Rotary improves the lives of 1000s

Published 9:28 pm Monday, September 17, 2012

Washington Noon Rotarian Neil Atkinson speaks with the staff of the Centre for Handicapped. Atkinson and the Washington Noon Rotarians raise more than $50,000 a year to help Sri Lankan amputees, mostly children like the one pictured, get limbs. (Submitted photo)


Staff Writer
When Neil Atkinson first heard about the Centre for Handicapped, he thought the Sri Lankan facility was a hoax.
“I got an email … years ago from a guy called Rev. Father George Stephen and thought it was another one of those Nigerian emails,” Atkinson said.
He contacted the Sri Lankan government to confirm the center exists, and he was directed to a local Rotary club that founded the center and continues to raise money for it.
The center provides prosthetic limbs to Sri Lankan amputees, mostly children. Atkinson said most of the amputees were victims of land mines that were left from a 30-year civil war that ended in 2009.
The Washington Noon Rotary joined forces with the Sri Lankan Rotary and started raising money. The Rotary Foundation has a matching grant that the groups have used to fund the project for the past six years.
“With that amount of money, we can pretty much handle 400 people. For the last six years now, we’re up to 2,400 people,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson and Sri Lankan Rotarian Gowri Rajan have been the primary architects of the fundraising and grant writing.
“It really is a partnership. We cobble this thing together until we’ve got enough to match the grant,” he said.
Raising the money is no easy task. Atkinson said he has to go after it, working with his counterparts at other Rotary clubs to raise the funds.
Atkinson visited the center about a year and a half ago.
One of the highlights of his trip was when a man stood up and hugged him. Atkinson said the man thanked him for the work the Rotary had done and the prosthetic leg he received.
“He gave me the biggest bear hug. They do appreciate what we’ve done,” Atkinson said. “You see firsthand what a small amount of money can do for a person’s life. They do amazing work. They really help people.”
The center provides custom orthotics, custom wheelchairs, fittings, limb replacements and rehabilitation. Funds also cover two weeks of room and board for the fittings and rehabilitation.
The prosthetic limbs cost from $160 to $290. They are not high-tech, but they are enough to get people back on their feet, working and attending school.
“They have a 93-percent literacy rate, so it’s important to the kids and important to the adults,” Atkinson said.
The Rotary Foundation has strict rules that guarantee all of the funds go directly to patients, not for the center’s overhead expenses.
“It’s purely helping people,” Atkinson said. “That’s what Rotary’s all about.”
In addition to the center, the Washington Noon Rotary supports local charities and programs like the Beaufort County Boys & Girls Club and the Little Washington Sailing School
The Washington Noon Rotary meets at King Chicken restaurant, 601 Carolina Ave., Mondays from noon to 1 p.m.