By
Mike Smith
No comments yet
30 January, 2012

Yvonne Connolly, with some of the paintings that the mental health patients did on the wall behind her.
Yvonne Connolly, with some of the paintings that the mental health patients did on the wall behind her.
When London nurse manager Yvonne Connolly took three months off her work in 2009, she travelled to Sri Lanka to work there with VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas). There she joined the National Institute of Mental Health at Angoda Hospital just outside Colombo, where over 1000 inpatients were kept in secure accommodation.

She found the conditions of the hospital wards were often pitiable. But she also found that a number of the patients were gifted artists. What could be done to improve the conditions of this government hospital?

Back home in Wimbledon, her friend and neighbour Jan Smith, a volunteer with Initiatives of Change, wanted to put Yvonne in touch with Vijitha Yapa, a friend in Colombo. Jan thought that Yvonne would enjoy meeting a local family.

Prior to renovating ward
Prior to renovating ward
Yvonne emailed Yapa, a publisher who with his wife runs Sri Lanka’s largest chain of English-language book shops. She attached a photo of some of the patients’ artwork. Within five minutes of sending the email, she received a phone call back from Yapa. He wanted to visit the hospital for himself.

Seeing the quality of the paintings being done by the patients, Yapa offered to get them printed as greetings cards. They selected 12 of the best pictures which he printed at his own expense. Yapa put the cards on sale in his chain of bookshops. The hospital and its supporters have also been selling the picture cards. They have proved popular and have required reprinting due to successful sales.

To date the cards have raised significant funds for the Occupational Therapy Department to expand their art therapy, as

After renovating
After renovating
well as for refurbishing a ward with new mattresses, mosquito nets and redecorating the walls. Small sums go a long way in Sri Lanka’s developing economy but more importantly the sale of art work all over Sri Lanka has helped to challenge some of the stigma around mental health and show that patients have skills and talents to contribute.

Yvonne is grateful for these unexpected developments out of the initial introduction that Jan gave her. She says: ‘VSO can be a fantastic experience and is a real insight into how lucky we are in the West. However, it is sometimes as the result of serendipity that the best outcomes can come from a placement and this example shows this very well.’

Related Posts