A RETIRED counsellor from Edgware has returned from Sri Lanka after spending three weeks helping children with disabilities and mental health needs.

Anna Felice, from King's Drive, visited schools in the Puttalam District of north-west Sri Lanka to raise awareness of the needs of disabled youngsters in the area.

The work was part of a programme run by Asian People’s Disability Alliance (APDA), funded by the Department for International Development and Voluntary Services Overseas.

Ms Felice said: “The visit changed my life. I was absolutely amazed at the extent of the distress, hardship and mental problems I found in the children of all ages, from pre-school to teenagers.

"The problems here are many, with the children’s parents either both having died or working out of the country. The children have very little food, unhygienic living conditions and some even have drug and alcohol conditions.

“Although I was only out there for three weeks, I felt that my small contribution changed the lives of the children there.

"My work involved helping the children with positive role-playing and drama re-enactment so that the children could come to terms with difficult aspects of their lives.“ Born in Sri Lanka of Dutch and English descent, Ms Felice travelled to England in 1965 and set up home in Edgware 22 years ago.

After taking early retirement, she worked as a volunteer with Victim Support in Barnet for six years, and went on to work for five years at Barnet Bereavement. She graduated with a diploma in counselling from Middlesex University in 2004.

Ms Felice said she chose to travel to Sri Lanka after becoming inspired by the work of APDA, a charity that aims to help Asian people with disabilities, of all faiths, cultures and backgrounds.

One of APDA’s chief aims is to support the development of Sri Lanka to help bring its people out of poverty and lessen its dependence on overseas aid.

Michael Jeewa, CEO of APDA, said: "In Asia, disabled people have the most problems, whether it's little or no education, poverty, or poor physical and mental health.

"The need is even greater after disaster and conflict, when the lives of disabled people worsen and many people acquire disability.

"Our work there involves sending health, education and business professionals, mainly from Asia, to provide training to help disabled people improve their health, skills and ability so they can earn money and live independently.“

To find out more about APDA, contact Icky Hasnain at Asian People’s Disability Alliance on 0208 902 2113 or ickyhasnainapda@yahoo.co.uk.