Sri Lanka has one of the fastest aging populations in the world, a product in many ways of earlier successful health and education investments.
Sri Lanka has benefited from the services of a Canadian, Tami Tamitegama, who returned to Sri Lanka after 33 years in Canada. He is the President of the Lanka Alzheimer’s Foundation which he and his wife Lorraine established to help elders in general and persons with dementia in particular. It is clearly a labour of love which they have equally and passionately pursued, ever since being urged by friends in the Singapore’s Alzheimer’s Association to follow suit in Sri Lanka.
They have a helpline and website and, more importantly, a network of committed volunteers who catalyze the Caregiver Support Groups, do home visits and participate in other related activities. Expatriates who have family members in Sri Lanka with dementia use their services. The pamphlets and brochures are in three languages.
The Foundation takes fundraising seriously. What is most remarkable is that they raised $500,000 over nine years through sheer hard work and personal perseverance. So many fundraising efforts are one-off big bashes not thousands of small contributions which are more labour intensive. Lorraine oversees the selling of 40,000 raffle tickets every year and builds awareness at strategic locations around the city where she spends hundreds of hours on her feet, talking to the community. Tami struggled for years to get clear title to the land for the building site. They have done this largely with contributions from the community in Sri Lanka rather than being dependent on foreign funding. Over 1,200 individual donors, many who are sustained donors, from Sri Lanka and abroad have trusted and supported them, sometimes sight unseen.
They are creative fundraisers. The annual “Memory Walk” takes place around World Alzheimer’s Day on September 21. There are hundreds of active volunteers who support the “Memory Walk” fund raiser, and come to the city’s Cinnamon Grand hotel to participate in the Walk and the raffle draw. A who’s who of the business community provides everything from ice cream to hot dogs at the event and volunteers sell souvenirs. There are musical concerts, which pull in hundreds of people who donate funds. They are working on a “memory tree” where engraved memorials for departed family members would be hung as a giant wind chime.
Canadian donors are not major contributors but they do help. The Toronto Zen Centre is one of the Canadian donors. The North American Women’s Association in Colombo is also one of many repeat benefactors. Mostly funds come from local donors.
In 2011, the Foundation celebrated its 10th anniversary with the completion of the Dementia Services and Information Centre on Crown Lease property at 110 Ketawalamulla Lane in Maligakanda the highest vantage point in Colombo.
Tami was a graduate from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, who then served in the Sri Lanka Army for a short while. Moving to Canada, he was a successful professor, academic administrator and Campus Principal in the School of Business at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto for two and half decades. Tami urged Canadian school children to raise funds, participate in exchange programs and help dig wells in Sri Lanka. He was active in the Toronto Kripalu Yoga Centre and the Vedanta Society, Ramakrishna Mission.
Tami returned to Sri Lanka seeking an entirely new community service life, and he benefited from Canadian learned strengths (business administration and organizational savvy) and Asian learned strengths (spiritual beliefs and immense patience). When he came back to Sri Lanka in 1995 he became a therapeutic counsellor, and actively participated in the development of supportive mental health practices.
Alzheimer’s Disease International, an umbrella world organisation with 72 member countries created an advocacy working group with members from eight countries including Canada and Sri Lanka. They are studying the epidemic that sees 35 million people with dementia in the world today, growing to 115 million in 2050.
Tami reminisces that no write up on his personal experiences is complete without some mention of his work on developing the higher self. Encouraged by his father, learning to be still with some very basic yoga postures at the age of five became a life long endeavour to learn and teach the essence of the five fold path of yoga. He believes that health, happiness and selfless service are not intrinsically possible without some trappings of the lifestyle of a yogi/yogini. Alongside his duties and responsibilities in the Lanka Alzheimer’s Foundation, Tami currently serves as a yoga master and secretary general of the Sri Lanka’s branch of the Art of Living Foundation; a community service and human development organisation, which serves 147 countries.
In 2006 President Rajapakse named Tami to the National Council of Elders.