SISTER GRETA NALAWATHTHA
“You must volunteer with your heart and soul. When you see people developing, you will feel real joy.”
The story of Sister Greta begins long before 1982, at the School for the Deaf in Ragama. As soon as she completed her training as a novice nun and became a professed nun of the Congregation of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, she joined the staff at the school, it is there that she underwent a crisis, which lead her on a life altering path.
She recalls her first encounter with children with hearing impairments at the School for the Deaf in Ragama and says that they looked as if they felt that they didn’t belong. She wanted to change this and help them integrate with society.
A very unexpected scholarship to Japan, to study new techniques in hearing impaired education saw her working alongside the principal of Nippon Rowa Gakko– the Japan oral school for the deaf, who provided her with guidance to pursue her dreams of using auditory-verbal techniques to help children speak.
After an unsuccessful attempt to integrate hearing impaired children into the mainstream education system by setting up a preschool at the School for the Deaf, Sister Greta, who was also a qualified government teacher was offered a posting as a teacher in charge of a special unit at Kirillawella Maha Vidyalaya.
She started teaching her first student, in an old house near the school and it was much later that a parent donated the land, where Centre for Education of Hearing-Impaired Children (CEHIC) is now located.
As the Founder and Directress of CEHIC, she says the centre, is a unique school that has a different approach to education. “CEHIC is a community school. it is the only school in the island, where children are trained through auditory verbal method and they are integrated into mainstream schools.”
Students are enrolled to the centre as infants and pursue their education until they are 5 years old, guided by their mothers and teachers who help them find their voice. During its 35 years in operation, the CEHIC has integrated over 675 children all over the island and produced 8 graduates over the years, with 8 more students currently engaged in university education.
Despite the challenges she faces, Sister Greta has no plans of slowing down in her effort to support those with hearing impairments. “I want to make CEHIC a centre of excellence, with satellite units in each of the 9 provinces. I also have a goal of starting a teacher training course, together with the Kelaniya University”. Sister Greta has created a syllabus, over the past 10 years that includes new methods of teaching, for the pre-school where they learn through play. She looks to promote this method to pre-schools across the country.
For someone who has dedicated her entire life to illuminate the lives of those ostracized from society, she says one must find happiness in the social work you do. “You must volunteer with your heart and soul. When you see people developing, you will feel real joy.”