Health camp reaches mothers and children on remote island in Sri Lanka

Maternal health camp on Delft Island

A volunteer talks with a mother and her child during the maternal health camp on Delft Island, Sri Lanka. Photo courtesy Gehan de Alwis

By Gehan de Alwis, a member of the Rotary Club of Colombo Regency, Western Province, Sri Lanka

I was lucky recently to be a part of a team that visited a remote island off the northwestern coast of Sri Lanka as part of a prenatal and postnatal health camp.

The camp was supported by a Rotary Foundation Matching Grant initiated by my club, together with the Rotary Club of Colombo Fort, and our international partner, the Rotary Club of Newtown, Pennsylvania, USA. My trip with three other Rotarians, a Rotaractor, and a prospective Rotarian for the “mother and child” health camp began at 4:45 a.m. in Colombo.

We reached Jaffna, the northern-most city in Sri Lanka, by 9 p.m. via the infamous A9 highway, which used to be partially controlled by rebel forces during Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war. 

A half-hour boat ride, standing up, in pitch black over open seas brought us to Delft Island.

Before we could call it a day, we still needed to complete all the ground work, sorting and delivery of medicines, banners etc., for a bright and early start the next morning on five hours sleep!

But this being the fourth out of a series of five health camps, and almost the 15th in our club’s 10-year history, we knew the challenges. And these challenges come with pleasures words cannot fully describe.

With the assistance of the Sri Lanka Navy, we set up the makeshift pharmacy, arranged the medicines, and prepared the patient registrations and doctor’s consultation areas, all within 30 minutes.

As soon as the gates were opened, mothers-to-be and mothers with infants and children started pouring in to register themselves for a meeting with one of five volunteer doctors from the Jaffna Government Hospital.

The first challenge was communicating with the Tamil-speaking mothers at registration and in dispensing medicine from the pharmacy. I was pleasantly surprised, though, that one of our Rotarians and her guest Rotaractor were able to communicate and translate.

The second challenge was reassuring everyone that there were enough medicines to go around. Everyone who participated received multi-vitamins, folic acid, iron tablets, worm treatment and other prescription medicines handed out under the supervision of a registered pharmacist who also volunteered his services with us.

What a treat it was to see poor and malnourished mothers-to-be and children receiving access to free doctors’ consultation and medical care. Our supply of medicines worth roughly US$3,000 enabled us to treat more than 500 residents by noon. We donated further medicines worth $1,000 to the only government dispensary on the island, to be used for ongoing prenatal and postnatal care.

All participants over 30 years old also had their eyesight tested, and over 200 prescription reading glasses were issued for free. It is a phenomenal feeling when you see the expressions on the faces of the recipients who now have improved vision.

12 thoughts on “Health camp reaches mothers and children on remote island in Sri Lanka

  1. With regard to the health and well being of a child, prior to being born as well as after the birth, Omega 3 is advocated as it is an essential fatty acid. It is not produced in our bodies and thus has to be taken through mainly fish oils or very expensive supplements which are beyond the reach of the majority of Sri Lankans. There is a simple and a very low cost method of the intake of Omega 3, 6 and 9 in the daily diet by growing Plukenetia volubilis, commonly known as Sacha inchi or inca inchi. Check this on the web. I am growing this on a trial basis in the wet zone and the dry zone. It is far too early to say whether the plants will grow satisfactorily and produce the fruit and the seed. The plants, or rather this perennial creeper is growing satisfactorily. The oil is extracted from the seed.

    For a small holder farmer this will be a very good perennial creeper to grow even in their back yards as the seed can be consumed roasted. It tastes like pea nuts or “rata cadju”.Anyone interested, please write to


  2. Great work, aptly fits the slogan of Rotary, “HUMANITY IN MOTION” We need more and more such projects to make the world better place to live.


  3. I am very happy to know about your project.I am a naturalised US citizen,and a Rotarian for over 20 years in Florida.I have done several Matching grant projects in India.I am anxious to do some in my country of birth, Srl Lanka..I am fluent in Jaffna Tamil and Sinhalese.Please keep me in the loop.
    Rtn Selva Sunderavel


  4. My heartiest congratulations for this kind of engagement. Having been personally involved in Rotary medical missions within India as also beyond botders I can well understand the level of fulfilment such hands-on service that the team experienced. You said that in your team there was a would-be Rotarian. Surely the person would have realised the true meaning of Roatry. I can tell you inadvance that when you once experience being dispenser of hope, you get addicted to it.And this is a healthy addiction, both physically and mentally.


  5. Thank You for all the Support and Encouragement… Helps us do more!
    (The final Health Camp in this series of Pre & Post Natal Camps is scheduled for 30th June 2012 in Mannar, Sri Lanka. We are targeting almost 1,500 beneficiaries.

    Rotary, Thank You for the opportunity for us to serve. Matching Grant projects truly do help us reach more individuals.

    – Gehan (On Behalf of the Members of the Rotary Club of Colombo Regency, RI 3220, Sri Lanka)


    • Congratulations!! It is a wonderful project. I think providing health check-up and giving medicines once is not going to serve our aim. We should follow them up regularly & periodically to see the permanent change in their health status. I am a pediatric and Neonatal Surgeon in practice, let me know if i can be of any help
      to your club.
      Rtn Dr Babulal Agrawal
      PP, RC Nasik Grapecity


      • Rtn. Dr. Agrawal, Thank You!

        Yes, a one-time Health Camp in one area is definitely not going to solve the problem. However, it does help them realize what medications are required to be taken at Pre & Post Natal stages. Access to free consultation of specialist doctors gives these Mothers, Mothers-to-be and Children an extra chance at good nutrition and knowledge.

        Upon completion of our Health Camps, we refer all people to the local doctors, so that there is after-care.

        Our Health Camps are also followed with a documentary on Pre & Post Natal care in the guise of a Tele-Drama, which is freely distributed. The Tele-Drama shows how the rest of the family members on how to support a pregnant woman until child birth and proper vaccinations required, even after delivery. This documentary is being scheduled to be telecast on National TV, upon Health Ministry endorsement.

        Please contact me at so that we can share our experiences.


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