A BASINGSTOKE mother is this month visiting Sri Lanka to showcase the work of a charity she set up in 2004.

Catherine Mole, a former Queen Mary’s College student, launched ECSAT (equality-based community support and training) in the wake of the devastating tsunami.

Her aim was to bring about the inclusion of people with disabilities in Sri Lankan society.

The 35-year-old mother-of-two, who lived in Sri Lanka for almost 15 years, has returned to the country to host various dignitaries at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, taking place today.

Among those attending is Prince Charles, who will represent The Queen, and his wife, The Duchess of Cornwall.

Ms Mole set up ECSAT having had personal experience of how disabled people were excluded from community life.

In 1995, she worked for a children’s home where she discovered that some families with disabled children had no option other than to give away their children because they could not cope, or were too ashamed to keep them at home.

This inspired her to start a charity that focused on inclusion and helping people to recover from the tsunami together – both disabled and non-disabled.

When ESCAT staff first enter a village, disabled children are often hidden away, locked in their house by parents who do not know what to do with them.

They are also discriminated against because traditional ideas of karma mean that many people blame the parent or child for their disability, believing they must have done something bad in their past life.

ESCAT works to give the children the chance to learn and attend school and integrate them into the community.

Ms Mole, who moved back to Basingstoke in 2011 after being awarded an MBE for services to disabled and vulnerable children in Sri Lanka, now works for Basingstoke Mencap and is also chairwoman of Friends of ECSAT – a UK-registered charity that supports the work of ECSAT in Sri Lanka.

She said: “I am so proud of everything ECSAT has achieved in Sri Lanka and the way in which the young people we work with are now proud of who they are and ready to contribute to their own communities.

"I would invite anyone who goes on holiday to Sri Lanka to pop in to the centre and see a little of what is going on there. It is something you won’t forget.”

When the Commonwealth leaders arrive, the children and young people with disabilities will give a special performance to show their capabilities.

Ms Mole said: “Only a few years ago, parents would not have allowed their children to attend this kind of event because they did not think they were worthy of meeting or performing for important people. Now the young people and their families are proud of who they are.”

For more information about ECSAT, visit ecsatlanka.org.