Historically persons afflicted by leprosy in Sri Lanka often spent several years in isolation in leprosy asylums, ostracised by friends and family. Many were released from internment when medically declared as being non-infectious. Unlike other diseases, leprosy, unfortunately, left severe scars and disabilities which were irreversible.
Society for the Upliftment and Rehabilitation of Lepers (SUROL) was founded in 1971 – set up by Fr. Realino Chiriatti and nurtured and brought to what it is today by the late Rev. Fr. Glen Fernando, who passed away on 4th July 2007. This year marks the 10th year since his untimely death. SUROL’s purpose is mainly to rehabilitate those affected by Leprosy, help their return to communities and rebuild their lives with dignity and self-respect. The founding members adopted a non-religious, non-sectarian and non-partisan strategy for the Society which was a strong attraction to membership.
Public education to remove the stigma attached to leprosy was one arm of SUROL’s two-way plan, the other being the important task of rehabilitation of leprosy sufferers. SUROL’s work was aimed at taking practical steps towards reducing the number of sufferers and by developing a working relationship with other relief organizations
SUROL became a Government Approved Charity in 1973 (Gazette # 55 of 11/04/1973). Since then, SUROL gained friends and influenced people both at home and abroad and was one of the smallest groups in the country run by a Board of Management consisting of 15 persons and now continues under the Patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, Rt. Rev. Dr. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, whose appointee is the Hony. General Secretary, Rev. Fr. Neil Dias Karunaratne. C.Ss.R.
SUROL established and progressively expanded its field staff and volunteers in the Central, Eastern, Northern, North Western, North Central and Uva provinces. Regular visits were made to Negombo, Wattala, Hendala in the North, of Colombo, South to Kalutara, Wadduwa, Panadura, Moratuwa. These visits provided opportunities not only to get firsthand experience but also most importantly to let the neighborhood know that Leprosy was not infectious and at the same time to promote acceptance of these patients as normal people into society.
In May 1983, at a meeting at the Central Leprosy Clinic at the General Hospital, the importance of education, treatment and rehabilitation, for effective eradication of leprosy in Sri Lanka were discussed. The collaboration between the Sri Lanka Emmaus Leprosy Control Project and the rehabilitation of leprosy patients spearheaded by SUROL resulted in the Project Director offering three motor cycles to the society for its rehabilitation work. This gesture displayed a sign of confidence of the Project Director in SUROL’s rehabilitation work.
SUROL was never able to enjoy a permanent home since its inception. During its early years , UROL operated out of the Jesuit House in Clifford Place in Colombo 4, where the first General Secretary of the organization was located. Subsequently SUROL office was moved to two other locations in Colombo 8, in the vicinity of the General Hospital. Following the unfortunate events of July 1983, the office was moved to the residence of the then President of SUROL in Colombo 5. Subsequently, the Parish Priest of St. Theresa’s Church Fr Glen Fernando, who was invited to become a member of SUROL offered a small room in the parish hall where an office was established.
Although this Organization has been in existence for over 45 years, Surol received a somewhat permanent home at its present premises when Fr. Glen Fernando took over as the Hony General Secretary of Surol. Under the guidance and direction of the late Rev. Fr. Glen Fernando, a Redemptorist Priest, some exemplary and admirable work for the upliftment and rehabilitation of these patients was undertaken, so much so that he knew every patient by name and is even now being treated like a God with his photograph displayed in their homes
To consolidate, strengthen and expand its work SUROL received a brand new Jeep, and funds to lease the premises in which SUROL is located at present. It was our fervent hope that our work in some measure alleviated the sufferings of our beneficiaries and brought joy, hope, dignity and self-respect to them.
Names of some early Associates of SUROL (1971-1985)
- Rev. Sr. Woulston FMM, Rev. Sr. Hazel Pereira FMM, Patrick Perera (Former Jesuit Priest),
- Joe William, Ms. Maureen Pieris, Ms. Karel Roberts, Frank Seevaratnam, Sriyan de Silva,
- Sam de Silva, Mervyn Pieris, Chris Edwards, Jim Silva, Lakshman Fernando,
- Camillus Mendis, Dr. P. J. De Fonseka, Ms. Lourdes William, Earnest Perera,
- Lal de Silva Thanapathy, P.V.C.Watson, R.Emmanuel, Dilip Vazirani , Moses Joseph,
- Rev. Sr. Agnes Outters FMM, Rev. Sr. Maria Cruz FMM, Rev. Sr. Mercedes FMM
- Rev. Sr. Lourdes Joseph FMM, Rex Fernando, Rev. Bro. Patrick Perera CSsR & Rev. Fr. Glen Fernando CSsR
What we do
Surol is the only organisation in Sri Lanka functioning over the last 45 years,s committed to bringing some ray of hope and happiness to the DISABLED people affected by leprosy. Leprosy is not contagious and if detected early, is curable.
Our focus is to bring about RELIEF Island wide. Although set up by priests of the Catholic Church, the two questions which never arise are: What is your race and What is your religion, as SUROL’s mission is to serve mankind; thus taking, anyone and everyone who is disabled because of this disease, under its wing.
Beneficiaries – Earlier our beneficiaries received a minimum of Rs.1,250 or more, depending on the amount received from the sponsor, but if the amount was less than this minimum amount, the gap was bridged from the donations received.
Fr. Neil following his visits to the Leprosy Affected Persons (LAP’s) recommended that the allowance be increased to Rs.2,000 per month per family with effect from 1st April 2012. This was accepted by the Board and letters were sent out to the benefactors appealing for an increase for the beneficiaries as well as for the cost of running the oorganisation Requests by patients this year for an increase to Rs 5,000 per month, because of the high cost of living is now the main priority for Surol and every effort is being made to achieve this goal
Consequently, beneficiaries were persuaded to open Saving Accounts at the nearest banks to receive their monthly allowances. This has a twofold benefit – receipt of funds in a timely manner and more importantly, they get the opportunity to integrate with other bank clients and people around.
We have 94 Benefactors supporting 271 patients on our list The Order of St Lazarus of Great Britain supports 50 and Clarendon Foundation 25. Also we have 12 Benefactors supporting 66 children in their educational needs – among the benefactors are St Konrads 28 and Clarendon Foundation 25.
There are 5 Field Volunteers, operating from Jaffna, Batticaloa, Chenkalady, Polonnaruwa and Mahiyangana. In addition, we have two Field Officers operating from the Office. The cost of sponsoring a Leprosy Affected Person (LAP) per month is Rs.2,500 while that of a child is Rs.2,000. The plan is now to increase the monthly sponsorship to Rs. 5,000 & 3,000 respectively.
Our Field Staff and Sisters have visited these families to look into their welfare and have spent time to listen, talk to them and console them to ease their feelings of rejection or ostracization.
We have observed that the existence of Leprosy is known only by those who are involved in some way with the disease, by way of treatment, or by those engaged in supporting them. Those affected either have no knowledge of the symptoms nor how best to identify leprosy. Now with the availability of drugs to cure leprosy at all Government Hospitals, there is no reason why anyone should suffer the after effects.
While Surol’s focus is on Upliftment & Rehabilitation of Leprosy Affected Persons (LAP’s), awareness of the disease, symptoms, methods of identification and where to go for treatment is conveyed through the various means
We have very successfully implemented the program of distributing hampers during the Festive Seasons since 1988 with the support of generous individuals, both local and foreign, and now it has become a most looked forward to program in our Calendar.
The response to our appeals have been overwhelming and over the past ten years we have been able to distribute a second hamper during the Sinhala/Tamil New Year too with the spillover funds collected during the Christmas Season.
Hamper packs of clothing and grocery items costing Rs.7,500 each, which included Cash Rs.1,500, were distributed twice during the festive season of Christmas and Sinhala/Tamil New Year to 282 families in 2015. The Hampers were fully funded by our benefactors, to whom we owe a deep debt of gratitude for supporting us over the years. Areas covered included Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Chilaw, Anuradhapura, Mannar, Jaffna, Melsiripura, Polonnaruwa, Batticaloa, Ampara, Colombo, Moratuwa, Piliyandala, Hendala, Kalutara, Kandy, Gampola, Mahiyangana, Monaragala, Bandarawela, Badulla and Ratnapura.
Clothing and nutritional items were also given to 39 patients at the Hendala Hospital.
Additionally, A Sri Lankan, now domiciled in Sydney, provided funds for Uniforms, School Bags, stationery items including DSI vouchers for the purchase of shoes to 63 children being supported by Surol, during the Christmas Hamper distribution.
We will be failing in our duty if no mention is made of our Special Group of Donors who have been able to give us Rs.3.6 million and have continuously responded positively and generously to our appeal each year. We look forward to the generosity of more people joining this special project of Surol to share the festive atmosphere by reaching out to the families of Leprosy Affected Persons. We are very grateful and pray for all those who help these poor unfortunate Leprosy Affected Persons (LAP’s) under our care.
What we do to meet their needs
Our beneficiaries are, in general, the downtrodden and very complacent, and more often comfortable with the begging bowl. In order to get them out of this frame of mind and assure them that there is hope for a better life, Surol would like to conduct workshops in close proximity to their location, to educate them of different self-help projects suited to their areas, in which they can engage themselves to make a living wage and be able to fend for themselves. We seek the expertise and guidance on initiating such Self-Help projects among these families.
Housing, both new and renovations to existing structures;
Toilets – renovation or new constructions;
Water Supply from the main line, wells or tube wells;
Power Supply – from the main supply lines, wiring & obtaining connections;
Provision of- Wheel Chairs, Crutches, Spectacles, lenses, footwear, surgical socks, artificial limbs, and financial support for Eye operations, scans, special drugs with Doctor’s prescriptions, food supplements, funeral Expenses on the death of patients.