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 in 2008. Its purpose is mainly to rehabilitate former inmates of the asylums and 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, by developing a good working relationship with Anti-Leprosy Campaign. 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 neighbourhood 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, eradication, 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 motorcycles 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, SUROL 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 who was invited to become a member of SUROL offered a small room in the parish hall where an office was established. 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 selfrespect to them.