Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Dr. Reijntjes Deaf School
February 2, 2024.
It has now been 40 years since Tineke de Silva-Nijkamp from Enschede started the Dr. Reijntjes School for the Deaf in Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. Tineke was a teacher at a School for Hearing Impaired Children in Enschede in 1973, when she met her husband Susiri de Silva from Sri Lanka. Susiri stayed in the Netherlands for over a year to study Cartography at the UT in Enschede. Tineke, together with Susiri, made her first visit to Sri Lanka in 1974 and visited a Deaf school and also met deaf children in remote villages. Unfortunately, the deaf children in the villages did not receive any education due to poverty and also the lack of a deaf school. Tineke was very concerned about this fate. These children were booed and treated as mentally handicapped children. She decided to establish a Deaf School for these underprivileged children. All preparations were made and Tineke resigned from her school in Enschede.
She left for Sri Lanka in 1984 with her husband Susiri, who sold his cartographic office (Intermap). Susiri started a printing and publishing press in Sri Lanka.
Tineke started the Deaf School and gave this school the name of Dr. Reijntjes, the ENT doctor, with whom she worked for 12 years in the Prof. Dr. Huizingschool in Enschede.
Tineke started on February 2, 1984 with 2 teachers, a house mother and 8 deaf children from remote villages, in a rented house in Moratuwa. Soon new children were registered and the number was doubled. The house was full because everyone lived internally, including the staff members. A new building was sought and Tineke sent proposals to all agencies she knew. At that time there were no computers yet, the mail to the Netherlands took a month! Fortunately, the Wilde Ganzen Foundation responded positively and the first building was opened in 1987 by Dr. Reijntjes and Barbel Kattenbelt, the chairman of the Foundation in the Netherlands. This Foundation was founded in 1982, by Tineke de Silva and Barbel Kattenbelt for the sponsorship and coordination of the Deaf School in Sri Lanka.
Over the years, more buildings were added as the number of students grew.
The highest point was in 2008, when the school had no fewer than 120 deaf students (all internal) with 20 staff members.
Gradually, more schools for the deaf were established by the government in various places in Sri Lanka. This was beneficial for many students who sometimes spent up to 10 hours traveling by public transport and were therefore only picked up once every 6 months. Later, units for disabled children were also added in government primary schools.
The Dr. Reijntjes Deaf School had all modern resources available (computers, audiometer, well-trained teachers), which is why we became one of the best Deaf Schools.
Unfortunately, there have been many problems in Sri Lanka in recent years. It started with the terrorist attacks on churches and hotels, which killed or injured many Sri Lankans and foreigners. Tourism, one of the main sources of income, came to zero. Then came the corona pandemic, which closed all schools and also brought factories, plantation work, etc. to a standstill. After that, things went very badly for Sri Lanka financially, there was no petrol, gas, electricity and people protested everywhere. Schools and businesses remained closed because buses and trains were not running due to a lack of petrol and diesel. We had to cook on firewood in the school garden and had no electricity for 13 hours a day.
We are happy, that now almost everything is back to normal.
Tineke has turned 80 and 3 years ago handed over the baton to her son Mudithe, who grew up with the deaf children. Mudithe has his Masters in Management and IT. Tineke can still be found at school every day. She does the administration and correspondence. Contact with deaf students and parents is very important to her. That gives her energy!
On February 2, 2024, we celebrated the 40th anniversary at the school with the “chief guests”: Gerdine Kriellaars from Utrecht and Elisabeth Lemahieu from Antwerp, both deaf and former students of the Deaf Institute in St. Michielsgestel in the Netherlands.
It was a very special day with welcoming the guests, lighting the traditional oil lamp, showing old films from the school and various speeches.
The morning ended with a delicious lunch for the guests, children and staff members.