Healing and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

Need for Reconciliation

The Challenge

The Ethnic war in Sri Lanka, which  lasted for 30 years in the form of an armed conflict, with heavy loss of  life and limb, as well as the devastation of buildings and property, came to an end in May, 2009.  This led to a forced exodus of hundreds of thousands of Tamil people from the districts of Killinochchi and Mullaitivu, creating masses of Internally Displaced Persons who had to be housed in temporary camps in very sad conditions.  Eventually, after the process of de-mining was completed, the displaced persons were gradually “resettled”, willingly or forcibly.  Even those who willingly returned to their own piece of land, had to start from scratch, with the scars of war in the form of devastation surrounding them, and with little reliable support.  Moreover, the inner wounds of mind and heart were deeply painful, and all bottled up within them, while a cloud of fear and suspicion surrounded them. There were the harshly created widows with their children clinging to them, people who were blind and deaf, the mute and the maimed, as well as people who were paralysed.

What did the Sisters do? 

Good Shepherd heard the cry of anguish and was drawn into the scene. During the past 4.5 years, roads have been repaired and bridges built by the Government spending billions of Rupees on infrastructure, but the minds and hearts of the so-called “re-settled people” are still deeply sore, crying for Healing and Reconciliation.

Our sisters, mainly Sinhala, and other women from the South, go to the District of Mullaitivu, to certain villages, visiting and spending time with individual families, listening to their pain and anguish of heart.  We have been going once or twice a month, in groups of six, spending 3 to 4 days at each visit.  We ensure that at least 3 of the group can communicate in Tamil, so that we can go in twos to each family.  It is important for Sinhala sisters and Sinhala women  to reach out to our sisters and brothers in the North, for healing and reconciliation. The pain and loss of their missing  loved ones is shared with us, as they point to garlanded  photographs!  As our tears mingle with theirs, we are all touched.  It is the Divine Touch! 

Who manages/administers the programme? 

Good Shepherd sisters as well as mission partners are involved in the management/ administration of this ministry.

Who is the major target group?

The women, children and families in certain villages in the District of Mullaitivu, especially the so called “No Fire Zones” of 2009.  These areas saw the last stages of the horrific war, with all its cruelty, vengeance, bombardment, shelling and bloodshed, as innocent civilians fled helter-skelter for safety.  These people form the major target  group .

Who benefits and how do they benefit?

The above-mentioned women, children and families benefit, as well as their village communities.  Eventually, the people of the North who have been war-victims, and the Sri Lankan society as a whole, will benefit.

How do they benefit?  When people experience inner healing and freedom, they are  psychologically, socially and spiritually empowered. Thus, they will be able to live a fuller life, using their inner potentialities and resources.  This will restore in them their lost dignity and worth as human persons, children of the one Father. They will thus be empowered as persons. It is only then, in a climate of inclusion, freedom, love, understanding, and acceptance, that they can be themselves and think of others as well, building relationships that will enrich themselves and society.  This indeed, is a long term process.  In the long run, it will foster noble human values, which will ultimately lead to a transformation of our Sri Lankan society.

How many people are assisted?

 4,000 -  4,500  Persons  (including persons with disabilities due to the war.)

 600   Families

 300   Female-led Families

 2,000 -  2,500  Women

 1,500   Children 

Motivation and core values 

Reaching out with compassion to the wounded and marginalized women, children and their families, to save and restore to dignity, through inner healing and reconciliation, towards empowerment.  These are the direct objectives of our mission.  They are indeed the core values and spirit of the Good Shepherd.

How does this project work towards empowerment of women and children?

  • Regular visits to the families, and to the Women’s Rural Development societies.

  • Visiting some of the very poor and badly neglected schools, and providing school books and other basic essential materials.

  • Arranging programmes, such as North-South Exchange Programmes for the children.

  • Organising self-help projects for the families, especially for female-headed families.

  • Providing scholarships to University Students, whenever possible.

  • Organizing North-South Exchange Programmes for Women, such as the celebration of International Women’s Day.

  • Holding Capacity and Skill-Building Programmes on Human Rights, Civic Rights.

  • Networking with other Inter Religious Groups, Human Rights and Women’s Rights Organizations, for advocacy and lobbying.

How is the programme evaluated?

  • At our very first visits, after much questioning and cross-questioning of us by the people, as we listen with love and compassion, with acceptance and understanding, the cloud of suspicion can be seen to disappear.  Then the painful stories come out quite dramatically, as in a closely knit family, with tears and sobbing, with all the symbols and relics they possess, such as photographs and articles of clothing.

  • At our second or later visits, when these people, who earlier could hardly smile, come running out to meet us, with smiles on their faces,  we consider it an indicator of  the effectiveness of the process of healing.

  • We also consider it an indicator, when they make telephone calls to us, saying that they experienced God during our visits, and they request us to come again to have a meal with them, they who barely have one meal a day! This shows that their inner wounds are healing, and that they feel less excluded. Furthermore, it shows that they are now sensing their worth and dignity as persons, and as sisters and brothers of one family.

  • These are some examples.

How does it contribute to UN Sustainable Development Goals?

Goal 1:  No Poverty.

Goal 2:  Zero Hunger.

Goal 4:   Quality Education. 

Goal 5:   Gender Equaliy.                                                                              

Every individual has the right to dignity, freedom, equality, a basic standard of living that includes freedom from hunger and violence and encourages tolerance and solidarity.

Our project deals directly with the basis of this. As long as individuals or communities are psychologically and socially wounded, living in fear and insecurity, constantly under suspicion as possible terrorists, there can be no room to experience dignity, freedom and equality.  There can be no room to be truly alive. Therefore, for the achievement of the SDGs, the fundamental need is for healing and flowering, for fuller life with dignity and freedom, which is what our project is all about.                                                                                  

Our project is directly concerned with this thrust of the SDGs, basically promoting gender equality and empowering the women, while directing our attention to the education of children and their wellbeing.

Challenges

  • We do not feel sufficiently free to mix up and relate with our sisters and brothers in the North, due to the prevailing situation.

  • Their economic, social and educational needs are beyond our capacity, due to lack of sufficient resources.

  • Many more programmes need to be done for the children, but our hands are tied due to insufficient funds.

  • Capacity building programmes for the women are a dire necessity. Here again the same obstacle of insufficient funds, holds us back.

What would make the project more effective?

The availability of more financial resources for our programmes in Mullaitivu.