From Silence to Supported – the journey of a hearing-impaired entrepreneur

A chance encounter with a stranger during a doctor’s appointment when he was three years old changed the course of Isuru Lakhshan Weerasooriya’s life for the better. Isuru was diagnosed with a hearing impairment after his mother, Pathma Kumari, noticed anomalies in his behaviour. Isuru was spotted by a staff member of Women’s Development Centre (WDC) who knew he needed a different kind of support, which WDC could provide.

WDC empowers women, children, youth, persons with disabilities and other marginalised groups and offers therapy, formal sign language classes and other personalized treatment through its Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) programme. This includes home-based therapeutic intervention offered through 11 centres in the Kandy District. Under this programme, Isuru, a fast learner, was ready to be integrated into a special school for the hearing impaired by the age of five.

“I joined WDC when I was very young, and I learned sign language. I made new friends. It was a chance for me to develop my social skills,” Isuru says.

His mother added, “WDC supported us and helped us enrol Isuru in a special school where he studied until O/L. He then attended a state owned special vocational training school, where he trained in crafting leather products.”

Isuru began making and selling leather products such as drums, key tags and his mother enrolled them both in a shoe-making workshop. They took part in a shoe-making workshop led by Mr. M.K.G. Saman Leelarathne, a leather product consultant from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. The training focused on designing and creating shoes without using moulds, which is a method used by only a few shoe manufacturers in Sri Lanka and was held at one of WDC’s rehabilitation centres.

The workshop was one of many initiatives funded by RYTHM Foundation, the social impact arm of the Hong Kong headquartered QI Group of Companies, in collaboration with WDC as a capacity building programme for the community trainers, teachers, parents and people with disabilities. The Foundation aims to empower lives and transform communities around the world through strategic partnerships and human development programmes that equip communities to build sustainable livelihoods.

Six months after taking part in the shoe making workshop, Isuru produced and sold several pairs of shoes and sandals. Isuru and his mother are grateful for the opportunity that helps them earn a livelihood.

RYTHM Foundation has been working closely with WDC on creating awareness for disability rights, prevention, early intervention, and rehabilitation for persons with disabilities to ensure them opportunities to lead fulfilled lives.

“I believe my son can live a life with dignity because of WDC and we truly appreciate their contribution to my son’s development” said Pathma.

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