By Bernadine Rodrigo
Many Sri Lankans may recall an extraordinary night on 26 January 2019, when some of Sri Lanka’s best-known names in the music industry – a whopping 14 of them in fact – joined together to give one of the most extravagant performances ever seen. While the music was enjoyable and everyone was sure to have had a good time during the concert, everyone present was well aware that the concert was not simply for the purpose of musical pleasure, but rather for a greater cause – something the arts so often inspires. An organiser and performer at the event was Sri Lanka’s much-loved and popular Keerthi Pasquel.
Pasquel was approached in early 2018 by a few doctors who worked at Sri Lanka’s Kotalawala Defence Hospital, who were in acquaintance with the artist. Not surprisingly, what they were in need of was funds. However, these funds they required were not merely for their basic hospital maintenance as one would imagine, but rather for a very particular and certainly very important cause.
The doctors yearned for the creation of a proper functional unit to treat patients suffering from cancer through bone marrow transplants. This process has been adopted in Sri Lanka for a little while, through the Apeksha Hospital where they use the patient’s bone marrow to treat the disease. However, they only have two beds at that facility where they can treat patients and certainly aren’t efficient enough to facilitate the treatment of all the patients in our country.
Furthermore, using the patient’s bone marrow isn’t the only way of treatment; bone marrow can also be taken from donors. It is simply that, especially in Sri Lanka, not many are aware of this.
The Kotelawala Defence Hospital, on another note, doesn’t have a unit at all, despite their doctors being well trained, qualified, and certainly capable enough to administer this type of treatment.
When Pasquel was being educated on this unfortunate state of our nation, he brought together a few of his colleagues – Niranga Nanayakkara, Dr. Prasad Abeysinghe, and Nelum Jayaweera – in hopes of raising some funds for the hospital in order to provide them with some relief. They then formed Help Circles (Guarantee) Ltd., the flagship organisation for their projects aimed at their goal.
Their first project was on 26 January 2019, which was called Prarthana, where they raised funds for the cause. Nanayakkara gratefully recalled how even the concert hall at BMICH was given to them free of charge and the artists kindly performed pro bono.
Through Prarthana and a few other projects, Help Circles was able to raise a good but not quite sufficient Rs. 7.5 million for their cause. While they required more funds, it was an encouraging start and they were all ready to put their vision into action. However, unfortunately, in April 2019, the nation faced the grievous tragedy of the Easter Sunday attacks, and as Nanayyakkara said, “attentions were shifted”. Therefore, they had to stall their preparations for the bone marrow unit.
A silver lining appeared, however, as Help Circles was approached by Apeksha Hospital, who said they could use the funds. They were aiming to expand their capacity to accommodate the treatment of 110 patients simultaneously by enhancing their unit which was currently able to accommodate the treatment of only two patients.
Their budget for this was Rs. 21 million, and at the time they had already collected funds amounting to about Rs. 10 million. Rs. 5 million was donated to them by well-wishers in the Bohra community of Sri Lanka and around another Rs. 5 million was given by a charity based in England.
Every once in a while when something like this happens, one is led to stop and think about all the good humanity is capable of doing. And while this may inspire hope, there always is suffering.
Seeing as how donating their funds to the Apeksha Hospital can enable the saving of many lives earlier than they had hoped, Help Circles decided to take this option. And the doctors at the Kotelawala Defence Hospital were in full agreement and offered their full support.
This donation was formerly made on 29 January 2020, coinciding with Pasquel’s birthday, to his joy.
Now, Help Circlers is largely concentrated on seeing their efforts in action. Currently, there is a waiting list of patients looking for treatment who will be forced to wait till 2021. However, once the unit at Apeksha Hospital has been made, these patients will be treated and sent home within approximately three months.
Help Circles is currently planning another event for 29 February 2020 involving children, hopefully even at the organisation stage, where they look to raise more funds and make a success story for our country.