable Foundation/Cerebral Palsy Lanka Foundation. Health Clinics conducted in both centres by Paediatric Consultants from Welimada, Diyatalawa, Badulla and Bandarawela Hospitals. VACD USA Board reconstituted.
The broader VACD Structure & Teams and our people:
Volunteers to Assist Children with Disabilities (VACD) are based in Australia, Sri Lanka, and the USA with a mutual incentive to facilitate and enrich children with congenital infirmities & disabilities and their families in Sri Lanka.
However, the three missions operate as autonomous, legally constituted and separate benevolent bodies that are independently administered by their respective boards, registered with their respective national/local oversight authorities and report, operate and function under the legal framework and statutory guidelines/jurisdiction of the domiciled state/country.
Our Australian, Sri Lankan and USA teams consists of a total 127 colleagues, of whom 119 are volunteers and only 8 are salaried staff. The number of teaching staff will increase by another eight later this year to cope with increasing needs. We presently have 330+ children registered with us across the Uva province in Sri Lanka and expect the number of children in our fold to grow significantly as we broaden our outreach across the Uva Province.
While the Australian board members remain the same, both the Sri Lankan and US teams have been reconstituted as given below:
VACD USA Board Members
- Mr. Rasika Padmaperuma – President & Director
- Mrs. Ishani Padmaperuma – Secretary & Director
- Mr. Dilshad Ahmed – Treasurer & Director
- Mr. Frank Fendler – Director
- Mrs. Ellie Fendler – Director
- Mrs. Nelum Walpola – Director
- Mrs. Shanti Willy – Director
- Mr. Mikhail Sookoor – Director
VACD USA Advisory Board Members
- Mr. Daniel Farley
- Prof. Benjamin Friedman
- Mr. Dula Amarasinghe
- Mr. Desmond MacIntyre
- Mr. Giles Gunesekera – Secretary VACD Australia & Director
- Mrs. Yasmin Stephen – Administration & Communications Secretary VACD Australia
- Mr. Felix Stephen – Chairman VACD Australia
Advisor to VACD USA Board
- Mr. Robert Price
VACD Sri Lanka Board Members
- Mr. Sisira Ratnayake – Patron VACD Sri Lanka
- Mr. Sunil Fernando – Chairman
- Rtd. Colonel R.M. Kumarasinghe – Secretary
- Mr. R.M. Abeysinghe Bandara – Treasurer
- Mrs. Prabha Karunarathne – Deputy Chairman
- Mr. A.S. De Alwis – Deputy Chairman
- Mr. Sujeeva Abeynayaka – Assistant Secretary
- Mr. Thushara Serasinghe – Assistant Treasurer
- Mrs. Nandawathie Ranaweera – Director
- Mr. Athula Ratnayake – Director
- Mr. R.M. Dayarathna – Director
- Mr. Padmasiri Weraniyagoda – Director
- Deshamanya Mr. N.G.R.D. Kumarawansa – Director
- Dr. M.J. Thilakarathne – Director
- Mr. D M Ranathunge
- Mr. Felix Stephen
- Mrs. Yasmin Stephen
In order to encourage, cultivate leadership skills, be advocates of our mission and play an active role in our mission, four parents committees were established at VACD Sri Lanka with board oversight. These Parents’ Committees provide dependable insights and administrative and organisational support to the executive team in relation to the following areas:
- Health & Nutrition
- Education & Training
- Sports & Culture
- Finance & Budgeting
The recently founded ‘Young VACD Members’ Club’ consisting of siblings and friends of VACD children have played a vital role in the organisation and smooth running of major events such as the Wheelchair Camp. We believe that they will be the best advocates and future leaders of our mission.
Medical clinics held by consultant paediatricians in local hospitals for VACD’s children started in 2012 continue to be held once every fortnight, giving the children the opportunity to be examined and receive expert medical advice on a rotation basis.
This program has now evolved to one where consultant paediatricians visit the centres to examine the children there and advise their parents, to alleviate the burden of travel cost and inconvenience to the parents.
The Educational Assistance Program (EAP) that was initiated in 2014 with a view to financially supporting a child with disabilities showing academic promise or a promising sibling to ensure they persevere with schooling and ultimately support their family. VACD’s Education & Training Committee together with the leadership team examine and apply strict criteria for eligibility and progress being made by these children on a regular basis. We expect these the number of children receiving educational support will increase once we establish the Welimada centre.
The Family Assistance Program (FAP) was initiated in 2019 in response to several pleas for financial support by families struggling to make ends meet. Applications for this allowance were vetted and a prioritised short list of applicants made. While we are grateful to have received a few sponsors, we are in need of many more to meet the demand for aid.
Following a visit to the centre by a government Health Inspector who observed that the meals brought by the children from home were nutritionally poor, arrangements were made to provide nutritious meals to the children at the centre in 2019. We seek more donors for this worthy program.
In February 2020 VACD’s second Wheelchair Camp was held in collaboration with Dr Gopi Kitnasamy from MJF Charitable Foundation/ Cerebral Palsy Lanka Foundation This was very well attended, with services provided by Dr Kitnasamy’ s team of physiotherapists, feeding and nutrition experts, and 11 children with disabilities who were assessed and gifted with paediatric wheelchairs. Dental and optical services were also provided to VACD families at this event.
The 2019/2020 financial year started on a strong financial footing, with a healthy monthly surplus of donations over expenses over the past year.
As per the recommendations by ACNC for small charities, we managed to ensure the sustainability of our services and maintain our centres for the next 3 years based on financial reserves and regular committed donations/inflows. This was possible due to our highly effective policy of volunteerism, donations from a global network of friends, family and colleagues and consciously controlling and managing unwarranted expenditure.
Due to our strong culture of minimising expenditure, administrative expenditure has been maintained at 1% of total expenditure, with direct expenditure (Educational Assistance Program, Family Assistance Program, teachers’ salaries etc) being 89% and indirect expenses (rent and utilities for two centres etc) being 10% of total expenditure.
2018/19 & 2019/20 Sponsorships & Donations
As per the above data, A$ donations were approximately 4k lower during the 2019/20 period relative to 2018/19 while A$ EAP & FAP sponsorships were up by around 5.3k. Donations and sponsorships in Sri Lanka rupees have remained relatively steady over the two financial year periods.
How funds were deployed in FY 2019/20 :
- Educational Assistance Program (EAP) and Family Assistance Program
- Providing life skills training, computer literacy training, music and dance training, training in craft work, providing opportunities for physical, social interaction and medical and health attention to our VACD registered children.
- Funding travel and accommodation expenses for children needing attention in specialist hospitals outside the local areas, and for hearing and optical aids etc.
- Facilitating instruction in crafts and leadership skills to parents of VACD children.
- Providing employment at both VACD centres for two teachers, two caretakers, office administrator, music and dance instructor, craft instructor.
- Providing nutritious meals to children who attend the centres.
- Providing suitable premises to house the centres for daily activities of the children.
- Hosting and organising the Wheelchair Camp, Procession to mark the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities and cultural, religious, and social events for the VACD children and their families
Our future Plans & Programs
…to establish a third centre
VACD’s two centres are located in Bandarawela and Badulla, which are both in the Badulla district where official data shows there are 2,142 children with disabilities between the ages of 5 and 20. Currently we are able to serve approximately 50 to 60 children in total in both of these centres.
In an effort to reach more vulnerable and needy children with disabilities, our Badulla’s ‘Dora Jeanne Centre for children with Disabilities’ that is currently functioning at capacity will be relocated to larger premises early next year which would coincide with our establishing a third centre in the town of Welimada (Badulla district).
We should continue to keep our global fundraising campaign alive and seek medium to long-term sponsorship of approximately A$ 10,000 per annum to establish and maintain the proposed Welimada centre. Department of social services data show that there are 505 children with disabilities between the ages of 5 and 20 in the Welimada/Uva Paranagama region. However, we suspect that this number could be almost double.
We anticipate our VACD USA colleagues providing us with generous support in the future now that they are consolidating, structuring, and placing the mission on a solid foundation.
…to address the teacher/student ratio
According to the number of children who attend the centres daily, it became clear to us that each centre would require an addition of two assistant teachers, plus a specialist teacher and two assistant teachers at the proposed Welimada centre. Arrangements are being made to recruit suitable applicants for these posts, who will be given all expenses paid hands-on training at the MJF Charitable Foundation and the Ayati Centre in Colombo. The MJF Charitable Foundation and Ayati Foundation will continue to monitor the progress of these trainees and provide them with regular coaching and skills development.
…to train families in small scale agriculture, poultry keeping and animal husbandry
Plans are under way to train the children and their parents in growing food for their own consumption in their home gardens and also in centre premises, in a sustainable and organic manner, and in animal husbandry, poultry and bee keeping. Parents can make this an avenue for household income generation once they specialise in these ventures.
…early childhood/supported playgroup program
We intend introducing early childhood & supported playgroup programs in all our centres to pre-schoolers and parents. Dr. Gopi from MJF Charitable Foundation and our very own Ms. Gabriella Vascotto are strong advocates of this program. We will ensure that our specialist teachers are well trained in this aspect and that sufficient parental, community and medical specialist support is generated to make this program a success.
…Training for parents, children and Young VACD members
The pandemic and local political instability prevented us from conducting special training in leadership & management, hospitality, and ticketing, excel spreadsheet and computer skills, income generating opportunities and conducting frequent workshops and health and rehabilitation camps during the last financial year. Parents and children will receive vocational and skills training at the Foundation of Goodness (FoG) , our collaborative partners in Bandarawela. A member of the VACD Sri Lanka board will be appointed to liaise with FoG while another board member will be responsible to implement training and organise seminars and workshops for our children and parents.
We plan to work closely with all our collaborative partners in Sri Lanka so that we can together reach our individual and collective goals for our respective institutions and beneficiaries.
In retrospect & Thank you
In retrospect, our broader VACD family should be delighted by the progress we have made over these past years, although the journey at times has been stressful and challenging, we have sustained our focus, upheld our values and principles and stayed the course with humility and confidence because we are committed to serve these children and their families for whom we are their only hope.
I consider myself highly privileged and fortunate to have the back of all of you and the confidence that I can always count on your exceptional counselling and guidance at all times. The support you have given me over the years has given me and Yasmin the strength, conviction, wisdom, and confidence to keep persevering. We must do what we do for our children and their families even better over the coming years so that we can continue our outreach and together make a difference in the lives of each and every child and their families we pledge to serve.
Many thanks, best wishes and warmest regards…Felix
Chairman of the Board of Directors,
Volunteers to Assist Children with Disabilities Limited. Australia,
& Member of the Advisory Boards of VACD USA & VACD Sri Lanka
6th August 2020