“The war is over! Is the conflict?” - a million dollar question.
As important as ending the war in the battle fields of the north is finding a negotiated settlement to the conflict and making the transition from war to peace less costly in terms of human life and human suffering. This goes hand in hand with helping the displaced people with immediate relief to ease their physical sufferings and help heal their tormented minds and more importantly help solve their deep yearning – “Send us back to our own homes.”
The task before us seemed unending when we visited Chettikulam for the first time! The people are living under extreme conditions in heavily congested camps. The rows and rows of tents and huts spanning across large camp areas tell us the story of congestion and that we need to work unceasingly to help out in this national crisis. We need to evacuate the sick and wounded, help those in the camps to find their kith and kin and provide relief aid to all those from the war torn areas completely broken and bruised. The over powering needs of the people had to be met without any delays.The Hindu Council of Sri Lanka and the Saiva Mangaiyar Kalagam (Hindu Women’s Society) are working together to alleviate the suffering of the displaced and sick persons in Vavuniya. The peripheral Unit of the Council in Vavuniya is actively working with financial support from the Centre, to help the refugees who have come from afar trekking in from the battle fields.The members of the peripheral Unit of the Council work closely with the doctors of the hospitals in Vavuniya General Hospital, the Poovarasam Kulam Hospital and the Ayurvedic Hospital and also in Poonthottam Camp, Mahavidyalaya Camp, Pambaimadu Camp, and the Ramanathan and Arunachalam camps in Chettikulam.
The Unit reported at the beginning of February this year that the scenes of the people coming were harrowing and unbelievable! And when some of us visited the place we realized that this was an understatement. The tragedy is colossal! The people are broken physically and mentally scarred in every sense of the word. We were able to detect white spots on the faces and hands of several people, more so in the girls.
Our work began in early February 2009, when the refugees started coming into Vavuniya from the war torn Vanni with the Coordinator of the Unit getting in touch with the hospital authorities asking how we could help and what the urgent requirements were. It was on the advice of the Medical Officer of Health that the Unit started looking after the seriously injured children, pregnant and young mothers who were pouring in. This was our priority and we continue to help such persons with essentials in baskets containing baby shirts, cologne, gripe water, soap and soap boxes, powder, sanitary towels, sarongs, towels, napkins, night gowns, bed-jackets, baby soap, pampas, plastic plates and mugs, hot water bottles, bed sheets, women’s underwear, slippers – merely to keep them clean in their new environment. Samaposha, nutritious biscuits and milk powder were also added to this pack. When we received information that some of the injured children were brought to Colombo and admitted to Lady Ridgeway Hospital we met the mothers and the children on the various floors and ascertained what their requirements were. We distributed relief items essentially new clothes, bed sheets, towels, soap, several packets of biscuits and a toy each for the children.
The children, teachers and principal of Hindu Ladies College rallied round to collect relief material to be sent to Vavuniya. And this resulted in huge consignments of new clothes together with large amounts of milk food, samaposha, biscuits and bottles of water. These were packed neatly in bags and dispatched to Vavuniya in early May 2009. Large amounts of funds were also given liberally by the parents, teachers and well wishers. The Kalagam also contributed generously.
Earlier while working with the people in the camps, our group has been looking into the spiritual needs of the people, talking to them and trying to help calm their traumatized minds by singing bhajans and religious songs and helping to create an atmosphere of peace and quiet in an otherwise torn world. They also organized and continue to organize pujas in the makeshift shrines and offer prasadams of thiruneeru and chandanam to the displaced people.
The Kalagam being an educational Institution, was interested in the teachers who were caught up in the cross fire and subsequently sought refuge in the camps. The Council was able to meet the Zonal Director of Education of the Omanthai zone who was herself a displaced person. We distributed relief material to the displaced teachers and children in Chettikulam Units 1, 2, 3 and 4. We also pledged to give water filters for the several schools that are functioning with the help of these teachers and said that we would collect saree outfits for the teachers to wear during school hours and not be in dressing gowns!
In the last two months of June and July, we have been working with the doctors in Vavuniya getting more baskets for the pregnant women and young mothers. Since the early days of our work amidst the displaced persons, we have been giving several batches of the usual big pack of relief material in baskets to the pregnant women, mothers and children. Together with this, mats for individual members of a family were also distributed.
We distributed water filters for the several school that are functioning in Unite 1,2,3 and 4 of Chettikulam and we collected saree outfit packs for the 3000 teachers to wear during school hours.
We next worked in with the displaced people of Thanddikulam welfare Camp. The Council and the Kalagam helped the displaced at Thandikulam Camp giving each family a family Pack consisting of women’s clothing including saree , bluse , lungi and blouse, men and women’s underwear, sarongs and shirts for men, dresses and pairs of shorts for children, sanitary towels, bed sheets, towels, thermos flask, polythene ( mackintosh ) , milk powder medicine, and nutritious biscuits costing Rs.2,500 per pack.
We also distributed baskets for pregnant mothers in the Pampaimadu Camp. The usual basket that we have been supplying since February 2009 to pregnant mothers are large containing clothing for the pregnant mothers, baby sets including soap, cologne, napkins and baby suits, bed sheets , towels, thermos flasks, polythene ( in place of makintosh ) milk powder and medicines.
With this we completed a ninth and tenth assignment of relief work in the Vanni.
Both the Hindu Council and the Kalagam are actively involved in non- governmental activities and Inter-religious groups working towards peace and reconciliation and finding ways and means of resettling these displaced persons in their respective traditional villages. We are also planning to send teachers to coach the ordinary Level students who are to sit the exams in December 2009.
It is indeed a time to heal; for all Srilankans to unite and bring about lasting peace – we in the south cannot live in peace until and unless those tormented minds are set free.
The words of Khalil Gibran could be adapted to explain the situation – He speaks of –
“ Pity the Nation that wears a cloth it does not weave ; eats a bread it does not harvest and drinks a wine ( water ) that flows not from its own wine – press ( that flows not through its territory )”.
The north has been a battle field for over the past two and half decades and has been laid waste beyond imagination! Where is the cotton to weave cloth? Where is the grain to prepare bread ? and where is water to drink?
It is our bounden duty to help fulfil the one wish of these displaced persons – “ Please let us go back to our homes from where we fled; give us whatever you could and we would go back gladly and build up our future.”