SELVIKA SAHADEVAN

VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR 2018

Selvika Sahadevan is a lone warrior, fighting an arduous battle in a town that is not willing to acknowledge facts. Facts that indicate that it has the third highest rate of alcohol consumption, in the country after Jaffna and Nuwara Eliya. Adding to this is the rapidly increasing instances of drug abuse over the past two years. 

Her initial experience of dealing with alcohol and drug addicts date back to her time working at the Batticaloa Psychosocial Centre, where she started awareness programmes on substance abuse and addiction. It wasn’t till 2005 however, that the groundwork for the Vimochana Home began with the visit of a Canadian Donor who identified the lack of a rehabilitation centre and propositioned Selvika to eventually start the Home in 2011.

Alcohol addiction was an issue that resonated personally with Selvika, having grown up with an alcoholic father. She recants that when the Vimochana Home was opened her friends and relatives felt addicts were a menace to society and they didn’t believe that, as a woman, she could do anything to help them. However, her family stood by her decision, through thick and thin.

What began as a pilot project, Vimochana Home now offers more than a safe place for drug and alcohol addicts to rehabilitate themselves. The residential program is 42 days long and accommodates up to 15 people at a time. Participants follow a syllabus and need to study several topics including addiction protocol. The centre also offers yoga lessons and maintains an organic home garden, which helps to keep the participants engaged in work and their mind’s distracted. From 2011 to 2018 about 400 people have come to the centre, which currently boasts a 70 % success rate.

Selvika hopes to expand her scope of helping addicts even further, starting a centre for women. She strongly believes in the need to extend support to women as well. A safe house is another vision she hopes to realise, offering participants a place to find their footing before returning to their families. Her, other aspirations include an outpatient clinic for those who don’t have the time to be part of the residential programme and a vocational training programme to help youth, who are increasingly turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with unemployment and other issues.

Selvika who continues to create awareness about drug and alcohol abuse in schools and villages, says she hopes to continue the work she does for as long as she can. “I don’t think I can stop what I am doing. I love the work that I do. Even if I make the smallest difference, it means a lot to me. Drug and alcohol addicts are also human they need to be treated with respect. If we help them, it also lights up the lives of their family members.”