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Tuesday, 21 June 2011

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Thidora Pioneers of inclusive education



Oriental dance

Theatre Institute for Disability Oriented Research and Advocacy (ThIDORA) has been tirelessly engaged in the integration of the disabled into normal society. It is a non-profit, service oriented, government approved, private institute which is conducting their activities, on the slogan Through the Arts, sharing and celebrating diversity. Their vision is to be the prime theatre association for disabled and disadvantaged in Sri Lanka.

With their twenty-one years of experience, they are conducting drama, dance and movement therapy, art and music therapy and Puppetry workshops for the disabled and disadvantaged, to make the disabled able and pave the way for them to enter normal society.

Thidora Theatre recently moved to a new location at Rajagiriya. This building complex, located in Cooray Mawatha, Moragasmulla, Rajagiriya, is specially designed for people with special education needs. This complex has been allocated to Thidora Theatre by Al Latiff Foundation free of charge on long term lease. Workshops are conducted every weekday from 9.00 am to 3.30 pm at the main auditorium.

The activities of Thidora theatre are closely monitored by Prof Sunanda Mahendra, Attorney-at-Law Vasana Wickremasena, Chartered accountant R A Jayaweera, veteran actress Maheshwary Rathnam, Attorney-at-Law Rajendra Bandara and lyricist Jayampathi Algama as the members of the Board of Governors.

Definition


The Board of Governors

“According to Buddha Dhamma ‘Thidora’ signifies Mind, Body and the Word,” says Chairman and Artistic Director of Thidora theatre Rohana Deva. He further explained that if a human being is to succeed in this world he or she has to discipline him or her self to use these three doors and should have a firm understanding of what is being done. A person who has acquired the required abilities and the understanding will not fail. Failure or breakdown in these communicative abilities and processes will make a person’s life problematic.

As is stated in Shakespeare’s play As You like it the world is a stage and we are all actors who play roles. “Consequently we should have an understanding of the different roles we and others play in life. In order to act out these different roles we should grasp the four types of expressive gestures (Abinaya), as Bharatha Muni, the ancient scholar and authority on Dramatic Art has stated,” says Rohana Deva


Rohana deva

Ramani Damayanthi

Lachan

Three of the above-mentioned gestures - the gesture of the Mind, Word or verbal gesture and the gesture of the Body - happen to coincide with the utterances of the Buddha on this subject. The fourth gesture as described by Bharatha Muni is called Aharya Abinaya which means the gestures we make through the costumes, backdrops, lightning and sounds. These aspects are not controlled or directed by the actor or actress but are subject to a variety of influence such as culture, nature and performing conditions. These factors are also subject to the director’s guidance. Even so all human being must have some form of control over the Mind, Body and Word. If we are in control of these elements we can become a fully-fledged human being, explained Rohana Deva. 

Through Thidora, the child who needs Special Education will learn to listen than just hear, to perceive than just see, and to think than what immediate thoughts would allow. Consequently, they have selected drama therapy as their main teaching tool. Through this process the child learns to be critical of the flow of his or her moods and emotions and arrive at a catharsis that would lead to peace.

‘Inclusive Education’

It was no secret that Thidora participants truly benefited from the concept of inclusive education, that they had pioneered by putting it into practice in Sri Lanka. Their team had experience of practicing the concept of inclusive education since 1990, explained Ramani Damayanthi who is in charge of class room activities as the Creative Directress of Thidora theatre.

Thidora theatre has opened its doors to children aged six and upwards and to those who have preserved their childlike innocence even up to the age of sixty.

They take in whoever comes irrespective of gender, class, creed, nationality, physical and personality deficiencies. They do not differentiate on the basis of Autism, Down’s syndrome, learning difficulties, intellectual disabilities, hearing, speech or visual impairment. All the participants learn together and learn from one another.

Rohana Deva said that their students were encouraged to explore and discover themselves through the use of dramatic arts and drama therapy, musical awakenings, art therapy and puppetry that were used as tools of special education. The combination of those tools led to a kind of meditation amongst Thidora participants that helped to calm their adrenalin.

They were rewarded

Rohana Deva was honoured with a Kala Soori Presidential Award for his services to the differently abled. The award recognised not only Rohana’s theatrical work over the last 30 years but also his pioneering efforts to use dance and drama as a therapeutic means to work with differently abled youth.

Thidora students received two first prizes at the national festival on the World Differently abled Day 2010, by staging a hybrid dance act with segments from low country dance under the supervision of the acclaimed choreographers Ramani Damayanthi and Karunadasa Olaboduwa. The event was organised by the Saviya Development Foundation and the Ministry of Social Services. Thidora students won four other awards at the Very Special Peace Art Festival - ESCO 2010. The festival was organised by ESCO Rehab Sri Lanka with the participation of more than 700 disabled youth from all over the country including Jaffna, Manner, Batticaloa and Tangalle.

Thidora Theatres’ Creative Director Ramani Damayanthi has won the Best Actress Award in 1994 and 1995 at the National Youth Drama Festival and 1998 at the State Drama Festival. She was the only female to win the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of Sri Lanka - TOYP 2009. She won the trophy for her contribution to the wellbeing of children. The event was organized by the Junior Chamber International Sri Lanka and was held in Colombo.

She was also honoured by the National Youth Services Council on March 27, 2010 for her services rendered to the development of the youth theatre in Sri Lanka. She received the award from the then Prime Minister, Rathnasiri Wickremanayake on the World Drama Day 2010 at the Youth Services Auditorium, Maharagama. Puppeteers of Thidora Theatre were fortunate to perform at the Eighth International Puppet Festival that was held from March 20 to 28, 2011 at the Puppet Museum, Lahore, Pakistan.

Other activities

Thidora Theatre Sri Lanka proudly presented ‘Kaffir Sthrela’ the maiden musical album of Sri Lankan Kaffirs at Sirambiady. They launched a website – www.puppetry.com which provides access to the work of Sri Lankan puppeteers.

Thidora theatre was involved in developing a street theatre troupe at Women’s Resource Centre (WRC), Kurunegala. They are conducting Training of Trainers (TOT) programs to enhance the creativity and knowledge in music and movement therapy for several institutes like the Department of Inclusive Education of the National Institute of Education, Mahragama, Vocational Training Institute of the Ladies College, Colombo 07 and the Deaf and Blind School, Rathmalana.

The Panel of the Curriculum Development for Education of Autistic Children of the Inclusive Education Department, National Institute of Education trained with Thidora students. Thidora has expanded its work of psychosocial support to persons living with disability in the Southern Province of Sri Lanka. Southern Youth Development Foundation (SYDF) in Hambantota is affiliated to Thidora Theatre.

Relieved parents

“Our son Latif turned 31 earlier this year,” says a mother. For the first time in a very long time, the family was able to gather around and celebrate, though in a very small way, with a cake and a few photographs to remember the day. Recent years have been very tough for everyone at home, particularly his mother, who has devoted most of her life to care for her autistic son.

With age, ‘Lachan’, as they call him at home, has also gotten bigger and stronger, which due to his condition he does not realize. However when he is upset or weary of something like the hot weather, loud noises and bright lights; he tends to push, shove and pull people around him, not realizing that he is hurting them. “As a result we have not been able to retain a caretaker for him, with most leaving within days, if not the same day.”

His inability to express himself, sometimes manifests in him breaking everything around him, including heavy furniture, lights, which had left the parents helpless and yearning for his condition to improve. “We consulted a psychiatrist and even considered the option of admitting him at the Angoda facility for the mentally ill, as his condition was continuously worsening,” said Lachan’s mother.

It is around this time they were introduced to Thidora. “After we called them they visited us at home and observed Lachan’s behaviour and took the risk and the challenge to help him. We initially agreed to keep him there for about two and half hours, with either his mother or myself staying with him,” said Lachan’s father. Over time however, with lots of patience and devotion, Ramani Damayanthi was able to win Lachan’s trust and made him feel secure and comfortable within the Thidora premises.

Since accepting him into Thidora in November 2010, there has been a remarkable improvement in Lachan and he is very happy to go to Thidora every morning and misses his daily routine during public holidays and the weekends. “We are very thankful to all the dedicated staff at Thidora for their kindness, time and effort to care for these special children and the Board of Directors for facilitating the centre’s operations. We are delighted with the results and are committed to help Thidora grow and help many more differently able children.”

Visit their website www.thidoratheatre.org for more details.

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