Helping Sri Lankans see eye to eye | Sunday Observer

Helping Sri Lankans see eye to eye

12 February, 2023
Dr. Velautham Sarveswaran with the beneficiaries
Dr. Velautham Sarveswaran with the beneficiaries

Each human being comes into this world for a very brief sojourn. Some spend much energy and effort debating whether there is heaven or hell after death. Some others spend their time here making either hell or heaven – on earth.

Dr. Velautham Sarveswaran, a dual citizen of Sri Lanka and the UK, an engineer by profession and a self-made businessman, has seen much of this man-made hell from the early 1980s to 2009 in Sri Lanka. His sister and immediate family members lost their lives in this backdrop.

Attuned to the concept of humanity, he is adamant to do his share to transform earth positively in whatever way he can. For the purpose, he has chosen multiple paths through diverse charities, where he works with international organisations to raise funds for humanitarian efforts ranging from sanitation, education and health.

His first step in this direction was as a 20-year old engineering student at Peradeniya University, when he motivated fellow students and began a campaign to start a school for plantation Tamils of the country living in the North. This was for children of families affected by the 1977 ethnic riots that moved to the North and were struggling with the caste based prejudices seen in Jaffna at the time. Today, the school, Sivapada Kalaiyagam, has 500 students and a 95 percent high performance rate at the grade five scholarship examination.

Vision 2020

People who benefit from eye surgeries

Alongside water, sanitation and education based focus, promoting eye care of the under-privileged has been one of his core goals for over a decade. He was instrumental in supporting the Government’s eye-care policy in the national health project themed vision 2020 (the national program to prevent blindness) which was initiated in 2010 and functioned till 2016.

For the past 10 years, he has worked with national hospitals across the country assisting over 20 to 30 eye specialists, to serve around 10,000 people across Sri Lanka, enabling them to get eye surgeries done using funds raised in the UK and around the globe. The beneficiaries have been provided with intraocular lens (artificial replacement for the lens of an eye) and medicines they require. In some areas, private buses are hired to enable rural persons to travel to the city for the eye camps.

National hospitals have been supported with surgical appliances and other related provisions such as nutritional meals. The charity assisted eye camps in different parts of the country take place almost daily and some of the government hospitals which have carried them out include those in Colombo, Chilaw, Kantale, Anuradhapura, Gampaha, Trincomalee and Jaffna. In the North, patients from Mannar, Mullaithivu, Vavuniya and Padaviya are transported by buses to Jaffna Teaching Hospital.

The latest such eye camps this year were in Gampaha on January 26, benefitting around 40 persons, in Colombo and Jaffna February 7th and 8th, benefitting around 30 and 50 persons with the Jaffna camp being meant for Vavuniya beneficiaries who were transported in a hired bus as part of the assistance provided.

Sight related wellbeing

The related assistance is provided by the organisation Assist Resettlement and Renaissance in UK and coordinated in Sri Lanka by Dr. Sarveswaran, who is the founder of the charity. The eye camps aim at supporting the sight related wellbeing of all Sri Lankans, working with teaching hospitals, district general hospitals and base hospitals to make surgery and free intraocular lens accessible to patients suffering from cataract. The people who are helped are those who are unable to afford it if they had to pay for it. Many of the patients across the country are farmers, fishermen and labourers.

The latest eye care donations are funded by Team Solihull (Solihull School Community in the UK headed by the school headmaster Mark Penney and the Alaka Foundation in Malaysia, according to Dr. Sarveswaran. Team Solihull’s funding enabled treatments for over 2,200 patients last year, conducted in 10 locations including Anuradapura, Ampara, Colombo, Welikada prison and Jaffna. Some 1,950 persons are expected to be assisted across 10 districts by March end this year.

The islandwide eye camps are led by eye surgeons such as Dr. M. Malarawan, Dr. Jayasiri Dias, Dr.Waruna Wijayawardena, Dr. Bhagya Weerasinghe, Dr. M. D. S. Gunathilaka, Dr Kasun Gunawardana, Dr Mangala Dissanayake, and Dr.Manel Pasquel.

In a nation polarised by ethnic identities, Dr. Sarveswaran, an old boy of Hartley College, Jaffna, attempts to make at least a marginal contribution to create a Sri Lanka where all citizens care for each other and look out for the safety, security and wellbeing of each other, as he witnessed at his school as a child and youth.

“I believe as do those who fund these activities from abroad that Sri Lankans should be given a chance for a better life and for national unity to be pursued. I feel I am just doing a basic human duty of helping another person to restore a vital function for human productivity using the financial assistance of many kind hearted people across the world, who help me to help others. I do not expect to gain anything through it.

The stories I hear from some persons are heartening enough which motivates me to continue my work. A driver who took treatment at the national hospital on February 8 said that he can now return to his job and another old lady could not talk English and I could not talk Sinhala but she just held my hands as a tribute,” Dr. Sarveswaran said.


He said that his current endeavour started over a decade ago when his son was schooling at the Solihull school in the UK and inspired by the steps taken by the headmaster, Mark Penny to collect funds for carrying out eye care projects in Africa.

“Shortly after meeting him, I began a similar venture for Sri Lanka through my charity-based institution and since then Mark works with us through his project to raise funds through the school community to assist eye care in Sri Lanka. He has been twice to Sri Lanka to see some projects.

Dr. Sarveswaran travels mainly by bus and save money to be spent on fuel for eye surgery related treatment.

A nurse, Kanchana Ekanayake (41) of the Gampaha hospital eye ward where an eye care camp was held on January 26, said, “I have first-hand experience in the difficulties faced by the patients who cannot afford the intraocular lenses needed for the surgery. In private places, the surgery, lenses and the after-care costs exceed Rs 100,000. These are people who are mostly dependent on daily labour and their sight is a major asset to them.”